One of my main hesitations and uncertainties about the future that crypto imagines is the fact that the fundamental building block has a market-based monetary value. This offers a lot of niceities, advocates would argue, like an “efficient” market and a real stake that users have to offer to show their commitment. However, because the fundamental unit is, despite all the framing as a commodity, a financial instrument that is tradeable and fluctuates in value, we see all the dynamics baggage that these instruments carry with them. A lot of people are just in the space for the speculative nature of it, hoping to make a quick buck before the bubble bursts. There are inherent incentives to over-hype things that you have a stake in or even faking sales to artificially inflate the perceived value of your crypto assets.1 While a lot of these things can be minimized with more investment around the user experience and flagging unsafe areas (given that the underlying transactions are transparent), I’m curious to see how the fundamental monetary nature of these technologies will shape the products and behaviors that emerge from them.

NFTs are a way to record all of the “motley ties” that bind people to one another on the blockchain and make them usable by others, freely tradable. In a maximal vision of their potential, every obligation we might ever feel toward other people could be thereby codifed and traded, alienated and priced, rendered into “smart contracts” and made explicitly contingent on profit considerations. Perhaps the only thing more dehumanizing than the cash nexus is a programmable cash nexus.
an excerpt from this update from Real Life Mag, highlighting the pressure to financialize everything

The other side argues that this is nothing new: we’ve been monetized for all of our actions and data by all the greedy corporations already, just from the shadows. At least in the web 3 world, the market value of our creations and actions are transparent for all to see and possible for us to extract value from (more in this tweet thread). Web 2 allowed the winning internet companies to exploit users for revenue with the promise of free products, whereas web 3 gives users the ability to gain some of the value for all that they own.

The essential shift from web 2 to web 3 has been characterized as creating the concept of ownership at an individual and community level. Although I think this explicit financialization of all things sets a poor precedent for bright-eyed, passionate people coming into the space, I am partial to the incredibly grassroots community and energy that has always embodied this new space, and I resonate with how the new model at least allows a lion’s share of the value created by users to go back to the original creators and drivers.

I’m curious how we can preserve the shift in power away from companies to extract value from creative works while fostering a fundamentally playful and light environment for experimentation and creation. Some web 3 advocates might argue that the space is already meant to feel inviting in that way: the insider jokes like “gm” and “wagmi” and others that bring all the people closer. I think those help, if given openly and not leveraged as a gatekeeping mechanism to filter out “the initiated.” But, they’re nowhere close to an environment that by default puts no expectation of a certain way of performing or acting or being valued as we’re so pressured to do in everything we do on the web nowadays. I crave for an internet-native space where it’s okay to just be yourself and let your hair down—where making things that are worthless and inefficient are not only allowed but encouraged rather than squeezed for every penny they’ll generate. I think the most profound and valued concepts and movements emerge from this place of fun; after all, the web just started as a fun passion project for connecting researchers.

This Twitter thread was the first example in popular discourse that I came across that talks about this tension between the explicit monetization of everything and the grassroots energy emerging from crypto. The author posits how communities and values-driven development can be answer to fight against purely economic pursuits.

This is the 84th installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here.

  1. see my recent NFT purchase ↩︎