Lest anyone get the wrong impression, I want to state up front that I am really keen on the crypto revolution. More specifically, I am excited by the possibilities of Web3 to increase the collaboration and participation of individuals around the globe towards solving deep and intractable problems, having direct ownership in the value that they create (rather than having it extracted by middle-men), and generally forging more equitable and pro-social organizations. In any event, I think this is all inevitable so there’s no point in standing in the way of progress and becoming roadkill.
At the same time, I often wonder about the negative externalities that we create in the process.
I recently attended a crypto conference in Las Vegas put together by the team at Real Vision. Great mix of people from the speakers to the attendees. Really enjoyed it.
As you can imagine, everyone was super bullish and wide-eyed about the prospects of Web3, as they should be. This is the beginning of a huge and very disruptive wave that will disintermediate much of what we now take for granted.
However, I am not a fan of disruption for disruption sake. I like to consider the unintended consequences in order to help mitigate or even fend them off, beforehand. I wish in retrospect that we’d had a few contrarians on the panels to put things in context, especially when it comes to the past, present and future.
Techno-revolutions, including crypto, often think that they herald the end of history and that it’s year zero all over again. Obviously, this isn’t true. The seeds were planted long ago. Many attempts fail until they get it right. How many revolutions did the French have until the aristocracy finally capitulated (and decapitated) to the demands of a republic?
Web3 is no different. Nothing is really ‘new’ in this space, only repackaged. Metaverse - remember Transmedia? Smart Contracts - remember autonomous software agents (bots), CORBA and the InterORB? Cryptocurrency - loyalty points, game loot? These are not one-to-one matches, sure, but they represent variations on a theme. The ideas have been percolating, experimenting, and there has been significant investment over time.
Anyways, I digress. What are the negative externalities that I worry about?
For one, capitalism (the ‘rapacious’ kind) has been turbo-charged by the financializaiton of everything. The citizens of many modern capitalist societies have suffered a great ‘hollowing out’ of their middle classes. Income inequality is widespread and so is the gap between the have and have-nots. Capitalism has financialized everything, devalued labor, and increasingly commoditized things that we’d rather not - such as relationships that need to remain less transactional in order to have a society that we’d actually like to live in.
At the same time everybody is increasingly going freelance. A third of them love it and wax lyrical about the passion economy. Another third is more sanguine and just doing as many low-paying jobs as they can to get by. The last third feels like indentured servants and hate it.
Web3 is going to push this to the edge by tokenizing everything on the planet and in our lives. There are going to be some phenomenal benefits of this, no doubt. Value will be suddenly ‘unlocked’ everywhere. Wonderful. But what is going to happen to us as a result? Are we all going to turn into multi-level marketers towards one another? Are we all going to become a bunch of hustlers? I am thinking now of Cary Fukunaga’s Maniac series in which the world if full of AdBuddies to help you make payments for things you can’t afford. Social Media platforms devolve into ‘cult of me’ parlors encouraging displays of self-promotion, preening and narcissism. It’s like being back in school.
Another concern I have is that I want DAOs to succeed but they often ignore all the great lessons from the past when it comes to managing people. Here’s an unusually honest account of what I mean. Many organizations have worked through very painful lessons involving the alignment of incentives be it from org charts, team design, compensation, process & methodology (Scrum, Agile), etc. Cooperatives have a rich history of exploration around the very same issues that DAOs now face. It seems silly to ignore it. Again, this is not criticism meant as buzzkill but to advocate for improvement by understanding history.
I don’t have the answers, so i’ll use this thread to post things that I find and people who could provide the answers we need. I encourage others to do the same and join me.