Unbridled optimism about technology can be just as misleading as unbridled criticism. How are we thinking about Web3?
Should we embrace or deride the suite of technologies it comprises?
The argument is similar to conversations around the metaverse, a vision for the future of the internet. Those debates haven’t ended, but much of the focus has shifted to a set of technologies said to underpin the concept of the metaverse, unified under the banner Web3.
The debate has been galvanized by the resurfacing of a 1995 clip from an interview with Bill Gates on the Late Show with David Letterman. The Microsoft co-founder was expounding his vision for the internet with puppyish optimism and Letterman was playing the skeptic.
The recirculation of this clip signals that we’re once again in that peculiar FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) phase of a new technology push, notes Charlie Warzel at The Atlantic. “Some view Web3 with hope and promise. But others see it as a frothy hype cycle, full of VCs and tech folks bullying people into markets and ideas.”
Web3 backers argue that you can build anything online and put it on the blockchain, which means the information is hosted collectively instead of by one company or entity. When you use Facebook or host your content on any platform, you’re on their turf; they have your data and you’re subject to their rules. On Web3, the idea goes, you can help set the rules. And you can port your data anywhere, using a digital wallet.
Web3 skeptics counter that the cryptocurrencies that undergird this new version of the internet are at best a wasteful scam and at worst an ecological nightmare. The most vehement critics see Web3 as an elaborate Ponzi scheme orchestrated by the same greedy and immoral technology titans who built the social internet.
Warzel sides with Elon Musk of all people in acknowledging that Web3 “seems more a marketing buzzword than reality right now,” but, “Given the almost unimaginable nature of the present, what will the future be?” he asks.
“Web3 does feel more like investors pumping a stock than it does an organic movement. Still, I worry about developing a mindset that goes beyond reflexive skepticism and into a kind of calcified naysaying,” says Warzel.
“Perhaps worst of all, I find so much of Web3 deeply inaccessible. When I took the time to set up a crypto wallet and participate in the new economy, the experience was devoid of thrill. I didn’t feel that sense of hope and potential that came when I first logged onto the internet, logged into Facebook, downloaded a song on Napster, or held a smartphone in my hand and checked my email away from a computer.”
YOUR ROADMAP TO Web3:
Does Web3 offer the promise of a truly decentralized internet, or is it just another way for Big Tech to maintain its stranglehold on our personal data? Hand-picked from the NAB Amplify archives, here are the expert insights you need to understand Web3’s potential and stay ahead of the curve on the information superhighway:
- Magnificent Obsession: Why Are We in Love With Web3?
- Web3 and the Battle For the Soul of the Internet
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- Avatar to Web3: An A-Z Compendium of the Metaverse
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This is similar to the experience of Vox’s Peter Kafka, who explains that he gave up trying to buy an NFT because of the complexity involved in buying crypto, setting up wallets and handing over money to essentially unknown organizations.
READ MORE: Web3 is the future, or a scam, or both (Vox)
Nonetheless, Warzel insists that the Web3 ambitions must be taken seriously: “It has the money and the influence and sheer marketing power to make the dream a reality.”
Ethereum, the cryptocurrency that powers much of Web3, will be around for a good while, he thinks. Blockchain has established such a durable culture, that dismissing it out of hand ignores the reality on the ground, he adds. And, as the writer Robin Sloan argues, Web3 will likely influence the direction of the internet incompletely and unpredictably.
READ MORE: Notes on Web3 (Robin Sloan)
But, says Warzel, the FOMO-fueled marketing of this technology can still be deeply problematic: It strong-arms people into markets and ideas, attracting grifters, scammers, and the greedy while repelling those who want to build sustainable communities and products.”