Crypto and web3 thoughts

Where do I even begin? My opinion changes wildly, from taking a firmly anti-crypto stance inspired by Everest Pipkin’s environmental arguments—to thinking that I should set up Gunbot on an old computer or even learn how to develop for Web 3. I don’t know where I stand, so I’m going to start chronicling my thoughts here so that maybe one day I can figure out my opinion.

First impressions

Around the beginning of the 2010s, I heard about crypto from a bandmate, who is now the founder of Tokensoft. I remember being intrigued by the idea of smart contracts, and had a lot of romantic thoughts about creating a better society.

Back then, I was pro-disruption, pro-Peter Theil building an island, pro tech eating the world, and I really thought that things like Ethereum would make things more fair (ignoring the underlying issues based on pre-existing forms of capital and governance… more on that later).

I was a disgruntled 20 year old, a millennial who grew up on the internet and found freedom there. I was the type of kid who typed whatever I wanted on the internet without regard for privacy. The Xanga and Myspace generation.

Mining Attempts

When I first considered buying Bitcoin, it was around $80 USD. This was back in early 2013. I was awaiting a transfer to UC Berkeley, working in a restaurant, and I didn’t have the funds to spare on what I saw as a gamble.

The sure thing, I thought, was mining Bitcoin. But I got in too late, and my old Macbook with a single core CPU and stock Intel GPU overheated and almost self destructed a couple times. I researched Butterfly Miners and even signed up for a Litecoin Mining Pool in 2013, but I wrote the wallet key somewhere in a notebook that I have since lost. I think I have some Dogecoin too, but we’ll never know. (Well, we might know one day, if quantum computers are able to crack public wallet keys.)

So, whatever. I mined a little bit, I lost it, I moved on with my life, dropped out of UC Berkeley, and started working in Product Design.

My last semester at Berkeley, I remember learning about modular arithmetic and crypotgraphy.

Source: https://pi.math.cornell.edu/~mec/2003-2004/cryptography/RSA/RSA.html

We learned RSA cryptography, we converted things to hex and binary code by hand, and I just remember thinking—I UNDERSTAND COMPUTERS NOW! Wow, this Satoshi guy was really smart to think up this Bitcoin thing.

And so, I simultaneously became a privacy nerd (due to knowing more about encryption) and a crypto head (because I saw the technical value in the blockchain concept).

Tech Fallout

Products are run by people. That’s what I found out while working as a UX Designer for various startups in SF. For each new product launch, there’s a whole team of real people that have admin dashboards, support tickets, and basically keep the whole thing running. And they’re not paid very much, despite being integral to the success of the product.

I found out that automation was a myth. Even if the interface is designed to make it look like computers are doing things for you, there’s a person in the background making everything work. I became disillusioned.

After the Uber sexual harassment scandal broke in 2017, I remembered that the same thing was happening to my coworkers. I left that company because HR tried to sweep it under the rug. At a different company, I was unable to report anti-Trans behavior because our HR person was at Burning Man. All of this on the heels of the infamous email sent out to Zenefits employees in 2016:

“Cigarettes, plastic cups filled with beer, and several used condoms were found in the stairwell. Yes, you read that right. Do not use the stairwells to smoke, drink, eat, or have sex.”

Okay, I realize that this has nothing to do with crypto. But it definitely colored my opinion on crypto-bros, who I met most often in the SF startup scene.

Investment

I invested in ETH, Ripple, and BTC on Coinbase around 2018. I think BTC jumped to around $6000. I sold a few months later when the price started to drop a little bit, afraid it would go back down to $800. (It didn’t, LOL)

Now, I think it’s obvious that buying some Bitcoin and holding on to it is a smart long term investment strategy. The big banks are bought in to crypto, but… why? And why is everyone so hyped on Web3?

Does Web3 describe technical advancements in things like payment processing? (I need to research this more—how does crypto actually prevent fraud and chargebacks?)

What’s Web3?

The term Web 2.0 was coined in the late 90s to describe the collaborative and social nature of web platforms such as Wikipedia, MySpace, etc. Nothing really changed technologically—except for the move away from iframe and table to div and CSS-based layouts, augmented by Javascript. Sites stopped using DHTML as much, but we still had tons of file types like WML for mobile and XHTML for XML purists. The era of databases began, powered mostly by PHP and MySQL. The self hosted blog wars started—and Wordpress won.

In my opinion, Web 2.0 was not really a paradigm shift—it was just a natural progression of more people getting online, more nodes in the graph of connectivity. Some called it the rise of the platform, which I don’t think really happened until the 2010s when Silicon Valley got super hyped about two sided marketplaces and products with plugins, integrations, and a whole ecosystem contained within them. I mean, that’s what I think of as a “platform” from today’s lens, but I suppose in the 2000s Facebook was also a platform. It had apps, after all.

Web 3.0 was supposed to be the semantic web, according to Tim Berners-Lee. Semantic as in, meaningful to machines. As opposed to endless <div> tags with no semantic meaning, the new HTML Living Standard “conveys meaning, rather than presentation”, which has advantages for accessibility, SEO, and cross device consistency. Semantic tags such as <main> and <header> have been documented by the WHATWG since 2019, but have still not caught on in the general web developer community (from my vantage point at least).

Web3, as a crypto buzzword, refers to decentralization:

Web 3.0’s decentralized blockchain protocol will enable individuals to connect to an internet where they can own and be properly compensated for their time and data, eclipsing an exploitative and unjust web, where giant, centralized repositories are the only ones that own and profit from it.

What Is Web 3.0? by Charles Silver, Forbes

While this might seem in line with Tim Berners-Lee’s original goals to create an open, decentralized, and universal space, is it actually going to work? There are still opportunities for exploitation in the crypto world, and early adopters (with better access to funds and hardware) were able to profit more at the beginning.

Plus, Berners-Lee has said that we willingly gave up our data to corporations [find quote]. But crypto companies are coming around and asking us to give our data to them instead—I think we should all really consider the implications before we take the plunge.

Is Web3 just another name for the metaverse? A descriptor for the increasing conversion of IRL –> digital data? The productization and data analysis of everything? Do we even want everything to be stored in a ledger, in an immutable blockchain? One with increasing computing cost to maintain, that will continue to damage the environment with every transaction decrypted and encrypted again? It almost makes cutting down trees for paper look like the better environmental choice for data preservation.

The Internet is in the Ocean

Submarine cables! They’ve been around since the 1830s. Sharks bite them. And they all run through central points—I assume blockchain data would also run through these points, which are controlled by just a few Tier 1 Networks.

To be continued

So many thoughts, so little time

Reading List

Here are all the notes in this garden, along with their links, visualized as a graph.