This week marks my 1 year anniversary in web3. My web3 birth was on 11/10/21 when I became the owner of the ENS domain dagan.eth. Unless you count the ethereum I purchased to exchange for the domain, it’s the first token I ever purchased on the blockchain. The transaction hash is:
Since then, I have reached a number of important personal milestones:
- Presented at three conference events on web3
- Started an NFT club at my middle school
- Joined a DAO for educators
- Attended an exclusive event at the World Trade Center for the owners of a specific NFT
- Published 30 issues of a web3/education newsletter
- Purchased many more NFTs
I have three main reflections to share after living for one year immersed in web3:
- We’re still early
- It still doesn’t work…yet
- We’ll figure it out
Planes and Blockchains
I will be using planes and flight to help describe what I’ve learned. Understanding where planes came from and how we got here is useful imagery for understanding web3. As author Steve Parrish of The Great Mental Models said, “The quality of our thinking is proportional to the models in our head.”
It’s written into the history of humankind that on December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered aircraft near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
The history of flight did not start with that event. There was kite flying in China, designs of various flying machines by da Vinci made, attempts at hot air balloon flights, “the flying man”, you get the idea.
Let’s take a look into the past to help us understand more about what we may see in the future.
Dirigibles and Tokens aka “We’re Still Early”
Lesson 1: We’re still early
We are in the “dirigible”, or “airship” phase of crypto and NFTs. This can refer to both the language that we use and what the technology looks like.
Dirigibles are those big metallic lube-looking things that were invented in the early 20th century. Your image of them might be from the cover of the Led Zeppelin I album or that horrific video of the Hindenburg disaster from 100 years ago. There were a number of terms that were used throughout their development, “zeppelin”, “aerostat”, “airship”, or “blimp.”
We don’t think of aircraft in those terms anymore. We just call all anything that flies through the sky an “airplane.” Similarly, I don’t foresee a future in which we still use the term “non-fungible token” or “cryptocurrency.” In the meantime, we have prototyped other terms as replacements, such as “token”, “digital asset” or my favorite, “magic internet money.”
As this technology becomes more widely adopted those terms will become outdated and will no longer make sense. A similar example today is how “surfing the information super highway” is an unusable phrase. The terminology of web3 will change as the utility of crypto and NFTs changes with it.
The claims about crypto and blockchain being “just a phase” is a sign of how early things are. The proclamations that we should “move on” from web3 are signals that we have reached the adoption bottom. Remember the famous Daily Mail headline from 1994, “Internet ‘may be just a passing fad as millions give up on it’.” Do you think the internet was a passing fad?
I admit that I get overzealous putting the pieces of the web3 puzzle together in my head. It is a fun exercise to imagine the use cases when designing my preferred future.
I have also learned that things are really early. There is a tremendous amount of room still to grow. And that’s a good thing. We will get to experience all future phases of growth by taking an early interest as builders in this space.
Stick around, that dirigible one day will become a jet plane. Just like how that token one day will become “magic internet money.”
The Metaverse is a Hot Air Balloon aka “It Still Doesn’t Work…Yet”
Lesson 2: It still doesn’t work…yet
Imagine you’ve created something accessible by a limited number of people, functions sporadically, and whose use could potentially result in dangerous outcomes. I am not talking about interacting on the blockchain, I am talking about the first hot air balloons.
The two have a lot in common.
Web3 does “work.” I can purchase crypto, transfer it to my wallet, and transact on the blockchain with digital tokens.
Yet it doesn’t “work” in the sense that it is not easy to use, very few people have the tools to use it, and it’s not completely safe. There’s nothing wrong with that. Early forms of the internet behaved similarly.
I can share an example of one of my favorite early internet memories. It was the Mike Tyson-James “Buster” Douglas fight in 1990. We had an internet connection at our house and we were able to access updates after each round by entering text commands. It felt pretty cutting-edge to be receiving real-time information about an event happening on the other side of the globe without a cable TV broadcast.
That was a far cry from the internet we know today. Far removed from the internet that we knew ten years ago, or even the first graphic-based/hyperlinked internet from almost 30 years ago.
The parallels with web3 are similar. The Carlson curve helps us understand that over time almost all technology experiences both a decrease in cost and an increase in performance.
In 1994 downloading a song on Netscape 1.0 using a 56 kbps modem took over 10 minutes. It cost about $4,000 in today’s dollars to buy the Macintosh Classic II that you’d be doing that on. That machine had about 40 MB of storage and 2 MB of RAM.
Today a Meta Quest Pro VR headset that allows you to experience fully immersive 3D environments costs $1,400. It has 256GB storage and 12GB RAM. We have computers that fit in our pockets that can live stream millions of songs at any time from anywhere in the world.
So while many web3 experiences that we have available today may feel like early 1990s internet, we’ll get there. This leads me to my final reflection.
From Airships to Rocketships aka “We’ll Figure it Out”
Lesson 3: We’ll figure it out
It was 65 years between the first powered and controlled flight on earth in 1903 to the first human lunar landing in 1969. That’s pretty impressive.
Amazing things happen when technology catches up with humankind’s knowledge and desires. It produces the aforementioned lunar landing. It also produced electricity, the compass, penicillin, and of course the internet which is still evolving to this day.
One day we’ll be accessing an ever-present, inter-operable, immersive world with value exchange. It sounds crazy to say that. I believe the future will be even more “out there” than that. In 1903 making the prediction that we would be using air travel to land on the moon was pretty out there too.
A future with brain-computer interfaces is on the horizon. The ability to experience things with our brains that our eyes cannot see is going to happen. Living in multiple “worlds” with expanded communities and societies will be built in the next 50, 75, and 100 years.
The technology feels clunky now so it is hard to imagine all of these pieces coming together to create the novel future that I am explaining. I have listened through a lot of theorizing, conjecture, grandiose promises, and dire predictions during the past year that has forced me to question these possibilities. Having done the work to examine these futures with a skeptical and critical eye, I am comfortable saying that we will figure out how to bring blockchain technology into our future societies.
The Dream is Alive aka “A New Age Begins”
Prologue: A new age begins
Over this past year, I have experienced waves of surety and doubt about whether a blockchain-enabled future is real. There have been moments where I ask myself “what the hell am I thinking?” Maybe I am “sipping the web3 kool-aide.” Am I falling for the illusion that is being sold by charlatans? Am I one of the techno-clowns buying into that illusion?
If I didn’t see and experience some of the things this technology promises I probably wouldn’t believe it myself.
What I have come to understand during this year of exploration and learning is that the world will never be the same. In the future, we will speak about the post-COVID 2020s as being the moment when we entered a new era of how we (re)define the human experience.
I have concluded that there will be three things that define this human experience: ownership, value, and trust. Ownership in the way of NFTs (property), value in the way of cryptocurrency (money), and trust in the way of the blockchain (belief).
“To the moon” as we say in web3 lingo. It’s more than a meme, it’s an explanation of our shared human story.