Or, How do you think you can stop the apocalyptic future of a capitalized internet driven by crypto, when we’re already caught in the jaws of the social-media platform driven one?
I don’t like contempt culture; I’ve become bored with the idea of sneering at things that offend some aesthetic sensibility of mine for the sake of appealing to others, or for perpetuating myths about a dis-preferred tool. I really only have time to be mad about things that matter these days, and so it takes me awhile to settle in and accept that something is harmful enough that I should bother being mad and outspoken about it.
And holy shit is this web 3.0 nonsense worthy of that scorn.
As perhaps best summarized in Dan Olson’s ENORMOUS video essay, “The Problem With NFTs“, the worldview that underpins the commonly labelled “web three point oh” is ultimately a desire to use the technology of the internet to capitalize everything in our lives.
The video essay warns of a dystopian future where we are forced to participate in coercive capital systems where everything we do is not only paid for, not just pervasively tracked, but also bundled up as assets which the investor class can trade like so many baseball cards, speculating on their value and using them as collateral to acquire even more wealth.
It is ultimately a system which threatens to obliterate privacy and widen inequality to serve the egos of technologists and financial insiders and it is honestly a horrifying prospect that must be killed now before it can gain a foothold and force us to engage with it to access basic services and processes of daily life.
This web three point oh is a literal hell that must not become reality.
But I think that opposing that whole-heartedly also requires us to admit and discuss that in many ways, our current experience on the world wide web – The platform-dominated, consumption-focused, broadcast-media-like experience of the web in the year 2022 – has already capitalized us and our interactions.
Hank Green often asserts that we have such a poor grasp on the construction of the internet and what it does culturally because it is new, and we, as humans, are just going to be terrible at new forms of mass communication for awhile. But this only makes it all the more important that we have frank discussions about the way we have been terrible at it, and that we view them with eyes open instead of suffering an ever-sanitized alternate past, sold to us by corporations whose interest lies in ignoring the horrible harm they’ve already caused to our lives and livelihoods.
Social Media has already taken so much of this from us and stands in contemptible, disgusting opposition to the ideals that the world wide web supposedly pursues, and we should understand that Web 2.0 is already a stepping stone to the aforementioned hell of fully capitalized digital life. The rise of the Platform Controlled Internet already worsens our lives, both in the real and digital worlds.
Setting up a blog or hosting a website costs money; You have to pay, somehow, for the power, for the processing, and for the connections which put the server hosting your words onto the internet. There’s of course scams and different levels of service, but ultimately, the relationship you have with a website host is that you are paying for the infrastructure to serve your content to the world.
Except, almost nobody does this anymore. At least not a vast majority of internet users. Because they do not create places to host this content from whole cloth.
In many ways, this is true of a WordPress blog like this one; I am not doing all of the work, the presentation of my words is built upon a set of technology, templates and publishers and plugins. There is, in fact, a ‘platform’ which provides abstracted computer resources to me to serve this content.
But while the software beneath this blog is creating pages, I’m not exactly paying for it directly; I am paying a host (Dreamhost, in this case) to run a computer which serves you the pages that the software created.
Most of the words we type every day are not on a platform we pay to host our words, or on machines that we ourselves maintain to serve them. Instead, a vast majority of most of the words written by users of the internet are hosted by a platform, to which the users pay no direct monetary compensation.
This is largely the promise and execution of “Web 2.0”, and it means that we are fundamentally not paying for a service when we interact with the World Wide Web, and we are not browsing and posting html to independent sites connected by a large, resilient network of computers and modems.
Instead, most of those words are being placed on a handful of platforms, and we – Our words, our expression, our communication – are being sold. Everything about us which these platforms collect is used to engage in exchange with a completely different entity. We are, in actuality, products, which these enormous platforms bundle up and provide, in exchange for a lot of money, to a third party – Advertisers.
This is both an ancient and recent model for monetizing of communications. Advertisements have been a significant part of television and print media. But one excruciatingly important difference separates the advertising of those mediums and what we have today: Advertisers know a lot more about us, because of the monopolies that these platforms hold on our everyday communications.
We are not paying for a service; We are ourselves the product for these platforms.
We are tasked, in exchange for free access to shout on Twitter, in exchange for allowing them to control how we interact with one another, in exchange for allowing their algorithms to sort our timelines and show us trends, with creating content for them.
Without users, there is nothing of interest on Twitter. In fact, in my experience, official content from Twitter is often some of the most despised content on the platform itself.
I don’t think that this is news for most people. Especially not those who have interacted with the internet before this past decade, or anyone who remembers pre-Facebook internet. But there is a reason that we are still bound by these platforms, and that is, put simply, network effects.
The current Wikipedia page for network effect says that they are
[A] phenomenon by which the value or utility a user derives from a good or service depends on the number of users of compatible products.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect
Network Effects are the monopolistic reality which allows for Social Media sites to thrive even though we all absolutely hate them. They are, simply, there, and any one of them is preferable for people to use because, well, everyone is there, so why would I go anywhere else?
But what is less obvious is how every use of these platforms empowers them. It is increasingly difficult for your content to appear in front of people without a presence on these sites. We’re dependent on them for visibility for our content no matter how much we do not want to use them. They are monopolies which hold in their hands the eyeballs of most users of the internet.
I retread this ground because I think it is important to imagine what we might do tomorrow in opposition of the vision of Web Three Point Oh through the lens of what we do today to oppose the more familiar, more invisible web 2.0.
I’m writing this out on a blog instead of as a long thread on a social media site today as a first formal step towards understanding and trying to oppose platforms. It is not a solution, it’s barely even an act of rebellion, because the primary vector this can spread is through those same systems, because our lives are bound by these beastly organizations and their software.
But the question I want anyone who suffers through my writing long enough to get here is simply this – If you feel the level of contempt I do for the future that is imagined and pitched by rich financial technologists, by opportunistic scammers, by the same people who caused the 2008 crisis to enrich themselves, then what do you think you can do about it?
Because ultimately, the same corporate forces and guileless marks which have caused titanic social media companies to flourish are going to jump onto the blockchain train next. They will try to grow in the same way and subvert people to adopt and become entangled with their products in the same way that Twitter or Facebook or Google or Amazon or Apple of Spotify do today.
If, having decades of history to look back on, with studies and news and investigations and congressional testimony to review, you cannot imagine some way to decouple your use of the web from these enormous entities, then what will you build on?
These hopeful oligarchs wish for a new financial crisis where they get to hold power, and they are fighting to create the a web three point oh dystopia that slices up your life and bundles it for capital speculation. They will leverage the same tools that the platforms we are imprisoned by today used in their ascension to power; If you are not at least thinking about how to push back on the systems already capitalizing you today, how can you possibly draw a line in the sand and oppose those looking to do so tomorrow?