Do you remember the first time you heard about computers, the internet or social media? Did you get it right away or did it take some time? Were you an early adopter or a laggard? Were you excited about how these new technologies might transform our lives or were you scared of the change to come?
The internet completely changed the world as we knew it and started a revolution. That was Web 1.0. And then social media ushered in a new era for humanity and moved us into Web 2.0. And now all the buzz, optimism and skepticism around blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFTs and the metaverse mean that we are entering a new phase, Web 3.0. But what does it all mean and why should you pay attention?
Quick disclaimer before resuming regular programming.
I am not an expert. In fact, I know very little about these new technologies. This article is inspired by two beliefs: One, the best way to learn is to teach. And two, as a beginner I may be better suited than an expert to teach other beginners– precisely because I don’t know much.
Blockchain is the technology that has ushered in this new revolution. But to understand its significance, let’s forget about the technology for a second.
Currencies are powered by trust. It's an agreed upon system that enables us to convert into money the value of the things we are trading. Without the federal reserves to give us the trust that our paper currency has any intrinsic value, we wouldn't trust the system and money would be worthless.
In any exchange or trade, the most important factor is also trust— especially in digital transactions. When we send money to someone via Venmo, for example, we trust that we are sending our money to the right person and that the person will in fact receive the money because Venmo instills in us that confidence– long before we even worry about the convenience it provides. And for its role in our trade, Venmo charges us a fee. A similar process takes place with banks and other third parties every time we use our credit cards.
Blockchain is a technology created to enable peer to peer transactions without the need for a middleman like Venmo or a bank. Blockchain is powered by a network of computers sophisticated and powerful enough to replace those existing institutions.
Photo via CBS INSIGHTS
Many applications will be built on top of blockchain technology. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, for example, are powered by blockchain and represent a bold attempt to decentralize money, which right now is entirely controlled by the Federal Reserve and banks. Imagine a world without paper money and hidden bank fees. All the transactions that the bank shows you in your statements would appear in your digital wallet (records) without the need for banks to handle or track any of it. Art is another industry where blockchain is creating a revolution in the form of NFTs.
Before blockchain technology, it was impossible to sell digital art. If someone created a cool piece of art on her computer, she would have to print it, put it in a frame before we could consider it art and before she could sell it. Beyond the cultural acceptance of what should be considered art, making copies of a digital piece of art is a lot easier than a painting on a canvas. So you could never know whether you were getting the original or a replica. And without trust there’s no trade. Enters blockchain. This new technology enables artists to give their art a unique “ID” to ensure that buyers are in fact getting THE original.
Furthermore, museums, like banks, serve as trust authorities. Without the Louvre, we would never know whether the Mona Lisa on the wall was in fact an original or a replica. Actually, we still don’t know. But we have put our trust in institutions like the Louvre to authenticate works of art. Someone couldn’t claim to sell us the Mona Lisa because we “know” that the original is hung in the Louvre. Collectors don’t buy art because they believe that they are impossible to replicate. They buy art because having THE original has cultural value and relevance, which both can appreciate over time, thus making art an investment.
Photo by REUTERS/NEXO
Blockchain solves both of these problems. It enables artists to sell digital art because it can now be given a unique “ID” and be authenticated without institutions like the Louvre. And to a collector, having THE original of a Gif, for example, is the only thing that matters regardless of how many replicas are flying in the web. I’m fact, the more replicas there are, the more popular and culturally relevant their original becomes, and its value therefore increases.
But why should you care about NFTs when you’ve never bought a piece of art before? The answer is the Metaverse.
A few months ago, Mark Zuckerburg announced the most significant rebrand of the 21st century when he revealed that Facebook will now be known as Meta. This rebrand, among other things, is the company’s attempt to lead the way in what many believe to be the next iteration of life on earth, one in which we will switch back and forth between life in our analogue world and a virtual reality called the metaverse. In this new phase, each of us will have a life as full, rich and complex in this metaverse as we do in our current reality. In the future each of us will have an avatar that will be an extension of who we are as we navigate life in the metaverse.
This shouldn't be too foreign to us. We’ve seen versions of it in sci-fi movies like Avatar. And many of us have already started this process. Think about the early versions of these concepts that many of us have already adopted, like creating a bitmoji and giving it a personality that mirrors who we are or who aspire to be. Think about video games like Wii or virtual reality headsets like Oculus that give us the ability to exercise via an avatar and use our bodies as the remote control.
Now extrapolate this to a world where many functions of our lives require that we create an avatar to interact with others in the metaverse. In this new world, for example, remote work will take on a whole new form. Every company will build campuses and offices in the metaverse and we will work from home with our virtual reality hardware on, while our avatar “goes” to work. And since we will all be in the metaverse, there will no longer be hybrid meetings where some of us are in the room while the rest are joining virtually via zoom. We will all “be” in the room via our avatars. Our kids will also “go” to school.
To live in the metaverse, or at least go to work or school, we will have to buy with cryptocurrency NFT clothes and accessories for ourselves and the newest Jordan NFTs for our kids because as long as we are human, our longing for self-expression, connection and status isn’t going anywhere.
Most of this is still very far in the future. But I hope I have inspired you, or perhaps I’ve scared you enough, to at least pay closer attention whenever any of these words is mentioned. Either way, one thing is for certain, the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no going back. The future is here and our lives will never be the same. Welcome to web 3.0.
PS: the subheadings are links to the best videos I’ve found to help you better understand these concepts.
written by Junior Nyemb, Chief Empathy Officer at grio.