It’s a harsh and brutal truth to accept, but Sam Bankman-Fried single-handedly destroyed THE opportunity for crypto. This really struck me while watching a recent BBC Panorama documentary on the collapse of FTX. I watched it hoping that a talking head might suggest that SBF’s actions had undermined crypto’s positive potential. I didn’t expect the majority to mention it, but there would be at least one defender in the mix.
But not once has the idea of such a good crypto appeared. And even though I’ve had this feeling for a while, the documentary said it very clearly: we are cooked, it’s over, to the general public. And if you are no longer likely to be part of the dominant culture, then where can you go but back to your roots, to the subculture.
Crypto is a subculture that has gotten out of control – but I also believe that crypto will survive to the extent that it accepts its subculture status. But to return to our subcultural roots, we must extricate ourselves from a toxic dynamic: our dependence on social media platform X.
Marshall McLuhan’s famous idea that the medium is the message means that the media we use shapes the content we consume. Or conversely, the content we consume obscures the media we use. Crypto history is shaped by its social media, and today we seem trapped in a toxic relationship with one in particular, X (the artist formerly known as Twitter).
When Bitcoin launched in 2009, the discourse around the first cryptocurrency took place on an already struggling platform, the discussion forum. Bitcointalk was not Athens, far from it, but the discussion forum format imposed a slower pace and a more traditional call-and-response dialog tree.
By 2015, crypto had mostly moved to Reddit. Reddit’s format has allowed crypto projects to establish their own niches. The largest subreddit, /cryptocurrency, superficially suggested a coherent movement, while posts often saw projects sniping at each other in the comments. Reddit, as a media outlet, escalated antagonism and rivalry by both enabling segregation in echo chambers, and then, to add fuel to the fire, gave us a giant, messy Parliament, where everyone could mutter under their breath while the representatives of the other side gave their speeches. .
The current stage is the transition to X.
X is a medium that has had three main corrosive effects on cryptography. First, X brought all the absurdity and drama of crypto culture to the mainstream eye. X is not an isolated discussion board or relatively obscure subreddit, but a global public square where all of our shenanigans are amplified. Silly, exaggerated claims about the metaverse could now be shared for likes by an average Joe looking for an easy dunk. Second, X algorithmically rewards contradictory content. Influencers committed to building an audience have turned topics as mundane as the best consensus mechanism into viable careers. You could spend your time analyzing interesting nuances between mining and staking, but it’s far more lucrative – literally since monetization – to present a conspiracy theory or two to your audience. Third,
For most people, this is all they see of cryptography, and it shapes their attitudes, hardening them to the thesis that cryptography has failed. Not that crypto has any potential if it can just get rid of scammers, but that whatever crypto is supposed to be is actually Scam City. The medium is the fake airdrop under your friend’s message.
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Moving away from X, there is a more subtle point regarding the mediums we choose to communicate with. If we ourselves insist on using Web2 social media platforms rather than our own, then why would anyone really buy into our ideas about decentralization, permissionlessness, ownership economics, etc.? ?
Because these platforms exist. We already have Lens (similar to Meta), Console (similar to Discord), and Farcaster (similar to X) on Ethereum. These exist NOW as perfectly working Web3 alternatives.
They are our mediums and they offer an escape route. However, psychologically, a transition from “Crypto Twitter” and its millions of users to one of these much quieter Web3 platforms would be tantamount to admitting that crypto is a subculture again.
But that might be exactly what we need for crypto to succeed.
We need to build our own Web3 platforms, hopefully eliminating the worst excesses of the Web2 platforms we currently depend on. So maybe, just maybe, when people come across us again, they will find a group of people living by their values and be able to see the good side of those values for themselves.
Dr Paul Dylan-Ennis is a Senior Lecturer/Assistant Professor in the College of Business, University College Dublin. He is the author of the upcoming book “The Absolute Essentials of Ethereum” with Routledge.
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