David Mattin: how Web3 is unleashing creativity, and a new quest for status
We might be creating a new, decentralised version of the internet with blockchain-based technologies, but the same old human needs are driving its evolution. In our final episode of this season of the NEXT show, David Mattin explores a new model of creative communities.
David Mattin is a trend watcher, and NEXT’s keynoter-in-residence. In the seventh and final episode of the NEXT – SHOW series 3, he explored how the clash of the human desire for status and the emergence of Web3 technologies are creating the environment for a whole new wave of technology.
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Web3: creating new cliques on the block
There’s a coming collision between an emerging technology — Web3 — and a fundamental human need: status. This will offer innovators and professionals amazing and powerful opportunities. Change can throw you off balance — it makes it hard to plan. But there’s a simple, powerful core truth that allows you to make sense of the change and plot new directions: we remain the same old humans with the same old needs.
The promise of Web3 is an internet built on public blockchains. They allow decentralised collaboration and transactions. They fuel cryptocurrencies, they power NFTs. This technology promises a decentralised internet, that strips power away from the big tech companies, and hands it back to us. It’s about power to the people, to the crowd. But our eternal drive for status makes us want to stand out from the crowd. We would like to be acknowledged, we hope to be seen as special.
Last year, this clash played out in the form of NFT art: tokens which allow unique ownership of digital art. They swept the world in 2021, and people paid crazy prices for them. This is a very familiar, ancient status play: elite art ownership. It’s about more than showing off your wealth, it’s also about saying that you’re cultured, a patron of the arts. And that goes right back to the Medici family in the 15th century — and probably before that.
But NFTs will also empower the rise of virtual status symbols: virtual objects in virtual worlds, used as visual symbols of status. RTFKT in the US sold $3.1m worth of virtual trainers in minutes. Nike has acquired them.
Decentralised communities in Web3
Let’s look at some examples:
Cryptopunks — NFTs of digital arts — sold for millions, not for the art value, but to join an incredibly high-value community. You’re paying the status hit of joining that community.
This distributed autonomous organisation gathered together 17,000 people to bid for an original copy of the US Constitution, with many of them only contributing a few hundred dollars. You don’t have to like or support this move to see the deeper underlying points: this couldn’t have happened without Web3, and distributed communities are unlocking a new manifestation of status behaviour. In the end, they were outbid by one man: Ken Griffin. He was pursuing a traditional approach to status, they were doing something new. But both were after the same status hit.
Loot used a rundown text generated to create 8,000 random bags of loot for gaming worlds. They’re simply lists of items, of the kinds you find in these fantasy gaming worlds. If you bought the NFT, you bought a list of words — but access to the Loot community as well. With that community, you can co-create things. They formed guilds based on ownership of particular items. Some people build characters and stories. There’s a Loot newspaper. You get access to this creative community by buying an NFT – and it’s a leaderless community. People are shaping it as they go along.
This is the world’s first example of an AI autonomous artist. Every week, Botto creates hundreds of pieces of art from a neural network trained on more art than most of us will experience in our lifetimes. The surrounding community votes on one piece a week to go to the auction service SuperRare to be auctioned. Anyone can join the community around Botto, by buying a crypto token. The theory? That the value of those tokens will rise over time, so you will profit from that community.
This is a distributed community that gets you access to high-value dinner parties. Buy a Dinner Dao NFT to get access, and the sales fund the dinners. It’s a classic form of status display, unlocked in a whole new way.
What about the metaverse?
Snapchat recently partnered with the Black Cultural Archives to create an AR installation in London’s Trafalgar Square about black history. You could go there and have an augmented relay experience via your phone. Imagine how much more powerful that would be when you could look at it through AR glasses. That’s where we’re heading.
We’ll see an explosion of AR worlds, that will create communities built around these worlds. You’ll have a decentralised community that creates a steampunk London, and another that (re?)creates a Victorian London, and so on. Participating in those communities will come via buying a crypto token or an NFT. The community will vote and share their own AR world.
What does this mean for you?
Think about the following things:
- Movements and experiences
Can Web3’s promise be fulfilled?
How decentralised is this new world really? Some criticisms are valid and concerning. In the early days of the web, there was a real sense that it would democratise the world. And we all know how that ended up: with the power centralised in a few platforms. That dream was never realised. The real concern is that Web3 will go on that same journey. And you are seeing power centralise around platforms like OpenSea.
We’re so deep in the mindset of Web 2.0, the centralised internet, that there’s a concern we can’t break free of that mindset, and will end up doing the same to Web3. It’s going to be fascinating to see it play out — but David is less optimistic than he once was.
Do we really want a decentralised world? Does that mean an absence of rules or protection? It’s a risk. David is sceptical of the idea of new technologies delivering us to a utopia. Yes, we did knock down the media gatekeepers with Web 2.0, how well has that turned out? It turns out that the flow of information used to be controlled in a useful way. The people gatekeeping had a culture of truth — but now we have an information free-for-all. So, is more decentralisation what we want?
A time for big Web3 risks
David’s counter-argument is that we do, just because we’ve seen the central organisations we have in charge of the current internet fail to protect us. Even our political systems have not been able to cope with, understand, or control this gathering of power in the tech companies. We need something radically new instead. That might be radically distributed power and new institutions. But it’s risky.
It’s interesting that we so often make the connection between the early days of the internet and now: it shows how significant this moment is. Just like in the early days of the current web, Web3 is hard to use. People will come along to make it easier — but the people who make it easier tend to create centralisation of power. So, we need to tread carefully on this journey. We want to avoid handing power back to platforms just to make things easier for people.
This is a summary of a keynote by David and an interview with him conducted by Monique van Dusseldorp and broadcast on the NEXT Show on 19th May 2022. You can catch up with David and his work by subscribing to his newsletter or following him on Twitter and LinkedIn.