The journey to Web3 from Web2 or a path to digital authoritarianism?
Securing a meal, flight, or hotel can take just a few minutes with the world at our fingertips. But where will our insatiable appetite for content and sharing experiences take us next? Before we race ahead to the future, it's important to understand our analog past and how we got to where we are today.
In an increasingly digital world, many will have the answer to almost any question they can think of by simply reaching for their smartphone. There is no excuse for anyone to be bored with 82 million songs at your disposal on Spotify, more than 4 million books on Kindle Unlimited, and over 4,000 movies and TV shows on Netflix.
The home internet connection
In the early nineties, many homes began connecting to the internet for the first time while listening to the sweet sound of a dial-up modem. In these simpler times, AOL and Yahoo were household names, and a pile of CD Roms would fall out of every magazine you picked up from the shelves. Web1 was read-only, meaning that we were merely consumers of content searching for information on static web pages.
The arrival of ADSL broadband, cable internet, and smartphones took us to the world of Web2, which we have enjoyed for over 15 years. This was when we all became creators of content instead of consumers of static information. We now instinctively interact with friends on social media and messaging apps, seamlessly sharing videos and digital images. But, on the downside, content creators are seldom rewarded for their efforts, and a handful of big tech companies took all the power.
However, there is now an opportunity to reimagine the internet and once again regain control from the centralized gatekeepers. Many hope that as we continue to build web3, it will eventually act as a bridge between the consumers and the brands they love.
Web3: read + write + own
The foundations of Web3 consist of a more inclusive, fairer, autonomous, and open internet. As blockchain, crypto, and NFTs enter the mainstream, it is hoped that we will see the gradual transfer of power back to the internet community. For example, decentralized finance (DeFi) empowers consumers by enabling them to exchange digital assets and earn passive income without a third party taking a cut. But it's still a long way from breaking the monopoly of the Web2 giants.
Big tech companies from the Web2 era are also jumping on the Web3 trend and are determined not to get left behind. For example, if you have logged into Twitter recently, you will have been prompted to check out a verification feature that allows NFT creators and holders to claim their NFT profile picture. It also enables Twitter users to add their NFT collection directly to their profile page. When users click the link, they are taken to a marketplace where they can purchase your collections.
YouTube is also exploring new ways for creators to make more money by minting their videos and adding them to NFT marketplaces where fans can bid to own them. The 2D video-sharing platform also has big plans for the Metaverse by harnessing emerging technologies to create social viewing experiences for gaming content.
Decentralized government or a path to digital authoritarianism?
Many leaders in the Web3 space are excited by removing legacy Web2 infrastructure and regaining control from gatekeepers. By daring to reimagine the internet and navigate unchartered digital waters, they are building inclusive digital experiences that serve the interests of their users rather than big tech and large corporations.
Blockchain was originally seen as a tool that will decentralize government and remove power from big corporations. But there is an increasing fear that Web3 could take everyone on a path to authoritarianism. For example, when Canada sanctioned 34 crypto wallets tied to trucker 'freedom convoy' and traditional financial assets, it highlighted how anyone could be switched off from the financial world and denied access to their money. Only time will tell if this is a playbook we will see again.
Although there won't be a central digital currency in the UK before 2025, we know plans for launching a "Britcoin" are already underway. There are also rumors of the US dollar eventually going digital, and some analysts predict that the future of crypto payments will be centralized. Despite the tech dream of decentralizing government and corporate power, there is a fear that Web3 technologies such as blockchain, AI, AR, and the Metaverse could be used for the exact opposite of their original purpose.
In these very early days of Web3, the future is still up for grabs, and the opportunities ahead are almost limitless. However, in pursuit of this better future, don't think that the old guard will pack their bags and retire to drink cocktails on a beach. Whether Web3 sets people free or becomes the ultimate tool for an authoritarian state to consolidate its control is still up for debate.
We are already living in a world where workplace surveillance has become the norm and predictive policing and citizen scoring are once again coming under the spotlight in Europe. For these reasons alone, maybe we should tread carefully and be very careful what we wish for.
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