Web3 is Vision-LARPing

Role-playing as a visionary when you don’t have a coherent vision

Liron Shapira
Bloated MVP


I’m not inspired by Web3’s vision because the end state that it’s supposedly aiming for — regardless of whether the technology to get there makes sense, and whether the various execution challenges are feasible — is super vague.

In my previous posts, I focused on analyzing Web3’s value prop to end users, or lack thereof:

This post is my higher-level conclusion why I think it lacks an inspiring vision.

I see Web3 as the epitome of our era of Indefinite Optimism, as defined in Peter Thiel’s smart and highly original book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

My favorite chapter, “You Are Not A Lottery Ticket”, centers on the concept of definite vs. indefinite attitudes. Under the heading “Can You Control Your Future?” Thiel writes:

You can expect the future to take a definite form or you can treat it as hazily uncertain. If you treat the future as something definite, it makes sense to understand it in advance and work to shape it. But if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it.

Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s the most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities”. In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready — for nothing in particular.

A definite view, by contrast, favors firm convictions. Instead of pursuing many-sided mediocrity and calling it “well-roundedness,” a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it. […] This is not what young people do today, because everyone around them has long since lost faith in a definite world.

When you have a definite attitude, you do stuff like:

  • Claim that skill is more important than luck (or you can “make your own luck”)
  • Back a political candidate who has a long-term plan you believe in
  • Start a company to make something people want
  • Work on megaprojects
  • Invest actively in companies and expect a high return

While if you have an indefinite attitude, you do stuff like:

  • Claim that success “seems to stem as much from context as from personal attributes” (a quote from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers)
  • Follow election polls to see which candidate is the most popular this week
  • Graduate from business school and become a consultant
  • Work on a bunch of smaller projects to become well-rounded and keep your options open
  • Invest passively in a portfolio of stocks and bonds and expect low returns

Thiel says that the western world had an era of definite optimism beginning in the 17th century and lasting through to the 1950s and ‘60s:

In 1914, the Panama Canal cut short the route from Atlantic to Pacific. […] The Interstate Highway System began construction in 1956, and the first 20,000 miles of road were open for driving by 1965. […] NASA’s Apollo Program began in 1961 and put 12 men on the moon before it finished in 1972.

But, he says, the shared attitude in the US and Europe has now shifted to indefinite:

The government used to be able to coordinate complex solutions to problems like atomic weaponry and lunar exploration. But today, after 40 years of indefinite creep, the government mainly just provides insurance; our solutions to big problems are Medicare, Social Security, and a dizzying array of other transfer payment programs.

In Web3, everyone is excited about their picks and shovels. Their platform. Their piece of infrastructure. Notice these terms are all indefinite about end-to-end use case.

To make Web3 definite, someone needs to ask:

  • What’s the gold being mined for with the picks & shovels?
  • What killer application runs on the platform?
  • What structure goes on top of the infrasturcture?

Web3 proponents think they have a perfect answer: Anything and everything! But when someone has a definite vision, they don’t need to fixate on a purely indefinite answer like “anything and everything”. Look:

  • SpaceX is building self-sustainable human life spanning multiple planets
  • Meta is building VR social interactions that match and exceed the experience of physically-mediated interactions
  • The Seasteading Institute promotes the creation of floating ocean cities as a solution to problems such as rising sea levels and poor governance
  • Alcor cryopreserves human brains to enable future decoding and reanimation of the persons they contain

These are definite visions. Where are the Web3 projects with a definite vision? All the projects I’ve seen fall into two categories:

  1. Barely visionary
  2. Moderately visionary, but not compelling enough to have had a serious non-blockchain predecessor project

“Let’s build a city”, e.g. Praxis: Moderately visionary, but where are the non-blockchain city-building projects? Why should we think this vision suddenly compelling?

Kleros, a “decentralized arbitration service for the disputes of the new economy”: moderately visionary, but why did no one care enough to use crowdsourced arbitration before we had blockchains?

Similarly, the pitch for DAOs is pure indefinite optimism. DAOs will supposedly lower friction for people to cooperate. Ok, cooperate on what? What is your personal definite vision here???

(I don’t even care that DAOs are super high friction and problematic now; that’s not my beef.)

Web3 is vision-LARPing: role playing as a visionary when you don’t have a coherent vision. If you suddenly had a magic genie who could grant your vision, you couldn’t even make a coherent wish for him to grant. You aren’t steering toward a definite future.

My observation is that definite visions, like the four I listed above, don’t ever seem to require blockchains. When you’re reasoning forwards from problem to solution, instead of backwards from solution to problem, it doesn’t occur to you that you would need a blockchain (unless you have a currency use case). To generate driving directions to your destination, you need to run software from the web or a CD-ROM, but you don’t need a blockchain. To build a mass-market electric car, you need to build a battery gigafactory, but you don’t need a blockchain.

It’s commonly accepted that understanding Web3 requires you to “go down the rabbit hole” and understand various interconnected projects’ visions in order to understand the vision of the whole.

I think it should be possible to understand Web3’s vision without going down a rabbit hole, because that’s the case for any other inspiring vision I’ve ever seen.

Tesla, for instance, is a web of interconnected projects aligned toward the mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Yet, as early as 2006, Elon was able to articulate a simplified version of their plan very clearly:

Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

There was no need to go down the rabbit hole to understand Tesla’s vision in pretty clear detail. That’s why I see Web3 not as an inspiring definite vision, but as pure indefinite optimism and vision-LARPing.

Web3 has come this far because it’s full of positive reinforcement mechanisms: an unprecedented bull market with money from VCs, money from retail speculators, and now social validation from mainstream influencers.

I will only positively reinforce your project if it’s a definite version of the future.