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The Future of the Internet: Third Time Lucky?

We’ve all (mostly) heard of Web3, but where did it all begin?

Now that we find ourselves wading deeper into the early waters of Web3, the need for mission-driven and sustainable infrastructure has become increasingly apparent. What we mean by this are the building blocks upon which Web3 — aka the next internet — can stand.

For those a bit unfamiliar with the term Web3, it’s essentially the third iteration of the internet which seeks to prioritize ownership of one’s own private data and assets, a creator-centric economy, and distributed opportunity and power through the use of blockchain technology. It can also generally be understood as the internet’s evolution from “read only” (Web1) to “read, write” (Web2) to “read, write, own” (Web3).

And yes, achieving that (without repeating the mistakes made with Web2) is certainly no small feat. But how did we even get here? And why is ownership such a pivotal element of this next generation internet?

A Cypherpunk Dream

Let’s rewind the clock back a few decades.

Rebels with a Cause, Wired, 1993. Source: https://www.wired.com/story/favorite-25-covers/

Meet the cypherpunks. A clever word play by programmer, hacker, and civil rights activist Jude Milhon, “cypherpunk” combines the cryptographic term “cipher” (meaning to encode) and the rebellious spirit of “punk,” with a nod to popular sci-fi subgenre “cyberpunk.” A motley crew of visionaries, the cypherpunks were most active in the 1990s. However, we can trace early steps as far back as the 1970s with the US government’s publication of the Data Encryption Standard (DES), and Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman’s pioneering introduction of public-key cryptography. Prior to this, cryptography was a classified domain, chiefly relegated to military operations and intelligence agencies.

In 1992, three computer scientists and friends (Eric Hughes, Timothy May, and John Gilmore) launched what would become the underpinnings of the cypherpunk movement: the Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, the first anonymous remailer, and perhaps most importantly, the Cypherpunk mailing list, a space wherein members could exchange ideas, code, and concerns.

And the cypherpunks were deeply concerned about the future of the internet. Shortly after in 1993, Eric Hughes wrote:

Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age… [it] is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world…We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy…We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can’t get privacy unless we all do, we’re going to write it.

The Cypherpunk’s Manifesto, 1993

New Dawn — Meeting of the Minds, Signal Radio 1992. Source: https://www.are.na/block/2230801

Fast forward to the present day — a monopoly of tech giants quelling all competition, user data mined without consent leading to relentless target advertising, the censorship and silencing of platform critics — safe to say, the cypherpunks were pretty on point.

They also recognized the necessity of integrating a digitally native payment infrastructure in order to be truly independent (the lack thereof being responsible for the current monetization of user data through advertising, termed by pop-up ad creator Ethan Zuckerman as “the original sin of the internet”). Not to mention, the cypherpunks were also wary of the power central banks had over fiat currencies, especially in times of financial crisis.

Of course, this digital payment system would have to be encrypted. Aside from cash, other transaction systems could be traced and if one’s identity were inadvertently exposed by a transaction, privacy would be lost. And so, absolutely central to the Cypherpunk philosophy was the concept of digital anonymous transaction systems. This was spearheaded by eCash creator David Chaum, a brilliant cryptographer responsible for creating seminal elements to cryptography today such as group signatures, blind signatures, and mix networks. Using these innovations, Chaum built eCash– the first digital cash system optimized for user privacy. And while DigiCash (the company behind eCash) would fold and go bankrupt in 1998, it crucially paved the way for the birth of Bitcoin just 10 years later.

Just as sci-fi’s cyberpunk hero wrests highly advanced tech away from corrupt monoliths and uses it for the good of society, the cypherpunk equivalent writes code in order to protect and defend individual privacy. And thanks to Web3, it goes even further than that.

The Essence of Web3

At its core, Web3 is about agency, choice, and the right to a private life.

Flower Dreams, Carolyn Rhee. Source: https://www.are.na/block/12601648

There are a plethora of reasons that could explain why we are where we are with Web2, but really it boils down to this: “We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy. Digital trails follow us everywhere — search history, credit history, private conversations, purchases, medical records — these aren’t secrets per se, simply information one should be able to choose when to reveal and to whom.

A key word to focus on here is choice. Alongside the large amounts of Web3-related hype right now comes an unsurprisingly heavy dose of criticism and debate. Remarks have mostly revolved around the degree to which Web3 is decentralized, and to what extent the average user even understands or cares for true decentralization (specifically the cumbersome idea of running one’s own server). These are valid points. Web3 also has a looong way to go when it comes to user experience.

What Not Boring founder Packy McCormick so aptly points out however, is that this has shifted the debate into one purely concerned with how decentralized Web3 will be. Instead, Web3 is really about choice. Same as Hughes advocating for anonymous systems that enable individuals to reveal themselves only if they so wish.

Besides, this is not just some trendy and lucrative new version of the internet, despite the unfortunate use of Web3 as a catch-all shill term for all things crypto. We’re looking today at a technology that also has the potential (and has, in some cases, already started) to reconfigure the existing financial system, disrupt the art world and creator economy, rethink organizational structures of hierarchy, redistribute opportunity and power, and revitalize climate action. This is what powering the next generation of the internet means.

Powers of Ten, Charles and Ray Eames, 1997. Source: https://www.are.na/block/11032969

To that point, let’s keep in mind that Web3 is NGMI without prioritizing inclusivity and sustainability. Building without an eye to global access and distributed opportunity will only reproduce the inequalities of Web2, and weaken the potential for Web3 to make tangible, sustainable changes. Decentralization, often touted as one of the prime qualities of Web3, does not automatically guarantee equal access. Nor does it alone suffice to build real trust. Trust is earned from the community through transparency, accountability, and responsible, active leadership. The values we use to define Web3 must go beyond mere virtue signaling, or good intentions as an opt-in afterthought; if the cypherpunks taught us anything, it’s that we cannot rely solely on the good intentions of those in power. Rather than being optional, fairness must be embedded within the structure of Web3 itself.

On Resilience

So how do we work towards the Web3 that we want? We build.

Shape A New World Around You. Source: https://www.are.na/block/1340388

For us, it starts with the foundational tools needed to securely onboard newcomers from a range of entry points. For some, this might look like streamlined developer tools; for others, educational resources or a user-friendly wallet. Whatever the tool in question, it has to inspire enough trust to give people faith in Web3 as a technology that can change their world.

But it goes deeper than that; we are here to build something permanent. Sustainable and state-of-the-art architecture, a resilient community, a vision that persists.

In the staunch words of Eric Hughes, “we know that software can’t be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can’t be shut down.” With blockchain now powering countless currencies and budding ecosystems that support communities across the globe, this promise is more important than ever.

Of course, this isn’t to say that it’s all smooth sailing from here on out. With new peaks will come the ensuing troughs; such is the nature and pace of innovation, and what ultimately helps to recenter and redefine the market. The most important is that we stay on course, equipping our community with the best set of tools with which to safely navigate the rapidly-expanding depths of Web3 (coincidentally, DSRV also stands for deep submergence rescue vehicle).

Even those barely acquainted with this space will soon find that there’s quite a lot of noise. Our purpose as a mission-driven validator and builder team is to cut through this noise, and reach you.

Written by
Domitille Colin, Communications Manager (Twitter @domitille_marie)

Illustrations by
Heeyoung Moon, Brand Designer

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