I have long been a proponent for physical manifestations (of whatever) over their digital counterparts. In my opinion, there is considerable rationale for this outlook.
Besides the security that comes from being able to hold something you possess in your hand, I find that I experience much less frustration and much more well-being when living in the physical realm rather than the digital.
However, I think it’s important to find a balance between the two, as the way it looks, digital life will largely replace the physical component in the coming years and decades.
However, to what extent remains to be seen. On the doomsday end of the spectrum are those who believe the ‘metaverse‘ will completely wipe clean physical life as we know it.
Picture someone sitting on their couch wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset, who doesn’t look or smell like they’ve showered in four days, never mind left the house. Fast food bags – delivered by DoorDash or UberEats – litter the surrounding area in their 86th floor, cubicle-sized smartment (yes, I just coined this term).
However, based on what we know historically of the flops of SecondLife and Google Glass, and the fading popularity of games like Pokémon Go, there is certainly some probability that the Metaverse only materializes into a fraction of what some are assuming.
I’m somewhere in the center of the debate. There’s no denying cryptocurrency, and especially blockchain technology has already proven its utility in several regards and thus will very likely have long-term staying power.
Despite my stance on digital assets and lifestyle, I am a crypto-supporter (but wouldn’t go as far as to call myself a crypto-enthusiast). I advocate strongly for autonomy, and thus am a proponent of the blockchain and Bitcoin as currency, as they inhibit the concentration of power in the hands of the few.
In my opinion, crypto-related assets, like non-fungible tokens (NTFs) will be here to stay. However, I’m not so sure what longevity other facets, such as augmented and virtual reality will have.
I also am skeptical of how these technologies will prove Web 3.0 to be a counter movement to the powers that be, as so many enthusiasts suggest. I think there is a clear distinction between Bitcoin – it’s functionality and what it represents – and other Web3 fixtures, like Ethereum and NFTs.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and formerly Twitter, was recently quoted saying, “if your goal is anti-establishment, I promise you it isn’t Ethereum.”
What the metaverse will become will be a result of the utility it provides. To quote Jussi Askola, contributor for financial news and opinion blog, Seeking Alpha:
‘In short, we must ask what problem the metaverse is trying to solve. Is it trying to fix what is not broken? Has it lost touch with the strictures of reality in an attempt to revolutionize?’
Well, let’s pull back the curtain and take a peek into the ‘verse, shall we?
Life to Come in the Metaverse
Despite all the unknowns, there is one thing that I can say with certainty, because it is a development that has already played out to some extent for some time. Well, I won’t say it, exactly…I’ll allow angel investor and former Coinbase CTO, Balaji Srinivasan, to set the stage.
Balaji is someone who I will continue to defer to in this post, as I gained much insight from him on the topics of crypto and Web3 in a recent episode of the Tim Ferriss show he was featured on. This time, what resonated particularly strong with me, was:
If victory in the physical realm is invading someone’s territory, victory in the digital realm is invading their mind.
Rather than ‘the marketplace of ideas’, the last few years have been the battlefield of ideas—now we understand cancel culture, deplatforming, unbanking not as disputes within a free society, but as digital warfare.Balaji Srinivasan, on Bitcoin, The Great Awokening, Reputational Civil War, and Much More
While this notion isn’t necessarily metaverse-centric, the ‘battle of the mind’ will certainly grow more fierce as it comes further to fruition. Large scale social media companies began deplatforming dissenters en mass during the Trump era, which was really the first manifestation of this warfare in the Internet era that I can recall.
However, the idea is something that really took shape during the birth of the digital age with television and movies, and even somewhat predates that. The first iteration of this practice can be seen in even more primitive entertainment mediums, like radio and even theater.
These media outlets and entertainment companies often have ulterior motives, or at the very least, profit motives, and seek to influence the thoughts and (purchase) behaviors of their audience.
And as we can see with deplatforming, power concentrated in the hands of these corporations also prevents the presentation of a variety of ideas, especially if they contradict the motives of the company, and thus stifles freedom (of speech, in particular).
This autonomy is something that Web3 will aim to achieve. Allegedly, it will bring the power back to the collective rather than a centralized intermediary.
With the third iteration of the ‘Web, individuals will own their own data. Keep in mind though, it will be public, considering how blockchain technology works. The record of all users online goings-on will be on-chain.
As a supporter of privacy, I’m not typically in favor of a public record of all my activities. But if it prevents large cap tech companies from having and using that data to their advantage, I am all for it.
Additionally, and more importantly, if everything is on-chain, it will have powerful implications for those in the public eye, like politicians and celebrities. This record should certainly create more accountability.
It’s known as the ledger of record concept, and should be viewed as on-chain cryptographic truth.
To show that somebody said something, you won’t link to Twitter, you’ll link to the crypto-Twitter version – the on-chain record – that shows they posted or said this. And because it’s protected by proof-of-work or a similar consensus algorithm, you can compute how much money would be required to falsify that.
You have multiple confirmations from economically-misaligned actors, it’s not just one source.Balaji Srinivasan
Rather than relying on corporate journalism to be a whistleblower (I made myself laugh there) it will potentially be the bitcoin (BTC) blockchain ledger that exposes corporate greed, campaign donations and other heinous crimes by high profile individuals.
Again, in the words of Balaji,”not NYT, but BTC.”
The coming conflict between corporate interests (woke capital) and crypto enthusiasts (crypto capital) is the age-old battle of David and Goliath, i.e., corporate or State-sponsored journalists vs. independent citizens and journalists. The clash can also be likened to central bankers vs the people.
This specific debate around Bitcoin has individuals’ sets of morals at its core, and is a microcosm of the debate between centralization and decentralization.
Bitcoin is not simply an engineering innovation, it has implications and principles bound up in it for how one lives—debt & inflation, bank bailouts bad, freedom and pseudonymity good. You don’t feel like you’re submitting to somebody when buying gold…
…it is unlikely there will be a technical attack on BTC going forward— only a potential regulatory or software attack. But outside of that, its community is so strong it could probably repair on that. A regulatory attack is also less likely to kill it, because the US is losing control of the world.Balaji Srinivasan
This is true, but was an unraveling many decades in the works. The US government had sunk deeply into debt and lost much respect in many countries worldwide well before all the stimulus and bond-buying programs that went into effect after the outbreak of COVID.
Unfortunately, we’re no longer in the early innings of these developments—I’d say it may be past the point that the damage done is reversible.
Physical vs Digital Government
The current model of American democracy is outdated. Its policies don’t resonate with its citizens, and its measures for mitigating threats have been pathetic over the last several decades.
Just look at its response to the coronavirus outbreak, which was a disaster, or the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was a failure of epic proportions 20 years and two trillion dollars in the making.
There is considerable pushback at the state level within the US (vaccine mandates being blocked in Texas and differing state cannabis legislation nationwide) and from abroad in places like El Salvador (accepting Bitcoin as a valid form of currency), that are taking positions which contradict the federal government’s.
As it’s grip loosens on international and subordinate parties which it has fallen out-of-touch with, individuals resisting as well may not be so far off.
Inflation will most likely to continue to gather steam from here, and more and more people may opt for cryptocurrency as their primary store of wealth.
Inflation in itself could be a sufficient impetus to civil unrest. However, if the federal government were to attempt seizure of citizens cryptocurrency, there very well could be an uprising.
We are already seeing government intervention in Canada between the banking system and Canadian citizens—in this particular instance as a reactive measure to the ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement.
The federal government there instructed financial institutions to freeze funds of individuals tied to the movement, prompting organizers to declare they would “sow mistrust in both the banking system and the government and the repercussions will be felt for years to come.”
Even if an attempted seizure of BTC doesn’t ever materialize, recently smaller geographical governing bodies in cities like Miami and state like Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming have been pandering to crypto enthusiasts.
As cities and states build out their own cryptocoins and crypto infrastructure, seemingly, the center and south of the country may sort of diverge from the West Coast and the Northeast.
But this won’t be division in terms of Democrat-Republican—it will be more along the lines of decentralization vs. centralization, as mentioned. Certain areas will draw cryto-backers, while others will repel them and cater to centralists.
Effectively, ‘woke capital’ (left-leaning corporations and State supporters) on one side and crypto capital (Bitcoin maximalists and decentralization advocatoes) on the other. Proponents of Web3 would likely fall somewhere in the middle in the center.
Thus, ‘ideological and geographic victory no longer coincide. Within jurisdictions that were previously entirely red or blue, there will be sanctuary states and cities for crypto which may block bitcoin seizure.
These municipalities will likely have their own form of currency, as I mentioned, that is at odds with the US dollar.
I’m saving all the specifics for a future posts, but essentially, it could work like this—you pay a fee – in the form of that local currency – to an entity in your geographical jurisdiction in return for access to everything that typically comes with residency somewhere.
For example, paying x number of dollars to the state or municipal government per year, in order to satisfies your obligation to live there. In return, you receive access to a birth certificate, driver’s license, property rights, and logins of various forms.
One practical example of this is Singapore’s Sing Pass.
In addition to the subscription component, it is likely these municipalities will run on some form of inflation model as well. Inflation could be controlled using a citycoin that is tethered to various other commodities, like soybeans, or oil.
Similarly to how blockchain technology will dictate facts and prove truths, the performance of a given elected official will be judged by comparing the value of that currency before they took office, and at the end of their term, or at any given point along the way. If the value increased they had performed well, and if it decreased their performance was subpar.
This model is somewhat comparable to a SaaS company‘s subscription model and its equity.
And it’s not all that outlandish to think that these service-oriented companies, especially those which have formed communities around its currency, could be running physical economies in the not-terribly distant future.
Currently, we think of companies, currencies, cities, countries and communities as being different things… But they’re all gonna become the same thing—essentially, the projection of a social network. All of these things settle around chains.Balaji Srinivasan
A blockchain is property rights, identity, historical record, marriage and birth certificates, what sale occurred at what time, who paid who, etc. A society can run all the stuff it currently does at city hall on a blockchain.
As I alluded to earlier, there will be a divergence with haecceity from anything we’ve seen before. Traditional party lines will be blurred, and it will become centralists vs decentralists, rather than the historical Republican/Democrat separation.
There will hardcore social conservatives, who side with the State, and then freedom-loving ‘libertarians’, who side as Bitcoin decentralists.
You may be asking, ‘but what about the tech giants that side with the centralists and woke capital? Clearly, it wouldn’t be in their interest to establish their own economy. Right?’
Though many prominent tech CEOs are in crypto camp, some like Mark Zuckerberg and Meta (Facebook) have been more focused towards Ethereum than Bitcoin – coinciding with the metaverse and NFTs – which doesn’t (thus far) represent much ideology.
On the other side of the (bit)coin altogether from those like Dorsey/Block and it’s support of BTC, is Palantir, a tech company founded by Peter Thiel, specializing in big data analytics. The company works in conjunction with the US government by providing solutions (and suggestions) to the US military in order to ‘modernize legacy battlefield intelligence systems.’
From the company’s website:
Palantir has a long tradition of providing cutting-edge technology to the United States Armed Forces and its allies.
Palantir enables military forces to interact with data from all sensors and sources through a single point of access. With one coherent model, users can discover previously unseen links across their entire universe of data. With Palantir software, military forces can rapidly turn mountains of data into plans of action.
So it’s not too farfetched to believe these organization could eventually replace the State government altogether, on either end of the spectrum, especially when you think about how founders like Vitalik Buterin are already running communities and whole economies around their platforms (Ethereum).
SaaS and crypto companies very well may be the Web3 iterations of government. But again, their successes in the future will be dictated by the utility and depth of experience they offer their users.
Physical vs Digital Experiences
I believe we’re currently at a very interesting inflection point. As the pandemic wanes (to some degree), people are itching for the urge to get back out and experience life in the real world.
Companies that had provided much utility to customers in the hayday of the lockdowns, such as Zoom, Pinterest, Snap and Shopify, have seen user engagement decline recently, and are issuing guidance that suggests somewhat slowing growth.
For eCommerce companies like Shopify, hyperinflation growth, and unemployment benefits and other government assistance programs enacted early on in the pandemic coming to an end also contribute to the weak forward guidance.
On the other hand, organizations like AirBnB and Uber, which are still SaaS companies but have ties to real, physical world services, have seen growing demand since the latter part of 2021.
No doubt, people are eager to get back out there and experience all that the natural world has to offer. But how long will this awe and wonder remain intact?
Individuals and consumers are largely motivated by convenience. For evidence of this, look no further than American’s continued use of Google’s services despite the revelation of the company’s mass surveillance of its users, and how it subsequently provided that data to the CIA and NSA.
Thus, as people grow tired of the inconveniences of doing things in the flesh, and remember how much easier it is to simply press a button, will things revert from the old normal back to ‘the new normal’?
Though the popularity of Zoom hangouts has waned somewhat in recent months, the work-from-home phenomenon and virtual gatherings that picked up steam during the depths of the pandemic opened the eyes of many convenience-seekers, and have thus become an engrained facet of life.
And though AR and VR may prove to be flops, there is another form of vicarious living that has recently taken off—virtual online experiences. Companies like AirBnB, among others, are now offering online experiences like virtual tours and classes as an alternative to their traditional, in-person counterparts.
While I personally am much more apt to pursue the analog experience, I can certainly understand the appeals of instead opting for the virtual. Cost-saving, convenience, and comfort being the primary benefits.
However, I believe there is a negative correlation between comfort/convenience and fulfillment or satisfaction. The harder you work for something, the greater the payoff becomes when it is realized. And the world opens up when you (are forced to) step outside your comfort zone.
Unfortunately, spending your time shopping virtually or experiencing an African safari via AirBnB doesn’t cause you to step out of your comfort zone or experience inconveniences or complications much, and in my opinion, are thus less gratifying.
This brings up an interesting question.
Will a metaverse store that you can walk into with your VR avatar and try on 3D renderings of clothes ever be as gratifying for a consumer as the same experience in a physical brick-and-mortar location? An event where you found the perfect something you weren’t even looking for, and it was the last one in your size that was in stock. I seriously doubt it.
Maybe the more critical question is if interacting with others through virtual avatars will be more fulfilling than engaging with friends and family through Zoom or FaceTime, or even in the flesh, for that matter?
At odds with the notion that the metaverse will be theprimary way of experiencing life is the fact that, AR and VR applications have been around for years (and decades, in the case of Second Life) and have thus far been slow to gather steam, or have faded altogether.
Maybe their popularity will increase as the platforms are further built out and the novelty isn’t so quick to wear off, or maybe not. Many people who have used VR headsets report discomfort or motion sickness after brief periods of use. Never mind prolonged, hours-on-end exposure, which is the preferred timeframe of most video gamers I know.
It may even be the case that any real “metaverse” would be little more than some cool VR games and digital avatars in Zoom calls, but mostly just something we still think of as the Internet.”Wired’s Eric Ravenscraft, What Is the Metaverse, Exactly?
As you can see, the scene he sets doesn’t even assume that people will at some point in the future again gather together in the flesh. Fortunately, for the analog advocates out there, myself included, I hope that the fact we have nature on our side will tip the scales to our advantage.
Personally, I’m just grateful to have grown up in the ’90s and 2000s—having to use the house phone to call up your neighborhood friends, and when their parents answered, ask if so-and-so was home, in order to finally talk to them and find out if they wanted to go outside and play baseball, or if they were in for a game of capture the flag later once the sun set.
I similarly have gratitude for trips to the mall with family as a child, or with friends in high school and college as a way to pass the time together. If you actually had something you wanted to buy, you had to hope the store would have it in stock, or you might have to search around for it.
The same thing with renting movies at Blockbuster. Remember Blockbuster??
There was always the chance the movie you wanted to rent wouldn’t be in stock. In which case your options were to either drive to a different store in hopes that one had copies available, or put your name on the waiting list.
Younger generations will never know what it’s like to be put on a waiting list; to let the anticipation build and have that delayed gratification once the company rings you up to let you know your item is back in stock, and you’re finally at the top of the list.
In addition, having to drive or shop (physically, in the mall) around in search of an item is basically as time-consuming as the digital shopping around equivalent. Granted, online perusing is a bit more cost-effective, especially with the way gas prices continue to rise.
But one-day or even one-hour delivery has taken a lot of fun out of and spoiled the shopping experience, in my opinion.
Sure it was somewhat frustrating when something you wanted was out of stock, but the waiting game was just part of the experience. And it made the gratification that much better when you finally had that something in your hands.
The emotion that comes with touching, holding something new (or old), and having it secured in your possession, especially after a long waiting period, is just an experience that can’t be replicated.
Besides just the heightened payoff from delayed gratification, hard goods have several other beneficial traits that digital assets can’t offer.
Physical, Hard Assets vs Digital (Soft) Assets
Perhaps the most advantageous characteristics of physical possessions is the security they offer. Security encompasses several forms—financial, and against malfunctioning.
Financial security in the sense that what you have physically in your possession can’t be taken away from you, except by extreme force. Cold, hard cash (though I don’t recommend keeping much of it), precious metals, and other physical stores of value must either be forfeited by the owner or taken from them through sheer will.
In contrast, digital assets, like stocks, funds in a bank account, and even cryptocurrency, depending on where it’s stored, can be inaccessible at times, and in extreme cases can even be gone in the blink of an eye, never to be recovered.
I’ve already written a blog post that goes into depth on the drawbacks of storing your ‘worth’ digitally, so I won’t rehash too much here. The main point to convey is these stores of value are susceptible to cyberattacks, application lockouts, and just general technological malfunction.
Which brings me to the other primary benefit of physical goods. Assurance against inaccessibilty, or against malfunction.
In the words of prolific Detroit house music icon, Moodymann:
A record may skip, but at least that bitch is still poppin’. If a laptop fucks up, that bitch gon’ shut down. Laptops ain’t really meant to perform in huge clubs where humidity is high, people are smoking, sweating—the club is hot. Sometimes, laptops aren’t aware of those conditions. Vinyl’s been used of those conditions since the ’60s.Moodymann, Moodymann Talks Detroit and Being Independent
Another key – albeit, emotional – appeal of physically owning your possessions is the nostalgia element. As I alluded to earlier, you just can’t replicate the feeling of holding something you own in your hand with its digital counterpart.
For me, touching it, and maybe even moreso, smelling it can transport me to another time and place. Again, here’s Moodymann on the topic, speaking specifically about vinyl records:
“I like vinyl—I can touch it; I can feel it. Do you know what 60-year-old vinyl smells like? No, because you got your iPod. You don’t know the history. I’ve got records that smell like 1967. You cannot place that in an iPod…Moodymann, Moodymann Talks Detroit and Being Independent
…it’s a blessing to pull out a big piece of vinyl with my Grandmama’s name on it.”
In addition to the nostalgia element, I’m hopeful that there’s another feature offered by independent, local outlets that can’t be achieved by their Metaversal, digital equivalents which will cement them as permanent fixtures—local flavor.
The ability to provide a local angle, and thus a sense of community is what prevented the handful of local newspapers and radio stations from going belly-up in the 2010s when these mediums went online. When Google proceeded to index them, it put all newspapers and radio stations in competition with each other, and those who were just running reprints of AP News stories and generically syndicating programming, respectively, quickly became obsolete.
Again, in the words of Moodymann:
“The radio stations now are owned by different companies not even in your town. They don’t give a fuck about what you think—this is what they’re playing right now. Our DJs more felt our city, our surroundings and had an honest opinion on what they thought we wanted to hear.”
My belief is that the audience will forever yearn for this local, humanized element, and those organizations able to provide will continue to prosper into the Metaverse.
Though things to come may appear bleak for the analog-lover, for these various reasons I’ve outlined I’m a strong believer that there will always be a place for physical living, commerce, and possessions in the future.
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We live at a strange moment in time.
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