Web3 Is A Mid-Life Crisis
Read to the end for a terrifying vision of our dumb future
Oh, hey, if anyone in New York City is around tomorrow night, I’m part of a show at Caveat in the Lower East Side that my buddy Mark Vigeant is putting on. We’ve got some great speakers, like Glitch CEO Anil Dash and comedian Monique Moses. You can check out more info about it here.
Web3 Is A Mid-Life Crisis
If you haven’t been following it, Kickstarter is currently working on a “decentralized crowdfunding protocol,” which they’re currently saying will involve Celo, which is a blockchain that claims to be carbon negative.
Yesterday, Kickstarter released yet another update about the project. They have, at this point, published at least four different documents about this project, all of which, hilariously, say nothing of any consequence about what this protocol will be. And the reactions on Twitter to Kickstarter’s most recent missive about their vague decentralization project were extremely intense. “Just don't fucking do it, morons,” one user wrote. “We're watching an incredibly successful company that's built up a decade of goodwill set itself on fire in real time,” another user wrote.
If you’re totally new to the crypto culture war — one that’s playing out in pretty much ever sector of society right now — here’s the gist. Massive companies and institutions, whether they’re video game companies, Gwyneth Paltrow, or El Salvador’s government are saying, “Web3 is the future. We must invest in blockchain technology.” And then many people, but specifically liberals and leftists, are saying, “blockchain technology is destroying the planet and will turn the internet, and, thus, the whole world, into a casino built on fraud and grift. Please don’t do it.”
I suspect Kickstarter is aware of the intense hatred for crypto shared by many of their users, which is why they’re being so neurotic about their crypto project. But, also, Kickstarter is actually in a pretty tough spot and it’s one that I’m actually becoming pretty convinced that they don’t fully understand.
The first commercial Bitcoin transaction was in 2010. A programmer named Laszlo Hanyecz bought two Papa John’s pizzas for 10,000 bitcoins. If you’re curious, those two pizzas, at bitcoin’s current price, would now cost about $4 billion. Best not to think about that for too long.
But pretty immediately after that, Bitcoin became a way for people to buy and sell things they couldn’t with money. You could buy drugs and guns on the deep web marketplace the Silk Road as far back as 2011. And over the last 20 years, as Bitcoin has grown in valuation and adoption — and also split into other altcoins like Ethereum — crypto evangelists have figured out more and more sophisticated ways to use it to buy, sell, and, most importantly, fund things.
As the crypto market was maturing, Kickstarter, which launched in 2009, worked hard to become the Good Crowdfunder. It’s not the site that people use to finance their medical bills, like GoFundMe, it’s not the place neo-Nazis use to launch a podcast, there’s a bunch of those, and it’s not even the place you go to paywall subscription content, that’s Patreon or OnlyFans. For the last two decades, Kickstarter has carved out a stable niche as the place well-meaning liberals go to launch their comic books or board games. And that’s actually great! But it also means that anyone who is using Kickstarter, or thinking about using Kickstarter, by default, isn’t going to want to use cryptocurrency, and vice versa. If Kickstarter users wanted to kickstart a project with NFTs, they’d launch a DAO.
In one of their posts, Kickstarter does get close to describing at least the goal of the project in a way that I think a lot of people can understand: “You may have heard of HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) which helps you browse the web, or SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) which helps you send email. Protocols like these make up the unseen infrastructure of the internet. Imagine that, but for crowdfunding creative projects.”
OK, cool! I publish newsletters so I am a pretty big fan of SMTP and I produce a podcast, which runs on RSS, another open protocol. Great! If it was up to me, all of the social web would run on protocols like these. But the question is: why does this need to involve crypto?
But let’s play along with Kickstarter’s comparisons to HTTP and SMTP and envision what a decentralized crowdfunding platform would look like. A crowdfunding campaign is essentially a pooling of funds, which are held for a period of time, and then either paid out or refunded to backers, based on a set of conditions. You’d want to automate all of this and allow people to build their own interfaces. I, admittedly, am not a developer, but I have to imagine there are ways to decentralize and open up Kickstarter that that are much easier to build — and to use —than building it on a blockchain that no one’s ever heard of before. In fact, wouldn’t you want a decentralized crowdfunding platform to accept multiple forms of payment? In the same way my podcast can be listened to on Spotify or Overcast, wouldn’t your decentralized crowdfunding platform be better if it could work inside of Venmo or Paypal or Zelle?
In many ways, Kickstarter’s weird crypto project — and the blockchain aspirations other aging web 2.0 companies are pushing on us right now — are kind of like watching a middle-aged man buy a boat. He doesn’t need to buy a boat. His life will be significantly more complicated, and likely worse, after he buys the boat. But he has somehow convinced himself that he needs to buy this boat because he has done the math and realized he is going to die soon and he thinks the boat will fix this. Even though there are plenty of other easy and normal things he could do to feel better about this, he’s going to buy the boat. And we’re all going to have to watch and feel awkward about it.
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The Indie Rock Vibe Shift
“Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact,” writes Ted Gioia in The Atlantic. “In fact, the audience seems to be embracing the hits of decades past instead.”
The article, originally written for his Substack, is a fantastic overview of a major issue facing the music industry right now: The mechanisms of an industry designed for a bygone age of promotion and development are now increasingly (and profitably) devoted to their own back catalogues. But while Gioia’s article focuses on the major-label world, and its fast-advancing irrelevance, this long tail affects indie music as well — and not always necessarily in a negative way.
Much has been made of TikTok’s ability to launch forgotten or obscure music into popularity, with Mother Mother being an archetypal example. That band’s lead singer believes that his “music’s gender-less, genre-less feel” was ahead of its time in the 2000s, but is finally finding its audience in the 2020s thanks to social media. Indeed, the spirit of 2008 is alive and well among chronically-online queer teens, dominating fandom playlists to the degree that one of my favorite tweets of the year so far found it necessary to proclaim:
And Needlejuice Records, a small American label focused on vinyl re-releases, has had massive success putting out the music of internet cult faves like Lemon Demon (a.k.a. Neil Cicierega). In fact, another 2000s band, The Orion Experience, returned from an indefinite hiatus after its music found an audience via TikTok, releasing a brand-new album last year via Needlejuice.
My band Minimall put out an EP in 2017 and supported it with a small East Coast tour along with regular LA shows. Because we not-so-semi-jokingly positioned ourselves from the start as heirs to the Tally Hall throne. We were algorithmically looped in from the start with this general category. Over the past few years, we’ve been more or less inactive. We last played a gig in 2019 and released just one song in 2020. Yet, in January 2022, we saw better streaming numbers for us than any month in 2021. Certainly better than many acts throwing thousands of dollars at old-fashioned blog PR. It’s nice, but it also shows the wild disconnect between the fast-obsolescing strategies of traditional promotion and the “organic” discovery methods that Gioia cites as music’s last hope. As the industry’s ability to develop acts atrophies, and major labels slide slowly into catalogue-based irrelevance, small labels like Needlejuice (among hundreds of others, obviously) pop up to fill in the gap, championing music that people actually like and want to pay for, old or new.
From what I can tell, no majors are clamoring to jump on the “quirky 2008 indie rock” sound, despite a young captive audience hungry for characterful, melodic songs that can be slapped onto playlists alongside streaming powerhouses like Ludo and Mother Mother. Which, fair enough, the market segment might not be quite wide enough to be worth their while, compared to trendy hyperpop or generic Lorem-core. But I’m telling you, A&Rs, if you find a band whose vibe is “Oingo Boingo but they’re all 19 and addicted to Discord” and give them money to make a truly insane record, you will have the TikTok sensation of the year on your hands.
[Ed. note: Well, heck, if Allegra’s gonna share her old band, I might as well share mine.]
The Hits Keep Coming For Facebook
Meta, which we used to call Facebook, is losing a lot of valuation right now. As Bloomberg reported this morning, the company’s shares have sunk more than 45% since last year and don’t appear to be correcting anytime soon.
I went further into Meta’s uncertain future on my podcast this week, if you’re looking for a good deep dive into why this is happening right now. But you know who is not having a bad week this week? Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, apparently. Yesterday Randi released a parody of an Adele song with lyrics about cryptocurrency.
I lasted approximately 17 seconds before I cringed so hard I thought my skeleton was going to jump out of my body. Let me know how many seconds you can last before the existential dread becomes too much to bare!
British People Are Watching A Livestream Of Planes
It’s very rare that the United Kingdom can really come together to enjoy something. Aside from the occasional World Cup, Love Island, and a seething, unending hatred of James Corden, there really isn’t a lot that Brits can agree on. But this morning, UK internet users came together to watch a livestream of planes taking off and landing at Heathrow Airport. The UK is the midst of a pretty wild storm at the moment and the winds made takeoffs and landings pretty tough. The stream, embedded above, has 3.9 million views and went on for about eight hours. At one point, 200,000 people were watching it together.
The best parts were when the guy who streams it, who goes by BigJetTV, naturally, started screaming excitedly. Also, as HarryJ in the Garbage Day Discord pointed out, BigJetTV has a nemesis of some kind, which also feels very British. But my favorite take on this whole thing was from journalist Lucy Ford who connected it to the UK’s love of weird men.
I think this is, honestly, exactly right. The UK has a lot of very specifically weird and obsessive men and I think it’s nice that the internet is letting them share their bizarre joy.
A Good Tweet
The COVID Weebs Have Been Vindicated
According to a Science News article by reporter Betsy Ladyzhets, who I am excited to say has contributed to Garbage Day before, it seems as if Anime NYC was not actually the omicron super-spreader event we all thought it was. Ladyzhets writes:
Anime NYC had “a fortunate coincidence” in its timing, says Ayman El-Mohandes, an epidemiologist and dean of the public health school at the City University of New York. Omicron was first identified in New York City wastewater samples on November 21, the final day of the convention — placing this event at the very beginning of the city’s outbreak, when community transmission was low.
“Had this same event happened two weeks later, it would’ve been disastrous,” El-Mohandes says.
Still, maybe, just to be safe, we should hold off on any more big anime conventions until we really have COVID under control. If a virus like COVID is strong enough to survive the extreme deodorant-free conditions of an anime convention, already its own form of biohazard, it’s possible it could survive anything.
Pokémon Hacking Is Getting Out Of Control
I’ve written before about how players of the game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have messed with the physics of the game to the degree that they’re essentially performing science experiments now. A similar community of testers have appeared around the new open world Pokémon game, Pokémon Legends: Arceus. In the video above, a YouTuber named Austin John Plays shows how he’s built a three-game set up that he’s using to concurrently test different elements of the game. He’s figured out how to hack different Pokémon spawn points and, in this video, seems to have stumbled across the in-game formula used to calculate the timings for a rare randomized event in the game called Space-Time Distortions.
But players have also gone so far as to hack the game’s source code and boot up a whole unused map, which they’re now referring to as Area 11. The theory is that it could assets for DLC, though it could just be junk code that was never cleared out.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a terrifying vision of our dumb future.
BONUS GARBAGE: How To Turn A Lamborghini Into NFTs
Last year, when the NFT scene was really just getting going, I did an interview with an NFT artist named @SHL0MS. At the time, he had just sold a totally blank image as an NFT for $19,000. He would then go on to smash up a toilet, “fractionalize it,” and sell video shards of the toilet as NFTs.
I’ve kept in touch with him and followed his work curiously ever since. We caught up this week and talked about his newest project, which involved blowing up a Lamborghini, and what it’s like to be the NFT artist that even people who hate NFTs admit to sorta-kinda finding clever…