On Crypto Utility Debates
We shouldn't forget that crypto may be as much a bet on technology as it is on human behavior
There are a lot of people cherishing people going in on debating real world use-cases and the broader utility of crypto. These conversations range from being good at exposing lack of first principles thinking applied to the space to a clear desire to analyze technology readiness today with little imagination for emergent behaviors or use-cases for the future.
Ultimately, skepticism is good and I believe we don’t get enough of it in tech, but this last dynamic of heavy doubt is particularly odd to me. Tech broadly is an industry that thrives on optimism and a willingness to admit the unknown unknowns, and instead bet on the beliefs of smart people to uncover these over decade long time horizons. The difference with crypto is it has a heavy “financialization” layer built on top of it that results in wealth creation outpacing results, which ironically also happened in traditional technology the past few years, but historically has not.
There was a saying back in the day about VR founders (that applies to any founder building a business in a non-consensus area) which was effectively to not to try to sell people who don’t believe in VR, on VR. I think at this stage of crypto, the best people believers should talk to are the genuinely curious and optimistic, versus the falsely curious and pessimistic.
I’m not super interested in debating use-cases of crypto protocols because there’s very little upside, but IMO there are a lot of compelling use-cases to me that have gone under-discussed, such as distributed resources and computation (a la Livepeer, Helium, Render, etc.), and then others that have been discussed but should be framed as areas that blockchains enable to be better and more efficient to scale, such as decentralized finance (even with institutional onboarding and KYC), or the simple thesis of bringing consumer applications on-chain to efficiently enable economic incentives and value accrual at scale (these three examples are not exhaustive).
With that said, all of these arguments strangely get sped up and dive too quickly to miss what I believe is equally as important which is cultural shifts that will occur over time that matter for future crypto prevalence.
People need to understand; crypto may be as much a bet on technology as it is on human behavior.
Over the past few years I’ve openly discussed a thesis which I call Cyberpunk is Now. The core premise of this thesis is that the evolution of our world and the behavioral shifts portrayed in cyberpunk writing historically is starting to catch up to how our real world works. In 2020 I wrote a long-form post on this that I should probably publish (excerpt above) discussing cyberpunk dynamics in our real world including:
the rise of monolithic, overly powerful centralized companies
the erosion of trust between various entities, citizens, and governments
the Panopticon & “who watches the watchers”
a fracturing of identities of digital and physical
hacktivism & algorithmic violence
the emergence of a slew of other new technologies across machine learning and personalized medicine that push these narratives forward from fiction to non-fiction.
Crypto is a core component of these shifts, bringing technology to push forward systems that embrace transparency, self-sovereignty, trustless operation, a wider distribution and less centralized model for ownership, a fracturing of identities (anon culture is a great example), globalization of labor, and of course scaled efficiency.
So we can continue to debate what the use-cases are for 30+ year old white men in developed nations (like myself), or we can think about how humans both because of age or a change in our world over time could evolve, thus expanding the TAM and ultimately the utility that emerges from this next decade of infrastructure, middleware, applications, and cultural principles embodied by crypto.
I think change happens slowly then all at once.