The Death of Censorship.

Miquela, the robot influencer.

[Ancient peoples] hunted and gathered and there were no large coloric surpluses. So, every healthy person would have had to contribute to acquisition of food and water, and yet somehow, they still made time to create art. Almost as if art isn’t optional for humans.

-John Green, The Anthropocine Reviewed.

Since the dawn of human civilization, all artists have faced a common enemy: the destruction of their art. This could take the form of tyrannical leaders censoring artistic expression, iconoclasts from enemy tribes hoping to wipe out a culture, or even an accident, such as the tragic fire at the library of Alexandria. But what if I told you that this enemy was entering its final days and that the human race is preparing itself to enter a new era, free from censorship or the accidental destruction of data?

With the advent of cryptography and cryptocurrency, this new era is not only possible but seems to be inevitable. What started as an endeavor to decentralize money from any governing body has evolved into a new kind of internet, one that rewrites the rules of power and ownership that currently plagues billions of artists and independent creators worldwide. This new internet is called Web3, and it’s going to change everything.

In this article, we’re going to explore our current internet, Web 2.0, and see how it works, and why it’s an outdated, lack-centered model. Then, we’re going to discuss how cryptography and Web3 are changing the ways we think about money, art, and human creativity.

The Hampster Wheel of Doom

“Siren Servers are narcissists; blind to where value comes from, including the web of global interdependence that is at the core of their own value.”

― Jaron Lanier, Internet Pioneer

The problem with Web 2.0 (like Web 1.0 before it) is that it operates in a centralized system. This means that a small, powerful group of entities like governments or corporations own the servers required to run a network. Digital artist and early internet pioneer Jaron Lanier famously called these entities “Siren Servers,” because they lure us in with a sweet song about the freedom that the internet can provide, only to sink their teeth into us and suck out the profits when we get too close. What’s more, is that these siren servers get to decide what gets published on the world wide web, and what get’s taken down. This has been an incredibly difficult situation for artists, writers, and creators that have ideas that run contrary to the powers at be.

In a centralized system, a government can choose to monitor, censor, or even cut off its population from communication to the outside world. If a company like Google or Facebook wants to silence a movement or squelch an organization, they have all the power to do so. If a streaming service like Spotify or Apple music wants to pay artists less than a penny per stream, then there is nothing stopping them from making that decision. A centralized internet creates a kind of digital feudalism where the Siren Servers are the monarchs and we, the lowly consumers, are the serfs, tied to the land and not allowed to escape it.

So, what makes Web3 different from the models that have come before it? And what does any of this have to do with the future of art? To answer that question, we have to take a deeper look into Web 2.0, the system we have now. The internet is a beautiful thing, filled with myriad applications that bring more convenience and new services into our lives. But all that convenience comes at a cost: our attention. In the old model, most Siren Servers make money through advertising and the sale of data. Sure, Instagram is free but every time you open the app to support your favorite creators, you will also be plagued by advertisements specifically targeted at you through the exploitation of your data, which you more often than not have to surrender to participate in the website or application. This economic model necessitates a vicious cycle. Websites must collect and monopolize data from their users that they can then sell to advertisers. Then, advertisers will target users with that data, causing them to engage with the apps for longer durations of time, which allows for the collection of even more data, and the cycle goes on and on.

What’s more, advertisers know that content that makes us angry is more likely to keep us engaged. So, there is an economic impetus to create an angry population of consumers to keep us on the advertising hampster wheel of doom. So, we can see that not only is a centralized system easy to exploit by those in power, but it will also make us more unhappy by its very nature. In a digital economy where you profit from people’s attention (and people naturally pay more attention when they are angry,) you almost need to keep people unhappy just to stay afloat.

We Don’t Need No Centralization

Centralized system vs a Decentralized system from managmentkits.com

So, how do escape the advertising hamster wheel of doom? How do we break free from the Siren Servers that are making us angrier, poorer, and spiritually drained? How do we maintain our privacy and stop the overlords from controlling the data that should belong to us? Simple: we need to break the wheel and create a new system altogether.

Instead of needing the data to go in and out of a single, centralized hub, what if that data existed on multiple servers across the globe, all at once? Before cryptography and blockchain technology existed, this was only a pipedream. But now, in a post-bitcoin world, a new player has entered the game. Introducing peer-to-peer networking, or P2P for short.

We first saw the world-changing capabilities of a P2P network when Bitcoin endeavored to create a decentralized currency that did not require the involvement of any governmental body or bank. But without a government to guarantee the validity of a currency, or a bank to monitor transactions, Bitcoin needed a way to ensure one of the cornerstones of economics: trust. “How do I know that your money is worth what you tell me it’s worth?”

Bitcoin’s solution to this was to irradicate the need for trust altogether. They created a public ledger that kept the history of all transactions on multiple servers around the world, and it called this ledger the Blockchain. Since this ledger is not owned or maintained by any single entity, all transactions on the blockchain are transparent and unalterable.

No centralized node keeps control of the blockchain. Instead, multiple volunteers are incentivized to maintain, authenticate, and add to the Blockchain through a system called mining. Through the use of supercomputers engaged in millions of complex computations per second, volunteers are engaged in a race to verify transactions and add those verifications to the blockchain. When a volunteer successfully adds to the blockchain they are awarded some bitcoins. This system takes the need for trust out of the equation since transactions are regularly verified and the new currency is introduced into the system at a rate comparable to that of actual gold being mined and introduced into the economy.

But the implications of blockchain technology and P2P systems go far beyond the realms of currency and economics. What bitcoin has shown us is possible with currency, many other organizations and companies want to bring into the rest of our internet experience and create an entirely decentralized system. If Web 2.0 if a feudal model based on lack, then Web3 is its democratic abundance-based counterpart. Take a look at the mission statement of Web3 Foundation, an organization built to foster the growth of a decentralized web:

One such cutting-edge application is Mask Network, which allows users to send encrypted posts to friends, send and receive cryptocurrencies on social networks, and have access to decentralized file storage and sharing. No one will have access to these encrypted files, not even the developers of Mask Network themselves.

How can a government isolate and spy on its people? How can a social media platform censor risk-taking creators? How can a streaming service pressure artists to live off of pennies-per stream? That’s the beauty of it, in a decentralized system, they can’t. Or at the very least, it becomes much more difficult because these Siren Servers are no longer in control.

The Age of the Artist: “Creator Economy,” NFT’s and Web3

Consider Web 3.0 to be an executable Magna Carta — “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

— Dr. Gavin Wood, Founder of Web3 Foundatin.

An NFT from Miquela’s “Venus” collection which sold for $82,361 on SuperRare.

Cryptography not only allows us to democratize the locus of control in the digital economy, but it also allows for new kinds of creation and the likes of art we’ve never seen before. Enter a new character in our decentralization story: the NFT.

An NFT or Non-Fungible Token is a digital asset that carries a unique, one-of-a-kind encryption key. This means that it is an impervious forgery because even if someone were to make a copy of the asset, it would not have the encryption key. Unlike a $5 bill, which is “fungible” for five $1 bills, NFTs are unique, and cannot be traded in for something of the same value, because nothing has the same value as an individual NFT. Since NFT’s are scarce by definition, popular and rare assets have sold for millions of dollars at auction. This makes the production of interesting NFT’s a profitable pursuit that companies like the NBA, have made sure to capitalize on, selling NFT highlight reels of iconic moments in the game’s history.

But beyond supercorporations like the NBA cashing in on the NFT craze, there is also a rare opportunity for younger, more independent artists and creators that might have been at the mercy of the Super Sirens in a centralized system to make a profit or even start a community.

Musician, programmer, and found of Brud Inc., Trevor McFederic is pushing the boundaries of digital art and storytelling with his creation of Miquela. Miquela is one of the first and most popular robot influencers. She is the brainchild of McFederic and a team of writers, animators, engineers, programmers, musicians, and voice actors who have come together to create a storytelling platform that spans multiple social media outlets. Miquela is representative of what is possible for artists in a decentralized world, and she is an activist for the cause. Through her NFT project called Venus, Brud aims to “democratize cryptocurrency and the NFT industry.” Miquela will regularly host NFT raffles on her Twitter, releasing a limited amount of NFT’s to random participants in the raffle.

Much like a visual artist who creates scarcity by making a limited number of prints, NFT’s provide the value of scarcity without limiting the access to the original asset. According to Mcfederic, NFT’s allow us to create an asset that is both “scarce, and available to all.”

Brud Inc. and many new companies like it are pioneering a new kind of digital economics that puts the power back in the hands of the artists, a “Creator Economy.” This means that as NFT’s and Web3 continue to evolve we will see a rise in a new kind of art. Programable, dynamic, immersive, and explorable art that can respond to outside variables and address the issues that the world is facing today in a new, fresh way. Creators will no longer be at the mercy of the Siren Servers and the centralized system but instead will be able to create their tokens and interact with their communities in intimate ways that respond to their needs, while also paying the bills.

Decentralization opens up a window to an entirely new world. One where we have access to more creators, more ideas, and more perspectives. One where we have to deal with less censorship, less oppression, and less targeted advertisements that belittle our mental and spiritual health. It creates the opportunity for new kinds of art and storytelling, and it gives us new ways to interact with our communities and enrich ourselves. This will be paramount as we take the next inevitable steps in our evolution as a society because art isn’t optional for humans.

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