Last weekend I hitched a ride with web 3.0 musicians and began winding up the roads leading to Idyllwild, California. This was the annual festival organized by Friends with Benefits, a web 3.0 social club that seeks to reimagine what the internet might look like decentralized. From morning runs and yoga, to days filled with discussions of governance, online culture, and the state of web 3, I took an evening rest before the nighttime multi-stage musical performances.
Amidst the ultra-trendy aesthetics and deciduous environment I began to form some thoughts . The first was that online identity is a powerful force , and amidst the chaos of the world the web becomes the way we think about ourselves. When we engage online we simultaneously construct and instruct the self to take it offline. We narrativize ourselves for others and ourselves , replaying our digital moments as evidence there is in fact a continuous thread of being.
And when we do this on web 2.0 the danger lies in the targeting of communities, and the manipulation of self by behemoths like Instagram, Facebook , and Twitter. Joshua Citarella spoke about his long standing podcast with young people and micro-political identities. Much like their elder counterparts , young people are building themselves online which today is largely about politics . One interview was with a socially and fiscally conservative teen who became fiscally liberal after his family lost their house , but swiftly became anti-government when they weren’t able to get government or mutual aid and their mosque fundraised instead, supporting his conservative social beliefs.
But as young people, the algorithmic nature and ad targeting by political parties has pushed Americans into extremism. Tweens and teens with nascent political identities are molded by forces that think in ROI by click, not how the content affects human psychology as they are going through formative life experiences .
And many Americans are not only isolated but looking for a community . That combined with a waning distrust of institutions has led to a couple of things . The first is an over-reliance on the external world, into the land of conspiracy theories that can grow quickly , as it offers a convenient thread as to why everything is connected and how you can save the country. The second is the opposite, an excessive reliance on the internal self and ignoring of the rest of the world, which Gen-Z has taken up in response to the last wave of social media.
In the 2010’s, millennials and gen-z were gaslit, girlbossed, but not gatekept. We had social media on web 2.0 that made us doubt our own identities, as the algorithm manipulated our realities, making us believe everyone we knew was a model, got married, or got a huge promotion. From LinkedIn to Instagram and Facebook these platforms gave us “sticky” content, and that was content that lit up our DMN, the part of the brain that processes and continuously recreates the self, that created fear , anxiety , and stress as our beliefs about ourselves began to shift for the worse. Mental health declined and usage of these platforms went down.
Gen-Z has responded by becoming main characters , that is driving realities that are separate from the comparison game of web 2.0. From BeReal to being “delulu” young people are seeking to own the narratives of their lives , while at the same time distancing themselves from the realities of the world . At the festival, Shumon Basar spoke of lorecore, the name for the evolving genre of auto-narrative. While this is a natural response , there is a sense of nihilism and an ever-present comedic absurdism. Digital Disassociation is the response to a media narrative that is focused on disaster and a decision to not engage with it.
But what this lacks , that the conspiracy theorists don’t , is an engagement with the outside world. We need to build digital systems that allow us to not only own our work but also own our narrative and the people we are becoming . Systems that warrant positive feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and can make us feel inspired and action-oriented instead of frozen and helpless. That is part of the vision for web 3.0. It is about artists owning their music and art but it’s also about owning ourselves . While there is something to be said about not needing a narrative and allowing for more serendipity in life our brains respond to and are powerful at making stories.
Those stories are built with the physical and social world around us and as our split between physical and digital reality continues to widen, especially post pandemic, our senses of selves reflect digital reality more so than our physical one. And so the world we create online is more important than ever at influencing our reality. One musician I spoke to at the festival decided to abandon his online persona amidst the concern of deep fakes, AI, and other false personas. The quest for authenticity online has largely been abandoned, and yet there is a backlash to preserve ‘truth’ amidst dupe photos, images, and narratives, like the one of the Pope rocking the newest streetwear.
The good thing is that we can control our digital realities much more easily than our physical ones, but it takes intent. Exposing ourselves to the realities of the world, and exiting the narratives we built- or web 2.0 built for us- even though they might feel comfortable. Web 3.0 isn’t about feeling comfortable and allowing the algorithm to deliver information that continues to confirm our existing beliefs to improbable ends, it's about owning our futures and understanding the realities of our world, and choosing to be active players in our future .