This week I wrote an essay for Real Life about the creator economy, the ongoing monetization of the web, and the speculative tendencies that are unleashed when ownership of formerly free content becomes possible. The essay describes how the decentralized, blockchain-based Web3 is now replacing Web 2.0, the advertising-driven internet embodied by Facebook and other megaplatforms. One of the piece’s implicit points is that there are certain good and bad elements of digital existence that don’t necessarily go away when new platforms and models arrive, probably due to such factors as Capitalism and Human Nature, which always loom large in technology criticism. That criticism can easily fall into one of two traps, being overly positive or overly negative—everything is getting consistently better or consistently worse—but there’s a third trap as well, arguing that nothing ever really changes at all, and that anything new is just a repackaged version of something familiar. Each fallacy is off-putting in its own way—do you want to be an optimistic shill, a pessimistic grouch, or the person who thinks there’s no point in saying anything because it’s all the same? But while it’s hard to argue that we are experiencing monotonic progress or decay, the constant repackaging and reframing of human activities becomes more interesting once we realize that the history of technology largely involves moving good and bad things around to different places rather than creating or destroying them altogether.
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