In June, San Francisco hosted the largest Web3 event the city has ever seen. “Rejoice dreamers and the world’s brightest doers for a full day of Web3, dapps, protocols, and the future of the Internet,” the website said. “Change is in the air.”
For more than six months, the idea of a third iteration of the Internet has kept the US tech sector in check. While still theoretical, web3 is cited as proof that cryptocurrencies can be used in the real world. Even in the cold of a crypto winter, devotees hold out.
Web3 evangelists still believe that the future of the Internet will be user-controlled. Instead of companies deciding how we interact with each other, online life is becoming decentralized, meaning users can interact freely. Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies allow us to spend and send our money securely online without going through banks and other financial institutions.
The web3 conference in San Francisco, called Graph Day, was an opportunity to see how this dream progressed. Held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a huge Roman-style rotunda in the upscale Marina district, it’s attended by impressive backers. More than $400,000 was up for grabs in a hackathon. Sponsors included the digital asset platform Coinbase.
The problem is, Graph Day was conceived before the cryptocurrency’s worst crash. Towards the end of last year, the price of bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, hit a new high of nearly $50,000. Hollywood actor Matt Damon was one of the celebrities who promoted jets and crypto exchanges. The TV ad, which aired during the Super Bowl, encouraged investors to view the crypto car as “fortunate smiles on the brave.” Gwyneth Paltrow partnered with Cash App to donate $500,000 in bitcoin, telling Elle magazine that she wanted to help bring more women into the world of crypto investing.
In June, the combination of rising interest rates, relapse fears and constant scams had burst the crypto bubble. Bitcoin price had nearly halved and continued to fall. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency created as a joke and made popular by Tesla boss Elon Musk, had fallen from a high of $0.52 to $0.07 in early 2021.
But don’t think that a spectacular crash could shake the confidence of the tech sector. Despite falling prices, the mood on Graph Day was still optimistic. At the party that followed, the drink flowed freely and the conversation turned to non-fungible tokens. Instead of exchanging business cards, one partygoer presented his phone with a QR code linked to his Twitter account, along with an NFT profile picture.
Cautious voices were rare. “Maybe,” thought one reveler, “this will be the last time. But I doubt enough.
It’s easier to avoid a price crash if you insist that the goal isn’t personal wealth. Web3 and crypto conferences like to promote the idea that crypto is a force for good. Some attendees had recently gone to Crypto Bahamas and Crypto Miami – clustered in tropical locations with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to congratulate each other on a brighter future.
Any mention of the volatile price of digital tokens is considered a faux pas. Crypto may have generated wealth for some and left many others with heavy losses. But the Web3 conference in San Francisco focused on how blockchain technology could make the world a better place. The panic about fluctuating prices is for the idiots on Wall Street who are only interested in quick cash and have no knowledge of the technology behind it.
Comparing earnings or suggesting that crypto is pure speculation is taboo. So is any mention of criminal activity using crypto or hacks that have left some investors in the red. At the moment, this never-say-that attitude is exemplified by Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old billionaire who founded the FTX crypto exchange. Known for his defense of crypto and for wearing shorts and t-shirts to smart events with his curly hair crooked, he has intervened to lend credit or buy out struggling crypto firms like BlockFi. He is reportedly now considering the Robinhood trading app.
There will be more opportunities for believers to take advantage in the coming weeks. Since Graph Day, the crypto crash has continued. Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency, is down 73% from its high. Coinbase’s share price, which only hit the public markets last year, is down 77% this year. When I asked a viewer what he had received from the dramatic drop in crypto prices and whether it might slow down future conferences like this, he said he was just looking forward to buying more.