Please shut up about cryptocurrency, NFTs, and the ‘Web 3.0’
I’ve been excited about technology for as long as I can remember, because most of the time, it leads to better lives for everyone involved. Affordable technology (like the budget smartphones we often cover here at XDA) and ever-growing access to the internet has led to greater opportunities and more enjoyable lives for billions of people across the world. However, there is the occasional sinkhole in the road to technological progress, and the latest one is seemingly being embraced wildly out of proportion to its usefulness: the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem. And I am so tired of hearing about it.
Crypto, Blockchain, NFT, Web3: What does it all mean?
Cryptocurrency, blockchain, and the ecosystem around those technologies are nothing new. Bitcoin, perhaps the most recognizable cryptocurrency, was invented in 2008. The (usually) ever-increasing value of Bitcoin, Ether, and other cryptocurrencies has kept them constantly in the news cycle for years — and thus, in the public consciousness. The underlying technology that powers most cryptocurrencies, distributed list of records known as blockchain, has also been adapted to other uses.
The primary issue with most blockchain implementations, including Bitcoin and Ether, is that they use Proof of work to verify transactions and other data. It’s a computational puzzle, and as more and more records are added to a blockchain (e.g. more people owning and mining Bitcoin), data takes longer to verify, which means computers have to use exponentially more electricity. One study conducted by Cambridge University in February estimated that Bitcoin alone uses more electricity each year than the entire nation of Argentina, and much of that power comes from fossil fuels. There is an alternative that doesn’t require the same computational costs, Proof of stake, but only smaller cryptos and blockchains are using it right now (such as Nano and Cardano). The Ethereum network has been slow-moving in its transition to Proof of stake, and there has been essentially no progress on moving Bitcoin in that direction.
The latest blockchain trend is non-fungible tokens, or NFTs for short. NFTs are intended to be unique digital items with ownership verified by a blockchain (in many cases, the Ethereum network). However, blockchains don’t actually store digital items, only the links to the files elsewhere — in essence, the NFT is more like a cashier’s receipt than actual ownership of anything.
Web3 is a concept for websites growing in popularity that will probably function in the same way, with the blockchain functioning as a DNS service, but no one has actually built a functioning version of it yet.
There are countless other problems with blockchain and popular cryptocurrencies, like how it has contributed to dark web marketplaces and malware that drains CPU resources and battery life. You might expect most companies — which normally care about their public appearance (especially in regard to caring for the environment) — to shy away from embracing technologies like cryptocurrency and NFTs. Unfortunately, that is not the case at all.
Jumping on the bandwagon
Epic Games announced that it was open to selling games that support cryptocurrency or blockchain-based assets — even after CEO Tim Sweeny said a month earlier that the field of NFTs is “currently tangled up with an intractable mix of scams, interesting decentralized tech foundations, and scams.” Ubisoft said in an earnings call that it’s working on blockchain-powered games. Square Enix revealed it will incorporate NFTs and blockchain technology in its future games. Twitter launched a team dedicated to “all things blockchain and Web 3.” Reddit announced it would convert karma points into cryptocurrency. Disney announced NFTs for characters and icons from its films.
Before you click those articles (or at least look at the dates), can you guess the time frame of all those events? Perhaps a few months, or maybe the past year? Nope, all of those announcements happened in the past month. It’s as if every CEO learned at once what this fancy new blockchain thing was, and decided to do something with it. What exactly, remains to be seen, but they needed to be seen to be doing something with it. The propensity of these subject themes to make news is incredible, and everyone wanted to jump on this bandwagon, even if they just have a skeleton of a plan.
Covering news in the technology world means I often get emails from PR agencies about new products or company announcements. Some of the time they are helpful and relevant to what I usually write about here at XDA, and the rest is usually just boring. Lately, the number of pitches for crypto-related content in my inbox has skyrocketed, some of it bordering on comically terrible and even offensive.
Back in September, I received an email from a company (which I will not name) with the headline, “9/11 Day Partners with [Company name] to Produce First-Ever NFT Metaverse Multi-Game Fundraiser to Support Our Heroes on 20th Anniversary of September 11th.” Nothing says honoring the deaths of almost 3,000 people in 2001 like digital collectibles that cost my yearly power usage to validate. I’m not sure if that email is worse than the pitch I received in June about a website for betting on the results of Britney Spears’ abusive conservatorship, but it’s definitely one of the worst things I’ve ever seen land in my inbox.
Seemingly every day, another corporation decides the best way to drum up publicity (and potential revenue) is to do something with crypto, without actually having any concrete idea on what and how exactly. The worst part is, it usually works. Most of the ever-growing community of crypto enthusiasts is always excited to share yet another use for the technology it has been evangelizing, especially since it often means the values of related cryptocurrencies increase.
The situation is made worse by the constant retweets and articles about NFTs selling for millions of dollars, which are often misleading or outright false. For example, a pixel art known as ‘Punk 9998’ was sold for the equivalent of $532.4K in October, but was quickly transferred back to the original Ether wallet for the same amount. Make headline, then reverse transaction seems to be a recurring theme, and that is a problem.
New tech may be great, but you need to hold your excitement
I can safely say that, in the 23 years I have been on this Earth, I have never been constantly bombarded this much about technology that is not practical at best, and actively harmful for the planet at worst. The hypocrisy and complete lack of self-awareness is also something to behold — one of the NFTs Disney created was for the character Wall-E, which is from a 2008 Pixar movie that takes place after humanity has destroyed Earth’s environment. You know, like NFTs are doing.
It’s incredible how quickly this technology has swept through the tech community, and as more corporations realize the popularity of NFTs (with a small vocal group of people, anyway) and its seeming propensity to make headlines, it’s seeping into the general public consciousness as well. Even besides the environmental impact of most blockchain implementations, NFTs represent the exact scarcity that modern communication tools and networks were created to prevent. On top of all that, I still can’t buy a new graphics card for my PC, because crypto miners are hoarding all of them.
In summary, I am tired of all of this, and now I have to set up Gmail filters. Please make it stop.