, Episode

Amber Case predicts the Internet of 2031

Interview by
August 24, 2021

In this episode...

Amber Case is a futurist and a Mozilla Fellow exploring how the future of money can generate new business models for compensating creators. She is also an advisor to the Puma Browser and has previously held fellowships at the Institute for the Future, MIT Media Lab, and Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Today on POWER PLAYS she tells Ayden Férdeline why she is excited for the Internet of 2031 - and what she imagines it might look like.

Amber Case

Amber Case is a researcher working on the future of technology, design, and the web.


Intro [00:00:07] You're listening to POWER PLAYS, the podcast hosting conversations between policymakers, engineers, business leaders and others who are influencing the Internet's infrastructure and institutions in ways that impact all of us today. Here's your host, Ayden Férdeline.

Ayden Férdeline [00:00:29] Welcome to POWER PLAYS, presented by Grant for the Web, I'm Ayden Férdeline. Today on the show, we have Amber Case, a futurist and a fellow with the Mozilla Foundation, where she is exploring how the future of money can generate new business models for compensating creators. She's also an adviser to the Puma browser and has previously held fellowships at the Institute for the Future, MIT's Media Lab and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Amber Case, a very warm welcome today to POWER PLAYS. Now, a question I always ask guests on POWER PLAYS is an icebreaker, and that is, what is a contrarian thought that you have about business or culture that others might disagree with you on?

Amber Case [00:01:10] Sure, I think of how things develop more on the line of a fractal. I don't know if you ever play with fractals. This is something that I would play with as a kid. I had this little fractal mathematics program, and I notice that there's a point in which a fractal gets really complex and kind of self-similar on the inside. And at a certain saturation point, it kind of all of a sudden empties out. And I thought that was really, really interesting. And so when I think of technology development or cultural development or global development, I notice you can sit in a grocery store over the course of ten years. All the packaging gets really, really complicated. And then suddenly the way to differentiate is to be empty, to have simple truth, brand beans, no ingredients or no additives. It's this thing that I've also seen in tech where everything's really complicated for payments. There's POS systems in physical stores. It's really, really hard. And then you have the Great Recession in the United States and the rise of individual vendors and food carts. And I was sitting there thinking around 2008, 2009, what super simple technology is going to come in and disrupt all of this? What will it look like and how will it replace this huge POS point of sale systems that have to sit on the register in like a department store? What's going to eat that? And I remember just kind of waiting and suddenly Square came out. The Square card reader. This tiny little thing that would go into the phone, the audio jack on your phone and you could slide a credit card through that and suddenly it turned someone's phone into a point of sale. And I said, that's it. That's that next part of the fractal. That's the emptying out that's going to replace everything, or at least a lot of the pieces. And then, of course, they did. I mean, you have kind of like an iPad with a Square interface and it looks almost like Star Trek. You watch Star Trek Next Generation. There's always these little computer screens that you slide over and somebody could type on them. You're showing some details to somebody on somebodies desk. OK, we are now in the 1968 vision of what we thought shareable screens would be. It's actually just this almost military style system. If you look at the military that they kind of have these raised surfaces for computing. They have a lot of physical buttons. But when you look at Star Trek, there was actually a user experience designer hired to make the LCARS display system, and they had especially an original series like lots and lots of really well designed furniture and high design. And that was super interesting to me, because when we think of technology today, in a sense, there's kind of a high design, but it's not this high physical design. It's all stuck inside. Not necessarily, but especially the beige 90s. It's not necessarily super harmonious. And I think one of the big issues that people see is that we have a separation of technology from people or technology from tools. And that's made it so that it's excusable to have technology that doesn't work very well or goes away in six months. And what I'm really interested in is seeing technology that works alongside us and is as stable as a light switch. And so that's what I focused on against all odds in an industry that keeps changing. I actually really want to see things like the foot pedal that we use in the car or the sewing machine, the light switch, a glass of water whose usefulness is because it's empty. Like these are very you know, there are some of them are inspired by Japanese ideologies. But that's the thing that I keep going to of what are the human and technology universals that are not going to change and how do we use them to kind of break the complexity of that fractal into simplicity while everybody else is in the weeds panicking and trying to change stuff up and innovate really fast? What are the big things that we'll be thinking about - the 20, 30, 100 year technologies that will become crucial and serviceable at human scale that will actually aid alongside humans instead of above humans? Super long answer, but good question.

Ayden Férdeline [00:05:59] Thank you. That is really fascinating. There are so many follow up questions that I have, but I'll try to keep it to two, as they probably won't be asked very articulately. One, do funders and venture capitalists feel the same way as you do? And two, there's a concept in Internet governance called the Internet invariants. It's this idea that there are certain fundamental components of the Internet's architecture that haven't changed over time, but were really important for the success of the Internet. Interoperability, for example, permissionless innovation is another. What are some of the invariants you see that shouldn't be changed in the future?  

Amber Case [00:06:38] So I'll answer all your questions. The first one was about do you see VCs getting interested in this? And I think of VCs as two categories. I think of the early VCs. If you watch Something Ventured, which is an incredibly good documentary about the rise of Cisco and the Traitorous Eight from Shocklee Semiconductor, who then became the innovators in Silicon Valley who were actually on the East Coast working for a Nobel laureate who was really mean to them. And they they all left and they tried to raise VC and they couldn't on the East Coast, but it worked better on the West Coast. Those early VCs that we now see at Kleiner Perkins, Caufield Byers, they sometimes they would use their own money, very early on as kind of angels. But the whole point of the VC back then was actually to reduce your business model to serviceable expandable components that, like a sponge when it grew, it would still have those kind of tendons that would connect it. But it was very clear there were a lot more strategic and they would help you build that. A lot of VCs today, they are not using their own money. They are using a portion of high risk private equity from places like the Harvard Kauffman Foundation, Mars Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation. These very wealthy families who, in order to manage the risk across their portfolios, put one or two percent of that in high risk private equity. And a percentage of that is in venture capital. And these venture capitalists are raising funds between eight to 10 years. They have to have a return on their investment and some of them kind of spray and pray towards the beginning and take the higher risks towards the end. They might want to get a little bit more guaranteed three X return. That's not generally what they want, but they know that one of these risks is going to pay out. One hundred times, sometimes a hundred times their investment, so there are kind of visionary VCs who do talk in this way, not in the fractal sense, but kind of in the exponential curve sense where you see the rumblings, the outliers, the signals of what's coming. And nobody else really believes them. Like, let's say just like the transition from Blockbuster Video to Netflix, like a good VC would be able to see that. They will be able to invest in some tools around that. And what happens exponentially is an exponential curve doesn't look like anything's going to happen and then suddenly it all shoots up hyperbolically. And so people who can really understand that as investors are well qualified to throw everything they knew out the window and get into a new paradigm. And I think the best place that I've seen that really prepares people to think at that level is the Institute for the Future, which has been around for 50 years. They do show you how to think that way through a series that's like a three day exercise program. So if you're in a big corporation or you're a VC, it's a very interesting model for not looking at trends, but for looking at signals that are, you know, if we saw short video that predated TikTok, we saw a bunch of different platforms that were shut down because they didn't make money or they have the wrong kind of people on them. And then those same companies got mad when TikTok took over. So just looking at even streaming online, like I knew that streaming online for video games was going to be huge because I saw on YouTube people trying to stream their video game content to YouTube and YouTube said, no, we're going to shut it down. You can't do that. That's against our terms of service. And so typically, when that happens, and there's usually a time delay, three, five years among this humungous industry that we then saw as NewsStream,, Twitch, all of those things. And so it's usually somebody does something weird within the existing infrastructure. It doesn't match. It gets shut down. You know that that's probably going to be the next thing. And then those same companies like YouTube will then work with those same people to support them only after they've made their own ecosystems outside of YouTube and have proven that they can capture value. So it's a kind of interesting thing because your next, I think, the best funding is probably like Bell Labs, like you have, or Xerox PARC, you have monopolies that end up making an R&D center and they hire strange people like the African-American that created, I think, ninety five percent of microphone technology. Showed up at Bell Labs at age 17 or 18. And at that time, it was very hard to, I mean, it still is, was very hard to get a job for somebody from his background. But he was just allowed to play at Bell Labs. So it was very general research. This is the same with hospitals and medical research, general research, and not just cancer, but like general biology research. That's not applied to anything. That's basically like you're a kid playing in the labs for fun is proven to make more breakthroughs than we are going to have a specialty thing. It's just kind of the same as like, why do you think that a lot of world leaders and a lot of people want to go to Ivy Leagues? They're not learning what is now at an Ivy League. They're learning the structure of what's been going on for two or three thousand years. And they get that perspective that's outside of themselves and they get a kind of compressed knowledge through time that's been filtered through various interesting instructors. So I think that the kind of stepping aside is really important. And that leads into your the next question about the Internet invariants. Like the interoperability and the permissionless innovation. The permissionless innovation is kind of that childlike thing where you have a weird event that happens, let's say, the Occupy Wall Street, and then you have somebody that thinks very seriously about inflation and creates Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that's created to resist inflation. But you also have and why I think that web monetization and some of the protocols that are happening now are very interesting is that, you know, I guess seven years ago I was super upset because everybody was building Web APIs. They were trying to build the next Facebook. And whenever someone's like, I'm going to build the next Facebook, it's very boring to me because there's no next Facebook. There's one Facebook. You know? What is the thing that this era produces? What is the larger need? What  is something memorable? What's really solving a problem? And I've definitely yelled at a few people about that. Join our startup. We're making a social network. Like, your social network is not kind of like an art play practice, and so it's just kind of a copy. But when we think about one of the, so I'm a Mozilla fellow and I'm researching web monetization and I'm researching protocols a bit, so yes, seven years ago, I was like, why is no one building protocols? So when we look at email, for instance, email is governed by a protocol not governed, but it's supported by POP, SMTP, IMAP. These are the protocols that allow you to get an email. And what's super important about that is if I've got a Yahoo! Account, I can send you mail and you'll get it in Gmail because Gmail and Yahoo are just the interfaces. On the protocol layer, it sends the email. This is so important because I can't send you a tweet and have you get it in Reddit or Facebook or whatever. There isn't interoperability on those networks. So there isn't a social protocol behind the scenes that everybody can message with that then Facebook is just reading that or Instagram is just reading that and displaying it. And so this becomes a really big issue because we ended up using all these Web APIs and things, but that really negates this interoperability. So I helped found this group called the IndieWeb Camp, and the idea was that you would kind of publish stuff on your site and kind of syndicate to other websites, but you kind of own your own identity, own your own data. This kind of goes with the Quantified Self group. It's all really early, right? So the future of the Web and Internet that I see is, you have a web wallet, you'll store your data in there, you can even store your health data in there, and when you go to a doctor, you can let them have access to your health data for a temporary period of time until you get a diagnosis or update. Then they write that back to your data file. And if somebody hacks in during that time, they're only getting access to what's currently being shared with that medical professional, not everybody's data. It doesn't become a data lake. And this is where the kind of crypto - I was not super excited about crypto. I remember someone coming over to my house in 2009 being like, you have to mine Bitcoin. Check out this network with this Satoshi guy that you can talk to, like this is cool. And I was like, well. I'm worried that if. I was just so conservative about it, that it was it was one of these things that here's this exponential flip and I wasn't taking my own advice of like, oh, here's the piece of the fractal that's going to change. It's super hard to see. But now I understand that you can really store a lot of data with it and this could empower this kind of web wallet idea. So seven years ago, I was like, I really want to look for protocols. I want to look for interoperable protocols in money, in data, in memberships. Just anybody who is working on a protocol I'm going to follow. And nobody was interested. And I finally was at a hackerspace in Portland. And my friends who created Neocities, which is a new version of Geocities, introduced me to this friend, Juan Benet. And Juan Benet, this was 2013, he said, I'm making this thing called the interplanetary file system and Filecoin and IPFS and Protocol Labs, we're making labs to make protocols. What, what? Here is this young person, I think he grew up in Mexico. He went to Stanford. He liked Digimon. He was just really fun and goofy. And we just started talking a bunch. And I guess IPFS is huge now. Filecoin is tremendously large, like they raised a $250 million ICO. They donated ten million dollars in Filecoin to the Internet Archive, which I helped to create a little bit of the first decentralized web conference there in 2016. So it was funny because here was this person thinking outside of time, having this huge vision about archiving files and making it so the web couldn't go away and making uncensorable content, making this backup. And who really cared, as much as I did, about archives and let's say the Library of Alexandria burning, that was something that I was really upset about as a kid. And so I finally met somebody making a protocol. And then more recently, I decided to run a conference called The Future of Micropayments because I heard about this idea of Interledger, which is a protocol that allows you to translate any amount of money into any other amount of money, and it doesn't have a transaction fee. One of the problems with paying for things online with a credit card is that it's really expensive on the transaction fee. But here, Interledger allows you to do it without that transaction fee. And it's a protocol. Oh, this is great. So I started looking into it, which ended up getting me the Mozilla Fellowship, and I noticed that the early web had these error codes. I don't know if you've gone to a page and hasn't been found. That's a 404 Not Found sorry, the page isn't found. But there's a few other error codes as well. Status codes. One of them is 402 Payment Required. 402. That wasn't filled out. Literally. It just says 402 Payment Required, reserved for future use. Hey, person who founded the web, why don't you fill it out? Well, so I started to look into it. Well, it wasn't filled out because there was no idea of web monetization back then. There was no idea that somebody would buy something on the web, not to mention that early versions of the Net were like the NSFNET, which was noncommercial, which was used for science that at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, for particle physics, it was just a way, the web was a way to send information very quickly around this giant particle accelerator that you needed to send messages to. You didn't want to just bike up and down CERN to send somebody a message. And so it wasn't made for like to buy dog food online on a recurring subscription model, have it delivered to your house. So.  

Ayden Férdeline [00:21:09] Right. It was designed to be reliable and not necessarily secure or easily monetized. I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just want to rewind a little. You started to talk about web monetization and micropayments. But let's set the scene for our listeners. According to Cinnamon, which is a streaming platform, 97% of online creators are not paid for that work. You said in a recent presentation at MozFest creators really have three options for surviving right now. Could you remind listeners of the status quo? How is it the content creators are getting paid at the moment?

Amber Case [00:21:46] Yeah, that's a very good idea. Just looking at how creators are surviving online. Yes. Most creators online do not get paid for their work. Some people do it voluntarily. But creators really have three options for surviving online. Closed marketplaces like Etsy, recurring subscriptions like Patreon, and invasive advertising. So you can put ads on your YouTube videos. And I think it's really time for something new. This is like the state of the web is kind of like you're in an arcade and the arcade has a million machines. And instead of coin slots, the web has different payment methods. Some are ad supported, frequently pestering you with annoying pop ups. Others really won't let you pay until you enter your credit card. Some require a monthly subscription. The rest have an upfront cost that's too much for casual use. So some people will just pick a couple of machines they like, a bunch will give up and get mad. And there's a question of like, why can't you just pay 50 cents for something or a dollar for something? Why do you need to buy a game for a whole month? Or remember to cancel the subscription and then go through the same process with another game? So there's a few other ways to do web payments, and right now starting to become possible. So I'd like to identify the kind of missing middle. So digital content is a 30 trillion dollar industry. And right now it's focused on large purchases and subscriptions. The medium-large transactions are done through Gum Road, Google Pay, PayPal, Venmo, Etsy, Amazon. The recurring subscription purchases are like Patreon, Bloomberg, Amazon Prime, Netflix, New York Times. But the missing middle for creators is these kind of small one time purchases, and that's comic chapters, art assets, little e-books, art projects, VR assets, video game levels, small tips, donations, drawing tutorials. The list goes on. But the missing middle is there because until recently, the credit card fee for a 50 cent transaction is more than the price that you're actually paying to the creator. So it's been impossible until now. And so you don't have all these options unless you have somebody do a subscription model, buy tokens inside the subscription model, and then pay some of those just tokens to the creators. And that works. But again, that's a closed ecosystem and that doesn't really promote the health of the web. So there's a few different pieces. Right. So the reason why we can't use credit cards for small payments is because credit card processing generally costs at least 29 cents per transaction. So, yeah, if you charge user 50 cents, you're left with about 10 cents after fees and way less if it's international. And if there's a charge back, it's 15 dollars per incident on Stripe and transactions below a dollar are just generally not economically viable. And so the reason why people need to charge at least three to five bucks is because that's the point in which credit card fees start to become a reasonable percentage of the total amount. There's also this kind of like mental cost per transaction or really the inconvenience about thinking about a transaction which involves entering a credit card or waiting for a loading screen or adding a bunch of personal data. When you have to do that again and again online and all these different ecosystems, it becomes super annoying. And that means that a lot of microtransaction companies until this time have failed because they miscalculated how intolerant people are of wasted time when the transactions are sufficiently small. It's not just a technology thing. It's about what it means to spend time online and have these barriers. So that's why people get around it with aggregation. So you can have not a 50 cent loop box in a game, but like one thousand in-game diamonds for $5.99. And then you can buy 20 loop boxes. It's totally a mess. So how do we enable web payments, that kind of human scale now? And that human scale is defined by systems that care about human time and don't waste it. They're designed to kind of fit what people really need, which is individuals and small groups, and they should be affording people the same rights that the marketplace has at an individual level instead of this huge level. So there are some pieces that actually have been created. And one of them is the idea of Interledger and Interledger makes it possible for the first time to buy things online for hundreds or thousands or hundred thousands of a cent without the transaction fees of credit cards, and that's super, super interesting and you can learn you can learn more by looking up Interledger, but it's a little bit difficult to implement. And so what's happened is there's a company, Coil, that was developed to actually demo how to do this. And it's really neat because it means that, again, there's a subscription model where you pay five dollars a month. But then every site that you go to that has a little web monetization tag in the code, it's literally a one line tag with a payment ID that goes to a web wallet. It actually sends little pieces of payment to people. And this is super interesting because for the first time these super micro transactions are economically viable. And so we're seeing people use this in a bunch of different ways. There's a post on the Puma browser blog, Puma browser is one of these mobile browsers that natively supports micropayments of web monetization. But there's all these different people that are working on it. Like with gaming. There was a JavaScript game festival, JS13K. And what they did is they said, OK, instead of just paying these gamers money, when when somebody with Coil-enabled goes to their site, we're going to say, if you have a Coil subscription, we'll give you an extra level in the game or like some different swag or some special ability or it'll be ad free. And this becomes very interesting. Like if you go to and you're a Coil subscriber, with the Coil plug-in installed in your browser, you don't get any ads. And there's Cinnamon, which I think this podcast goes on to, which is a really nice way of getting compensated as a creator without having to go through YouTube and put advertising on something. So we're seeing the beginnings of people using this protocol to do this. And there's another protocol I want to talk about as well. But that's just kind of an intro to what Interledger is and what it's doing. And because it's kind of powered by crypto behind the scenes, crypto is designed to have these multiple, multiple, multiple tiny fractions of money to be sent. So that's the idea behind that, to get to that missing middle and to make it possible for people to charge less than three to five dollars and still make money on their content.

Ayden Férdeline [00:29:37] Two questions that I want to follow up on. You said before that deploying Coil, for example, if you're a content creator, is as simple as adding one line of code to your website. It isn't complicated. But how difficult is it to embed a payment pointer into your content to receive micropayments if you are wanting to do something which is just a little more advanced, like removing ads for Coil subscribers or restricting the ability to see content only to paying subscribers? I'll also note, I've tried this myself. I would push back a little bit on saying it's simple, it's not as complicated as expected, but I don't know that it's simple if you were wanting to do something that is a little more advanced. And the other question is why is the protocol interesting to you? Why is it more interesting than, say, something proprietary, like a closed ecosystem, kind of akin to what AOL was back in the day or the Apple App Store today, just taking care of micropayments behind the scenes, mightn't that see the web monetized sooner? Because let's face it, some of these closed ecosystems have a boatload of uses and Coil doesn't just yet.

Amber Case [00:30:49] Sure, okay, two things. The first question is about how easy it is as a creator. As a creator to web monetize, you can get your payment ID and then you can add it. You can add it to a bunch of different places, even Coil Blogs or Cinnamon or even Twitch. So as a no code person, even if you don't own your own website, you can still monetize your content. If you do have a website and you have put ads on it, there's pretty simple documentation that allows you to say if Coil subscriber, remove ads. And that's all it takes, it's a super, super straight forward. So if you're smart enough, not smart enough. If you're somebody who's involved enough in your site to put ads on it, then you're probably going to be able to write the code to take the ads away with a couple of lines of code too. The reason why it's super crucial that this is an open protocol is because a lot of the innovation on the web has been done because of open protocols. Again, we have it  with email. Like imagine if, let's say, early email, you might have had Pine. You've had a bunch of these different ways of accessing your email and another company could come out and replace Gmail, for instance, like it allows the innovation of the interface and the capabilities to be separate from the protocol. And I think that's super important and allows these third party and these user experiences to evolve separately. Versus AOL. Okay, so AOL's pretty much dead and the whole thing is with it. So it's like, what if you had an island that only grew a certain type of tree, but grass wouldn't grown on it. So it just doesn't make any sense. Like I think we're used to thinking in the idea that, like, the Web is owned by like Apple and Google and Facebook and all these little portals that we go to. And the reason behind that was really happened in 2003, 2004 when we started to have the the war between between RSS and Atom. And if you're not familiar with that, you could have an RSS reader that would allow you to subscribe to somebody's site and see it in a feed reader and the RSS versus Atom Wars were two kind of web standards that had people that competed against each other and it kind of split the community in two. And what happened is that instead of posting content on your own site and running your own blog and going to South by Southwest Multimedia and putting your Web domain on your hi, my name is or something, a bunch of people joined together and created social networks where you, basically a social network is a feed reader within a walled garden. So you're subscribing to people's stuff. But there's kind of a template itself that happens within there where you can't really express your full identity. And then you have issues of virality and hatred in these places. And that's because communities aren't supposed to be that big. They're actually supposed to be a lot smaller. So we're seeing now a kind of going back to smaller communities again where there's private discord channels. And that's kind of where I want to bring up another protocol that I've been looking at, which is the Unlock protocol. I've known Julian since the IndieWeb Camp days. He's the founder of Unlock Protocol. And it's really interesting to see what he's done because he says, what about membership's? Aren't memberships interesting? There doesn't need to be recurring. But if I show you that I have my membership loyalty card or my membership token, which in this case is shown by an NFT, not just for art, but for showing membership, then you can do some of the same stuff. You can let people into a special zone on Shopify or a special level on a game. Or you can let them into a special Discord channel. And so both this and Coil I think are working to open back up the web. Coil with the small streaming payments and the ease of implementation, and Unlock allowing you to kind of have a token gate on content. I'm seeing this with some musicians, they're token gating some of their content and they're allowing people to pay in a small amount of cryptocurrency or we do see some credit card support now, too, from Unlock. But we're actually seeing people be able to just pay immediately for content right then and there without having to enter credit card details and get the content unlocked. And this is really interesting because you're not going through any third party. Unlock protocol is the idea is that in a couple of years it can dissolve itself and that it will continue to work regardless of whether it has funding and that the governance token that governs it, UDT, can actually just have people vote on what the next implementation should be or what should be done with the platform. And so I'm just excited to see that there's a couple, there's only three protocols that I've seen that I'm really closely following right now. And that's Interledger, which could be used behind the scenes for anything to translate that currency into other currencies back and forth and allow for these seamless micro payments. Filecoin or IPFS and Protocol Labs who are creating archival solutions for the web so that the web doesn't just rot and go away, and Unlock protocol, which is just trying to be something that re-empowers people to sell stuff right on their site. So I think they're all going after the same thing, which is make the web a healthier, better place, allow more options for creators, and allow things to last a lot longer than here's the Cool App Store and you're going to be in the App Store for a couple of years. But then the App Store's conditions are going to change. And now your entire creator community is stuck in that App Store and you can't get paid. This is terrible. And the web wasn't supposed to be that way, you're supposed to roll your own content. And when I talk about indicators, I'm seeing at the edges, like groups like friends with benefits, which kind of has a friends with benefits token that you buy to get into the group. But it's just an experimental group. There's a few other groups where you can write, it's like a writing competition where people write a cool article. But one of the coolest things I've found is that somebody would write, there would be a 24-piece article series and the first one would be online for nine hours until somebody paid for it. And then when somebody paid for it through a little token gate, the next section would be available for nine hours and only if everybody in a group had bought it within a certain amount of time, could all of those articles then be open and free to the public. And these social experiments that are going on that are playful and fun and led by a lot of people from really the art side of things who are very critical and very sophisticated in understanding society and culture and motivation in a way that like, let's say like a standard technologist cannot because they're fairly disembodied and very used to instructing a computer to do a certain thing. That's what I'm watching. That's the fringe. That's going to be the norm. We saw the beginnings of NFTs. That's going to be the norm. NFTs for memberships. Weird social tokens like they all just sounds super bizarre and there's problems with all of them. But I'm so excited to see there be more options for creators online than there ever have been in the past for getting paid and to experiment with the infrastructure of like, compensation, and silliness and design. So I'm very excited to be in this era of the web, considering when I was a kid, I thought I had missed out and I did not miss out. There's been a lot of cool stuff. So I'm just excited to see creators get involved. And now they have tools and protocols that they can play with.

Ayden Férdeline [00:40:18] I completely agree, and I guess I wasn't expecting you to say that you were so excited. I've had conversations with a few different people over the past few weeks on POWER PLAYS, and everyone has been so negative about the future of the web. We've heard that we're moving away from a web that was global and free towards something very different, towards more closed ecosystems, towards national Splinternets, towards ever more Internet shutdowns in some parts of the world. Issues of misinformation, disinformation, echo chambers, all of these issues that have been so hard to address and yet you're so full of optimism instead. I guess this is a really difficult question to answer, but what do you think the web will look like in 20 years time?

Amber Case [00:41:02] 20 years

Ayden Férdeline [00:41:03] or 10 or five?

Amber Case [00:41:04] Five is fine. At Institute for the Future, we think about ten years at a time. I was a fellow there for a couple of years and I believe in their future forecasting methods because they've been around for 50 years and they have about an 80 percent track record of predicting the future. And the trick is that there's not one future. There's multiple futures. And so, while we'll have credit cards and crypto and checks and money and trade and and anarcho libertarian autonomous zones. It's all there right now. Some of these will get more inflated over time, some less. But when we think about 10 years, we can no longer think about the world as it is today in any shape because the world is going to have, it's not that slowly the temperature of the world will rise. We're going into an exponential era in which the forest fires that are happening make the ice melt way faster than usual. And so in the past, if you look at historical records, it hasn't been that like, and the ice has melted and coastlines have been slowly... It's like, no, no, no. It's like, oh, suddenly it's a meter or two of change. Suddenly we'll have a really big event. We're already seeing big climate things. And so we'll really have to fundamentally reorganize how we think about global trade and organization and community. There's going to be a lot more mutual aid. There's going to be a lot more community based situations as larger infrastructures fail people and aren't capable of providing the support that they need. We will need to work with indigenous people to understand and support how they've already known for thousands of years on how to tend to particular eco regions and small climates. We will need to remember to work alongside tools as humans and to have human scale technology that we can operate and fix ourself. Some people will go back to farms, but the farms will not look the same. We will have, in order to rely on eating meat, there will be a lot more bugs that we will end up eating. All the stuff that sounds really wacky right now. Like different types of architecture. We cannot support, especially in the states, the suburbs. The stretchiness between those roads, those food deserts. I see luxury condos being slums in the future because they're made so poorly and so quickly and so cheaply. I see a lot of of artists, indigenous people, of the marginalized communities who have helped create a lot of the core infrastructure, at least in this country, really rise to the occasion with their knowledge and their connection to help. And how I see that playing out on the web side is we're already seeing these small autonomous groups. We're seeing decentralized autonomous organizations, things that can't be censored, things that can't be shut down. The idea of cryptocurrency, especially Bitcoin, is something that you can carry your wallet in your pocket or on a QR code and leave and flee your country, that it's designed to not be inflatable so that you have a hedge against a crazy runaway government currency. The world of the next 10 years is not going to look like this cool '90s beige grunge world. The people will not be in these little cocoons of coziness like, it's going to be, oh, I can't meet with you today because there's a power grid outage and I can't do Zoom, you know what I mean? But these smaller communities, we're going to have to learn to be less individuals and more collectives and not utopian collectives. We're going to learn how to deal with trauma together and to deal with loss and to sacrifice some things and hard work. And in a way, in 2030, people are going to feel much more alive because of the existential threats that they have to deal with. And right now it's hard to consider climate change because it's a hyper object. It's super hard to get our brains wrapped around. This is why it's so, so ridiculous to even be saying this about crypto. But it's like this is one of the technologies that you can move around. This is now funding a bunch of huge green energy projects, because before it hasn't been profitable to be environmentally friendly yet in the capitalist system. But suddenly with crypto and miners, it's it's becoming profitable that you have to use renewables. It's too expensive to get it from the grid. And people are funding 30, 40 million dollars or one hundred million dollar solar array projects just so that they can mine cryptocurrency. Well, after a while, who are they going to sell that excess back to, but the grid of the local municipal space that's the nearest to them? So I've been kind of reconfiguring my mind around what I was formerly stubborn about and not saying that I choose any side. It doesn't matter which side I'm, it's more about here are all the things that are happening simultaneously. There's a lot of people that want things to be the same as they were. That the United States should be a manufacturing nation and we should be able to afford a house as a single person. And you have to have the American dream. And the American dream is being made by immigrants. And a lot of our innovation came from there. So these are just things that are how they are. But it's so hard to think that far out. Well, 2040, isn't that when we're all supposed to die because of climate change and ocean desalination? And we think about space at that point. Right. Let's flee our planet. Like this is going to sound controversial and awful. But one of the reasons that... you might cut this out. But I always joke that the reason we haven't gone to colonize the moon and Mars is because there's no indigenous people to subjugate over there that have already done the labor for us, that a lot of these exploration efforts that have been done in the past are just, oh, here are native peoples that have had corn, beans and squash and will just turn that into a giant corn industrial system. And this kind of maximalist culture and one size fits all stuff isn't going to work. And I think people are way smarter than that. And they will start to take their websites back into their own hands and the worlds back into their own hands because they have to. And so do I think positively about this? Like, I have to think positive. I have to be optimistic. And what I do is I just follow the excitement. Right. Even though it sounds silly. So it's like following NFTs, which seem like a joke. They're not a joke if there's that much excitement because they'll turn into something, right. Follow the fervor, follow the silliness, follow where people are playing and follow where people are helping each other. And it's hard because I think it's important to let go of what we think the web is or isn't or should be and join the fight with them, with the people who are being silly and experimenting with it. They're paving the future.  

Ayden Férdeline [00:49:13] One last question, Amber, and I'll let you go. Everything you said, I'm just here nodding along in agreement. If there happened to be other people that share your excitement for the future and who want to stay ahead of the curve, are there any futurists whose work they should be reading? Who do you turn to on a regular basis to develop your worldview and to keep informed on new technologies that are emerging?

Amber Case [00:49:39] Sure, I like to read, this is silly, I like to read Peter Merel's translation of the Tao Te Ching, which inspired the first wiki by Ward Cunningham. Peter Merel was one of the contributors to the first wiki, which then we got Wikipedia from. I like wikis because every error page not found is an opportunity. This page doesn't exist. You should create one. I like to think about these in-between architectures that are used for communities and collectives and to see how you might operate under some of the Daoist principles when building things. Also reading there's a book on Wabi-sabi. The hardest thing I think for people is that, especially in the States, people want the quick narrative. They want the soundbite that they can give over dinner, they want to make a judgment and they want it to be one hundred percent. But what I'm really interested in, especially on the Wabi-sabi front, studying Japanese history, I was surrounded by people from China and Japan, Lebanon, Nigeria, these were kind of who I grew up with, my parents best friends in Denver, Colorado that was very unsupportive to other types of people. I started looking at the depth in which you go in Japanese culture and the nuance and just start to get some of that out and just sit with it and see that it could take, like with poetry, that we read that at people's funerals, it can take 10 years to write a good book of poetry or a single poem. Thinking at that scale is so much more interesting to me. And so, you know, also just listening to local people, listening to the Salish tribes in and around where I am in Oregon, looking at how people built boats and worked with the environment for thousands of years, looking at traditions, studying a ritual because ritual is how to get people to do the maintenance of a social architecture and the maintenance of an ecosystem. So ritual, which is amazing because a five year old can pick up a ritual in a way that somebody who wrote the perfect way for ecological sustainability in a PhD essay, cannot just hand that to somebody else without a PhD. So ritual drastically decreases the barrier to entry for complex information and sustainability across time. It's an incredible technology that's super sustainable and very interesting to study and just looking at food production methods that people have done and those technologies. So I think that the people with good ritual and good community and good curation are going to be able to make successful, strange, small art collectives that will warp everything we thought about the web and because when we see something that's so delightful and so fresh, we'll gravitate towards it. And also kind of like a fruit, communities decay over time and it's OK to let them go. Facebook is going to seed. That's OK. They'll be something else. But the smaller scale stuff to me, I think we may go that way because on the fractal line, we got to the biggest, hugest thing and now it's going to break apart into the smaller entities and reach that saturation.  

Ayden Férdeline [00:53:34] We're approaching the top of the hour, so we should leave it there. But I have found this to be such an educational conversation. Amber Case. Thank you so much.

Amber Case [00:53:44] Thank you so much.

Ayden Férdeline [00:53:45] I am Ayden Férdeline and this concludes season two of POWER PLAYS. We are taking a short break, but we'll be back later this year with more conversations just like this one. Thank you.

Outro [00:53:56] This has been POWER PLAYS. POWER PLAYS is a production of ETUNU. The guests on this program speak only for themselves and the views expressed do not necessarily align with those of ETUNU. Copyright 2021 ETUNU Corporation. All rights reserved.

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