In June, San Francisco hosted the largest Web3 event the city had ever seen. “Join the world’s brightest dreamers and doers for a full day focused on Web3, dapps, protocols and the future of the internet,” the site reads. “Change is in the air.”
For over six months, the idea of a third iteration of the Internet has gripped the US tech sector. While still theoretical, web3 has been hailed as proof that cryptocurrencies can be used in the real world. Even in the cold of a crypto winter, believers hold strong.
Web3 evangelists still believe that the future of the Internet will be determined by its users. Instead of companies deciding how we interact, life online is becoming decentralized, meaning users are free to connect with each other. Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies will allow us to safely spend and send our money online without going through banks and other financial institutions.
The web3 conference called Graph Day in San Francisco was an opportunity to see this dream progress. It took place in the Palace of Fine Arts, a huge, Roman-style rotunda in the posh Marina district, and gathered an impressive crowd of supporters. A hackathon had over $400,000 up for grabs. Sponsors included digital asset platform Coinbase.
The problem is that Graph Day was invented before cryptocurrency’s worst crash. Towards the end of last year, the price of Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, hit a new high of almost $50,000. Hollywood actor Matt Damon has been one of the celebrities who have promoted tokens and crypto exchanges. His TV ad, which was shown during the Super Bowl, encouraged investors to consider crypto because “fortune favors the brave.” Gwyneth Paltrow has teamed up with Cash App to give away $500,000 worth of Bitcoin, telling Elle magazine that she wants to help bring more women into the world of crypto investing.
By June, however, the combination of rising interest rates, recession fears, and constant scams had burst the crypto bubble. Bitcoin’s price had almost halved and was still falling. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency created as a hoax and popularized by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, had fallen to $0.07 from a high of $0.52 in early 2021.
But don’t think that a spectacular crash could shake the tech industry’s confidence. Despite prices falling, sentiment at Graph Day was still upbeat. At the party that followed, drinks flowed and non-fungible tokens were talked about. Instead of exchanging business cards, one partygoer offered their phone with a QR code linked to their Twitter account, complete with an NFT profile picture.
Cautious voices were few and far between. “Maybe,” mused one party-goer, “this will be the last event of its kind. But I seriously doubt it.”
It’s easier to dismiss a price drop when 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 have recently been to Crypto Bahamas and Crypto Miami – gathering in tropical locations with figures like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to congratulate themselves on improving the future.
Any mention of the volatile price of digital tokens is considered a faux pas. Crypto may have created fortunes 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. Getting upset about fluctuating prices is for Wall Street nitwits who are only interested in making a quick buck and don’t have a clue about the technology behind it.
Comparing earnings or assuming that crypto could be pure speculation is taboo. So does any mention of criminal activity involving the use of crypto or the hacks that have left some investors in the red. Right now, that never say die attitude is exemplified by Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old billionaire who founded crypto exchange FTX. Known for riding in defense of crypto and wearing shorts and t-shirts with crooked hair to elegant events, he has stepped in to provide loans or buy up struggling crypto companies like BlockFi. It is reported that he is now eyeing the trading app Robinhood.
There will be more opportunities for believers to benefit from this in the coming weeks. The crypto crash has continued since Graph Day. Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency, is down 73 percent from its peak. Coinbase, which went public just last year, has fallen 77 percent this year. When I asked an event attendee how he felt about the dramatic drop in crypto prices and whether it could put a damper on future conferences like this one, he said he was just looking forward to buying more.