One year ago, exactly, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. Throughout the following 12 months of misery, misinformation and great societal change, the cryptocurrency industry has emerged to be fairly robust. The core stricture of decentralization – of money, of governance and of information – has been thoroughly vetted and found useful, if not, correct.
Societal change has been both small- and large-scale, from the acceleration of e-commerce and work from home to the loss of trust in experts and institutions. As we continue to adapt to this new world, whether permanent or temporary, crypto will play an increasingly important role.
It shouldn’t be interpreted as gloating to say that some of crypto’s loudest proponents were early to sound the alarm on the novel coronavirus. Calls to “prepare for the worse” encouraged many crypto firms to preemptively switch to remote work. Some, like soon-to-go-public Coinbase, plan never to return to the office.
But it’s not just work that has gone digital. Under lockdown and other pandemic precautions shopping, socializing and entertainment have all become increasingly web-mediated. So has our awareness of the extractive nature of centralized internet businesses.
Deplatforming has been a far-too-common occurrence across the ideological spectrum, while researchers are increasingly cognizant that the perils of misinformation are directly related to the market structure of centralized internet monoliths. Tech backlash has taken many different forms, though one recent survey found that large majorities of people in the U.K. and U.S. support greater tech regulation.
Google, Zoom and Amazon have boosted returns, in some sense at the loss of consumer privacy and choice. These firms make their money through trading user data. And while they’ve become essential to daily life, they’re also fragile and prone to exploitation.
Decentralized alternatives to basic web services have yet to gain a foothold in the wider world. It remains to be seen whether this interconnected arena of protocols and apps, sometimes called Web 3.0, will be resistant to annoying occurrences like Zoombombing or even the more pressing threat of mis- or disinformation. But it will provide a genuine escape pod from the current web.
Censorship-resistance, user-owned data, persistent and securely pseudonymous digital identities have become important in a world where anyone can be knocked off a web platform for any reason. That will be the case even in a post-vaccination world.