Skeptical about crypto and what it could mean for business? Concerned you might be missing out on the next big business frontier?
In this article, you'll discover what happened during the Medieval and Renaissance eras that led to rapid business growth, how it's happening again, and what will likely take place in the very near future.
What We Can Learn From History When It Comes to Web3
Let's start at the beginning: the Renaissance.
When people think of the Renaissance, they think of a singular event that changed art and launched industries. However, the Renaissance was much more impactful than most people can fathom.
In medieval times before the Renaissance, what you did was tied to your very identity. If you were a farmer, it was because your father was a farmer, your grandfather was a farmer—your family for generations had been farmers. And, quite likely, your name was Farmer. It was built into your identity by that point.
Social mobility—the ability of one class of people to move to another class—wasn't just hard to do in medieval times, it wasn't even a consideration. People didn't leave their situation simply because it was their home and they didn't know what else to do. They didn't leave because there was nothing else. Their identity was their entire world.
Today, it's pretty easy for people to look back at the medieval population, especially those who were indentured in some way to nobility, and think, “Why didn't they just leave?” Leaving was not a part of the realm of possibility. There was nothing else.
Meanwhile, several smaller micro-events, or micro-renaissances, were building up over time until the Renaissance that we all think of today came about. In fact, these events had been building for about 100 years before the true Renaissance ignited. But once it kicked off, it only took about 20 years to irreversibly impact the entire world.
This is the same sort of cycle we're starting to see now in the world of crypto. For about the past 100 years or so, a lot of micro-events have been leading up to something big: television, cable, the internet, Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and now finally crypto and Web3. We're now seeing the impact that crypto and Web3 are going to have on the world. This is it. We're in the crypto renaissance.
How the Renaissance Reshaped the World
People during the Renaissance also questioned things and wondered about them. The people who lived at that time didn't even call it “Renaissance” until they came through the other end. At the time, however, it was all still very new. A few powerful people were able to jump on board early and shape events. Then as the process continued, everyone else was able to benefit from the Renaissance.
As we said, during the medieval era before the Renaissance, what you did was built into your identity and the idea of leaving your situation or changing your identity was never even a consideration. That was primarily because of the lack of access to knowledge about any other options.
Back then, education was reserved for the elite and privileged. Less than 5% of the population had any sort of education, and that education didn't necessarily include reading or writing. Then the Renaissance led up to two very important technological advances that would change the world forever: ledgers and the Gutenberg press.
Ledgers, or sheets of paper on which someone could record credits and expenses, decentralized funding for the world. All of a sudden, people were no longer beholden to merchants and other agents for their money, nor did they necessarily have to trade in physical goods. With the invention of ledgers, people could offer credit to their peers, colleagues, and within their community.
The invention of the ledger single-handedly allowed people the opportunity to build something different. They no longer had to be stuck where they were with what they were doing. They could start a business. Basically, ledgers marked the birth of capitalism. The trade of valuables was no longer something restricted to the elite and powerful; it was for all classes. And that opened up social mobility in a way that had never happened before.
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The Gutenberg Printing Press
When people think of the Gutenberg printing press, they often think about the first Bible that was printed. But in actuality, most people during medieval times were illiterate. They weren't able to read books. And because of this, the Gutenberg printing press wasn't in business to print books.
In fact, if venture capitalists and investors were looking at the Gutenberg printing press, they would have shut it down as a failed idea because most of the population couldn't read.
But what the population could do, and what the Gutenberg printing press took advantage of, was deciphering illustrations and pictures: the medieval meme. And these memes spread like wildfire, tens of thousands were being printed and shared across medieval Europe.
The Gutenberg printing press unleashed the exchange of knowledge to the world. Prior to this, no one had access to these new ideas. Even if someone considered changing their position in society, the knowledge of how to do it was never there.
Until all of a sudden it was.
Together, ledgers and the Gutenberg printing press helped decentralize knowledge and fundraising in a way that lowered the barriers to both for everyone. And as a result, more people than ever were able to change their station, separate their identity from their circumstance, and access the knowledge they'd need to do so.
This is where we see Web3 and the world of crypto following along the same track.
What We Can Expect to See if History Repeats Itself With Web3
If the advent of ledgers and the Gutenberg printing press led to the Renaissance because of the decentralization of fundraising and knowledge, Web3 and crypto are taking it one step further. In fact, it's quite possible that 500 years from now, human beings will look back at our time and call this a Renaissance.
Cryptocurrencies are decentralizing fundraising like never before. They've lowered the barrier for investing and starting new businesses, opened up new opportunities, and decentralized currency.
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Of course, this may not be immediately recognizable, as we see the separation between rich and poor still very much prevalent. A lot of the centralization of money seems to revolve around the largest corporations, such as tech giants Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google.
However, as cryptocurrency continues to grow and be adopted, you can see the effects it has on these centralized organizations. You can see their efforts returning smaller profits. Still large profits, but shrinking as everything becomes decentralized.
And Web3 is doing the same for communication and knowledge decentralization. It's no longer about who has access to knowledge and who can keep that knowledge behind locked gates.
Web3 is being compared to Web 1.0 and Web 2.0; Web 1.0 being the information superhighway where you could find information anywhere, and Web 2.0 being all about data extraction and social media and community building. And while community building is still important, it's one of the most important pieces of Web3, it's still a very centralized notion.
Social media corporations make their money by extracting the data you give them every time you take any action. Every time you open an app, click on an ad, post a comment or a photo in a group, that social media application is able to extract that data and turn it into a commodity. They then sell that data to their clients—the marketers and brands looking to sell their services and products.
And the knowledge you're seeking in Web 2.0 is still very much gated. When you enter information into a search engine, again giving it data based on your activity, you may or may not find all the information you seek. You may not even find the best information out there. What you're sure to find is information that has been written or curated by someone who understands how to get their content into that search engine.
In other words, in Web 2.0, you are the product. The knowledge and the currency aren't there for your benefit, you're there to help the elite and powerful make more money just by being you. The true knowledge about how to move is kept somewhat out of reach to all but the most determined.
Contrary to all of this, Web3 further decentralizes fundraising, as well as knowledge of how to use it.
You're still going to access the internet, open up apps, and go about your daily business. But now, as you perform certain activities, the data trail you leave behind won't be extracted and sold as a commodity. Instead, it'll be a way of earning crypto. Web3 takes you from being the product to being the owner.
In medieval times, this would be the same as a farmer going from indentured servitude to a noble for whatever scraps of food or money the nobleman gave to them, to being given pieces of land in a co-ownership capacity. The farmer would now be able to determine the value of the land based on the work they did and the direction the nobleman went in terms of managing that land.
Your data will still be a commodity, it's just that it'll be your commodity to earn from, rather than to the benefit of someone else.
And through all of this, our communities are going to be more important than ever, particularly our online communities. As you interact with your communities and grow, as people buy into your communities and raise the value based on their interaction, you're also sharing the knowledge about how you do everything. You're helping your community create their own communities. And access to this knowledge is going to become widespread, dropping the barrier of access even lower.
In many ways, Web3 is also going to bring together our digital reality with our real life, our physical realities. We're going to see more digital components accompanying physical assets and vice versa.
In fact, within the next few years, it may not even be called cryptocurrency. It's going to be so ingrained in everyone's business and life, similar to how reading and writing are integral to everyone today. Cryptocurrency is just going to be currency. And Web3 could be just the web.
Josh Rosenthal is a professional historian turned crypto investor. He's the founder of the 6ixth Event venture fund and has lectured at MIT and Harvard. He's successfully exited Web 2.0 businesses and is all-in on Web3. Find Josh on Twitter at @JoshuaRosenthal.
Other Notes From This Episode
- Check out Helium, Ethereum, Audius, Bitcoin, Uniswap, and SushiSwap.
- Connect with Michael Stelzner at @Stelzner on Instagram.
- Watch the interviews on the Crypto Business YouTube channel.
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