Last Thursday, Yuga Labs’ $APE coin debuted. In hours, its value had fallen 80%. The next day, it had risen 90%. As I write, it rests at a comfortable mean. This volatility, absurdly, is average for an ICO; maybe even below, given the profile of the project behind it. The roller coaster of DeFi investing is made of rickety wood and equal parts nauseating and exciting, a ride to try to enjoy while knowing the tracks might crack at any moment. But degens are junkies for more than just adrenaline.
An entire fringe field of study — ‘tokenomics‘ — has emerged to try to predict these web3 market waves. What does the longevity of a new cryptocurrency rest on? Supply cap? ROI? Meme potential? All valid options in theory, but in practice, I got a C+ in Econ, so I have nothing intelligent to say on the statistical side of things. Besides, while cargo cult science is all well and good, the humanities major in me will always snub empirical facts, as long as anecdotal evidence exists. And, if my Twitter feed is anything to go off, cryptocurrency volatility doesn’t require a PhD to predict. Just some Psych 101.
Every morning, I wake up to countless tweets along the lines of ‘what NFT should I buy today?’ We’ve written before about Shill Twitter, but lately it seems like more than just the spectre of overnight financial gain driving these neurotic contributions to the collective conversation. The way in which most members of the web3 community engage with each other online smacks of compulsion. I am, in fact, cripplingly OCD, so I might actually know what I’m talking about. And, every time I scroll past another handle ending in .eth cheerfully tweeting ‘GM!’ out into the void, I just see a poor, sick soul, whispering consonants under his breath to make his mouth feel normal.
OCD consists of behavioral addictions — actions carried out compulsively to trick a chemically unbalanced mind into temporarily feeling calmer, safer, normal. FOMO, I’d argue, is the neurotypical version of the disorder. Fear of missing out is an obsessive, compulsive addiction. And, among the degens, it is an epidemic.
There’s no shortage of research — bio and anthropological — supporting our species’ reliance on in-grouping. The drive to be part of something is a powerful motivator, but not inherently addicting in and of itself. However, web3 has gamified ‘being part of something’. And games sure as hell can be obsessively addicting. Web3 communities, DAOs, gather on Discord, a gamer chatting app. Web3 status symbols, NFTs, have been repeatedly likened to digital trading cards. Web3’s currencies — fashioned after sci fi elements, virtual avatars, and memes — are glorified casino tokens. Web3’s greatest innovation to date? Quantified status transactions.
It’s telling to me that a massive influx in web3 interest and crypto scams coincided with the COVID pandemic. Stuck inside, we, on a whole, became extremely online. I’m embarrassed to admit that, at the time, I was optimistic about how this forced mental health break would effect the human condition. Without geotagged parties and drunk Snap stories, FOMO could’ve gone the way of the appendix. But, much like my overactive amygdala will sometimes interpret my ceiling panels as saber-toothed tiger eyes, human nature finds a way, regardless of the input. So, as soon as a vacuum of naturally occurring FOMO presented itself, an artificial one had to emerge to fill its place.
Which is why crypto is here now in such a major way, and, probably, here to stay. It is a version of games we always played with each other, optimized for our lizard brains; a gambling addiction for the Internet age, with the promise of riches and acceptance on the line, and without the requisite trip to the boardwalk. But, as with all casinos, the house always wins. Web3 Is Going Great describes how the ApeCoin shitshow underscores ‘the fantasy about a fairer distribution of wealth that some people thought crypto would somehow magically bring about’, summing it up with this quote from a Reddit thread:
Of course, the Ponzis won’t always be so blatant. (The coin’s called APE. Poor normie betas should’ve known their hard-earned bananas would be wrestled away by the silverbacks.) But the burgeoning field of tokenomics, while admirable in theory, will need to expand its scope if it is to truly help anyone. We suggest ditching the Econ textbook for a copy of Baboon Metaphysics. Or, at least, The Big Book.