⚡ New Event: The Infinite Machine ft. Camila Russo
The birth of Ethereum and the future of the internet
I avoided crypto discourse for ages. I assumed that it was a space full of get-rich-quick scammers and rabid anarcho-capitalists, and certainly not one amenable to my values. Recently, though, I’ve seen another side of the crypto ecosystem: good faith people trying to build participatory governance systems from the ground up, private and user-controlled alternatives to platform monopolies, and novel ways to get creators paid, individually or even using creator cooperatives.
Crypto is still in its infancy, and it could go in either direction. That means there’s an immense opportunity for socially minded technologists to understand and shape the direction these projects take, as well as to understand what harms and potentials the technology could pose for the causes and communities we hold dear.
📖 the infinite machine by camila russo
Our guest for Thursday, July 22 is finance journalist Camila Russo.
Camila Russo is a journalist with experience across continents and asset classes. She’s best known for her reporting on the wild world of cryptocurrency and DeFi (decentralized finance), which she covers in her newsletter The Defiant and her book on the history of Ethereum, The Infinite Machine.
Join us next Thursday for a Q&A on the origins of the Ethereum cryptocurrency community and the future internet they’re trying to create.
🔊 our take: crypto is for more than money
By Jihad Esmail
Everyone has at least one crypto-pilled friend — for a lot of people I know, that’s me. I was formally introduced to crypto during the ICO boom of 2017. At that time, the question was simply “will number go up?,” and my understanding of the space was severely limited. Fast forward to 2020, and I was doing research on “post-capitalist entrepreneurship.” Nathan Schneider, one of my favorite writers who coined the term “Exit to Community,” was discussing crypto as a means of collective ownership. Several other writers and collectives were pushing a similar narrative: tokenization as a form of community ownership, decentralized funding models, DAOs and digitally-native activism… I didn’t know what any of those words meant yet, but I realized that “number go up” was the least interesting part of the story. And all of the work was being done on one blockchain in particular: Ethereum.
Now six years old with a $250B market cap, the Ethereum ecosystem is home to a wide range of work: financial speculation, decentralized finance (DeFi), participatory governance, NFTs. That diversity is a point of skepticism for many: how can a technology whose current primary use case is finance also become a panacea to the harms of capitalism? In The Infinite Machine, crypto journalist Camila Russo argues that this range of Ethereum implementations was seeded from Day One.
In this thrilling biography, Russo explores the story of Ethereum from its origins in Spanish communes, living room hackathons, and Bitcoin conferences. Of course, every good underdog story needs its hero, and then-19-year-old wonderboy Vitalik Buterin fit the bill. While working for Bitcoin startups, Buterin began developing a concept that expanded the “peer-to-peer money” technology behind Bitcoin into other domains. For example, what if a decentralized, distributed ledger of truth could also power social media platforms, a broader financial system, and even legal contracts? In other words, Buterin aimed to generalize blockchain technology so that any developer could use its infrastructure to build “peer-to-peer everything,” not just money.
Weaving together a concise summary of The Infinite Machine is a challenge, as the book takes the reader on a whirlwind tour from launch day and early development to DeFi, the ICO boom, and the DAO hack. And Russo leaves no stone unturned — much of the first half of the book comes straight from interviews from the Ethereum founding team themselves.
While the book abstains from explicit politics, Russo makes it clear that the Ethereum ecosystem has its roots in small-l libertarian communities. For example, Buterin is described as having an affinity for Rand Paul and New Hampshire’s libertarian roots. These roots have permeated throughout the ecosystem, resulting in free-for-all money grabs, resistance to regulation, and life-altering scams.
At the same time, that same ideology is a positive call-to-action for many in the space, Vitalik included:
“So total cryptocoin market cap just hit $0.5T today. But have we *earned* it?” Vitalik tweeted on December 12, 2017. “How many unbanked people have we banked?” he wrote, and continued to ask, how many applications have a significant number of users or are moving large amounts of volume? How many people have been protected from hyperinflation?
Buterin is not alone in this thinking. Other Internet, in an essay entitled “Positive Sum Worlds: Remaking Public Goods”, explores the responsibility that those working in the space have to create positive externalities for everyone, not just crypto stakeholders.
The Infinite Machine is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Ethereum or the crypto world more broadly. As with any movement, the present is heavily influenced by the past, and understanding Ethereum’s origins is critical to exploring its ambitious visions for the future.
💡 It’s interesting to contextualize crypto’s community governance experiments (like DAOs) within Jihad’s Reboot essay on “post-capitalist entrepreneurship,” which covers topics from worker cooperatives to open source software.
📖 This Ethereum 101 guide provides an accessible primer on topics from Ethereum’s philosophical roots to smart contract development.
🚕 Invest in The Drivers Cooperative, a worker-owned alternative to Uber.
🍎 Why are figures like Steve Jobs such compelling leaders in spite of their harsh personalities? Perhaps it’s the totality of values-action alignment.
💝 a closing note
One of the big benefits of cryptocurrency is privacy — technologies like public key encryption and zero knowledge cryptography enable people to transact without trusting a centralized party with sensitive data.
At the same time, I’ve felt that privacy can often feel overly abstract, so I asked Twitter for readings making the 21st century case for why privacy matters:
Lizzie, a Reboot featured author, shared her essay on the relationship between digital data-mining and self-determination.
Jess, who we interviewed for “Safekeeping the Internet,” suggested this article on how the internet changes how we perceive agency and power.
Scott, a Reboot community member, shared the classic “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto,” which influenced many crypto communities.
Lucas, who wrote “The Creator’s Dilemma,” recommended civil liberties advocate and reporter Glenn Greenwald’s TED Talk on privacy and Edward Snowden’s memoir Permanent Record (which I can verify is excellent!).
To the moon,
Jasmine & Reboot team