24 November 2021
Everything changes and remains the same: revisiting “Swift and Total” 21 years later
Consider the following statements:
Blockchain, Web3, and the metaverse are changing the world. No aspect of life will be left untouched by decentralized cryptographic protocols. There are, of course, the obvious reasons. New, better, cooler technologies will be developed. Practically every application will be hooked up to the metaverse in multiple ways. User interface will continue to improve until all our senses are wired. All neat stuff. But in Asia, blockchain's impact will be so much greater than all that. In Asia, blockchain is stirring a social revolution.
Along with technology comes opportunity for the little guy. GameFi, including play-to-earn, is spreading opportunities even to remote impoverished regions. Long-distance earning, whether it be supplementing poverty-level wages or forming self-organized guilds to leverage play-to-earn, is suddenly possible.
As the open metaverse provides access to ideas and information, people develop more diverse points of view. The metaverse and related technologies are encouraging individuals to express their opinions more frequently, efficiently and vociferously. Asian governments that previously relied on control will be forced to concede a higher degree of freedom to their people. The open metaverse, inadvertently and indirectly, will soon be the foremost exponent of democracy. The power of millions of people connected by the metaverse will change the world, and governments will have no choice but to change too.
This is the beginning of a new society. With the metaverse, Asia is joining the world. But I'm not pondering or worrying too much about what the metaverse can do and will be. I'm just going to be living it.
If you’re up to speed on the stunning progress in blockchain, NFTs, and digital property rights of the last 1-2 years, you might think this is pretty standard stuff. But the interesting thing is that the above statements are adapted from a piece I published in Asiaweek exactly 21 years ago, to the day. The essay was titled “Swift and Total” and it outlined my view of the impact that the Internet would have on the world and specifically on Asia.
The only difference is that I replaced the words marked in bold red with their present-day equivalents. For example, I changed “Internet” to “blockchain” and/or “metaverse”, while “long-distance learning” was more subtly tweaked to “long-distance earning”. And so on.
Everything changes, and everything remains the same. The opportunities that we see today with the rise of blockchain and the emergence of the metaverse are exactly the same opportunities that we saw in the dotcom era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. And these trajectories are not hidden from view, they are right there in front of us.
For example, the Philippines and other Asian countries have taken the lead in the adoption of GameFi. Play-to-earn opportunities in blockchain games already enable impoverished populations to earn a living, even during a global pandemic.
Imagine if in the year 1998 a company had taken the astonishing decision to change its name to “The Internet” in order to ride the wave of the future (actually, it sort of did happen).
Well, the concept of the metaverse is so pervasive and so powerful today that one of the world’s largest companies promptly changed its name to Meta in an attempt to establish leadership in the metaverse (and, of course, to distract from controversies).
The changes and advances we are witnessing today - in blockchain and the metaverse I mean, not in the Facebook brand - are as important as the Internet revolution was over 20 years ago.
Take heed, and prepare yourself accordingly. As William Gibson famously observed, “The future is already here - it’s just not very evenly distributed”.
NOTE: the quoted extracts in this piece are taken from an essay written by Yat Siu and originally published in the November 24, 2000 Vol. 26 No. 46 issue of Asiaweek. Portions of the text have been altered and marked accordingly. The original essay is available in full at: http://edition.cnn.com/ASIANOW/asiaweek/magazine/2000/1124/ann.voices_net.html
A version of this essay was first published on 24 November 2021 at: https://ysiu.medium.com/swift-and-total-2-decades-later-4e66b906ed88