Crypto Social Experiments: A Beginner’s Guide to Network States and Vitalik Buterin’s Montenegro Initiative

Crypto communities are exploring innovative approaches to governance, economic structures, and human interactions using blockchain technology, such as the A Ethereum
founder Vitalik Buterin started in southern Montenegro.

Online communities cultivate an atmosphere where people who share common interests can engage, exchange innovative ideas, and make connections through digital platforms. These online interactions sometimes pave the way for the development of thriving in-person communities. In 2019, 76% of Internet users participated in one or more online communities, according to a survey by the World Web Index. The Internet has enabled new ways of working together and organizing by making it easier to access, share, allocate resources and make decisions around the world.

What are network states?

A “Network statusis defined by infamous tech investor Balaji Srinivasan as a tightly knit online community that can act together, raise money to buy land around the world, and eventually gain recognition from existing countries. Digital assets, built with blockchain technology, can help individuals collaborate and exchange resources without relying on traditional institutions like banks.

A notable experience of the crypto community is Zuzalu funded by Ethereum inventor Vitalik Buterin. Zuzalu is a pop-up community in southern Montenegro, bringing together over 200 residents interested in a variety of fields ranging from crypto networks to longevity science and public goods. When I visited Montenegro, Buterin welcomed everyone to Zuzalu, noting his enthusiasm for creating a space to explore ideas that he and many others had considered theoretically, but had not had the chance to discuss or to implement in real scenarios. Zuzalu is run for two months, from March 25 to May 25, and has featured an array of discussion weeks devoted to various topics, including a week on synthetic biology, hosted by SynBioBeta. This week ended with a fireside chat between Vitalik Buterin and synthetic biology pioneer Drew Endy on a boat overlooking the Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The micro city also featured a week on network states, with Balaji Srinivasan sharing his insights.

Ideally, communities should be built on the basis of inclusion and mutual respect for each other, but also respect for those outside of the community. However, in his book on the topic of network states, Srinivasan talks about the importance of social norms and a strong commitment to values ​​that differentiate a network state from the outside world. We must recognize the possible danger of this assertion, as Srinivasan’s assumption risks inadvertently leading to the formation of sectarian contexts.

Network Condition Risks

While these digital communities can offer solutions to social challenges, such as human loneliness – which US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy highlights as a significant threat to human health – there are also potential risks to consider, such as:

  1. Turn human relationships into commodities: By focusing on financial rewards and digital tokens, people could start valuing relationships based on money, rather than forming real relationships. Pump and dump token projects within the crypto community illustrate this risk. For example, a class action alleges that Yuga Labs, the creator of the Bored Ape Yacht Club, along with celebrities like Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon, conspired to manipulate the price of Bored Ape NFTs for their benefit. The defendants presented themselves as part of a high-end community formed organically to attract potential NFT investors, while it appears that the celebrities may have been compensated for their involvement in the community.
  2. Strengthen echo chambers: Network states risk deepening existing divisions and creating spaces where differing opinions are ignored or sidelined. Cults like Nxivm, led by Keith Raniere from the late 1990s to 2018, are an example of this. Originally a self-help organization, Nxivm has morphed into a manipulative cult, isolating members from their families and society. Arrests of prominent members in 2018 exposed his disturbing activities. This case shows how echo chambers can thrive, marginalizing opposing viewpoints and perpetuating harmful ideologies.
  3. Concerns of neo-colonialism: Network states occupying land in populated areas pose ethical dilemmas, such as the displacement of inhabitants and the erasure of culture. Honduras’ 2011 “charter cities” project illustrates these risks. He faced opposition from indigenous communities fearful of land rights and threats to cultural identity. Questions of transparency, democracy and exploitation have emerged. The Supreme Court of Honduras stopped the project in 2012, highlighting the risks of network states buying up land in populated areas, which could lead to displacement, cultural erasure and further marginalization.

Crypto Social Experiments

Current experiments include Afropolitan, a group of people creating a pan-African network state to economically empower Africans. Chika Uwazie, a Washington DC-based serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Afropolitan, is dedicated to unlocking the untapped economic and cultural potential inherent in diaspora connections to Africa. Its aim is to establish a digital nation, with cryptography as the primary form of currency. THE The World Bank reported that 95.6 billion dollars are sent annually by the African diaspora. Yet much of this capital is not used to foster economic development. Uwazie told me in an interview that social media has been a great tool for staying in touch with your community, but it’s incredibly polarizing and has led to a greater sense of loneliness. Instead, people want to go online and then go offline.

Another notable mention is will prosper, a private city and special economic zone on the island of Roatán in Honduras. Prospera managed to continue its development despite the controversy surrounding charter cities concept. The community has attempted to avoid some of the criticism faced by previous charter city projects by engaging with the local community, focusing on economic opportunity, and emphasizing environmental sustainability. Yet the project still faces opposition and concerns over land rights, autonomy and potential displacement of local communities.

These innovative ways of reinventing our communities, with the integration of digital assets, may not match everyone’s idea of ​​what the world should look like. However, I would say that creating spaces where people connect online and then come together in the real world is an interesting and innovative way to build social cohesion in the digital age. If you want to get involved with online communities, I suggest jumping down the internet rabbit hole of whatever interests you. It could be anything from science – if so, check it out DeSci – For pizza.

Disclosure: I visited Zuzalu in Montenegro, but have no personal or financial connection to the community. This article is solely a reflection of my own ideas, observations and perspectives; they do not in any way represent the official policies, opinions or positions of Zuzalu or its organizers.


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