*currently digesting*: getting hormonal in web3

macro reflections, tangential takeaways, and humanized hot takes from cruising through the cryptosphere 🤠

I’ve been thinking about hormones a lot lately. That’s in part because I started contributing to AthenaDAO. But today, I’m not just referring to the reproductive classics that often come to mind. Our brains, tissues, and organs are constantly secreting a myriad of chemicals in nuanced ways, and they dictate everything from our mood to our sleep to our blood pressure.

This week, I’m *currently digesting* how hormones will play into web3 adoption.

My favorite part of web3 life has to be the conversations; Internet strangers have been particularly open to riffing with me and I love it. One of the most enriching chats I’ve had was with Evin McMullen of Disco. She’s a sunbeam and you can’t help but get excited in her presence. But beyond the superior vibes, she also said something about the state of web3 that stuck with me: “It’s glorified gambling. We’re a bunch of dopamine addicts.” 

Evin McMullen, Co-Founder & CEO, Disco

If you’re already active in the web3 space, it’s undeniable: We’re surrounded by shiny rewards and promises of wealth as projects vie for liquidity and community. Short-term financial and material gains are the name of the game, and they keep us coming back for more. And while an NFT scavenger hunt may feel novel, it’s following an age-old formula for hooking people quickly: Give them a hit of dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone responsible for our reward/motivation/pleasure responses. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with these dopamine dabs. The barrier to entry is really low. In other words, we don’t have to do much to get a fix, and it’s readily available all the time. That puts us in “the dopamine loop,” and over time, we get low-key addicted to the fleeting high that comes from a quick, easy win. 

Andrew Huberman, Neuroscientist & Stanford Professor

We know the feeling all too well: The endless social scrolling or Tinder swiping… Web2 giants have proven big fans of the dopamine rollercoaster. For us users, it’s thrilling while we’re on the ride. But when we stop, the comedown kicks in. Turns out social media platforms have been exploiting our psychology by tapping into the same neural circuitry as slot machines and cocaine. Back in 2018, Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of User Growth at Facebook admitted to being aware of it, stating, “I feel tremendous guilt. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” And with VC cash often funneling into the biggest, and ideally fastest, returns, there’s financial incentive to f with our brains.

According to Dr Anna Lembke, psychiatrist and Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, “We have endless founts of fun at our fingertips, but the data shows we’re less and less happy.” There’s a law of diminishing returns on pleasure. And pleasure alone doesn’t sustain us.

So, where do we go from here? How can we ensure we’re building systems that we come back to because they support us, not because we can’t help it?

I feel like there has to be an expiration date on this norm, and I hope it’s soon. In the meantime, I do think that we can focus on the flip side: creating positive hormone reactions. Two key ways come to mind:

  1. Build better. I’m thinking projects that incorporate rewards for exercise, that are digital-first but proactively limit the need for screen time, that place a premium on humanity. Or solutions that synthesize the constant information flow. Or an influx in long-game funding that prioritizes holistic value.

  2. Communicate better. We also need clarity and comfort from existing solutions. Imagine you’re a regular person dipping your toe into the web3 pond for the first time and you read something like: “Layer-2 protocols are scaling Ethereum with ZK tech to increase Ethereum’s throughput.” Is this going to make you feel good, like you’re a part of something bigger? Is it likely to induce a positive hormone response? Nah, it’s confusing, and at the end of the day, uninteresting to the average person. We can foster community identity without being closed off to the larger population. We can communicate tangible benefits simply and get into the nitty-gritty for those who want to know more.

As web3 matures in the coming years, I think those who navigate the human hormone response in an integrated way will come out on top. 

In continuing our conversation, Disco Diva Evin went on to share, “We’re missing stability, trust, familiarity, delight, ease… We need more serotonin in the picture.” I, for one, am very much craving some serotonin. 

*currently digesting* is a reader-supported publication. The best way to receive new posts and support my work is by becoming a free or paid subscriber.

PS x PSA: Web3 needs women. I got into the space via SheFi and can’t recommend it enough. Check it out. Follow along. Secure a spot in the next cohort. And feel free to write me if you have any questions. It’s really the best. 💫💫

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