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Audacious Folks are Rebuilding the Internet
An realtime archeological report on the budding of a new internet
At the time of writing, It’s 2:51 am and I'm standing in line for security at the airport in Austin, Texas. I’ve spent the entirety of my previous day extended into this morning hanging out with a group of folks who’ve subscribed to the idea that the internet can be rebuilt—and that it should be rebuilt.
For context, I talked about Urbit a bit in a prior post which you can find here.
Before I left for this trip, a friend back in St. Louis told me to view this as an archeological exploit in realtime. What would it be like to be at the pyramids when they were being built? This is that report.
Tl;dr — It was beautiful.
Before the mop/sociopath invasion
That same friend told me something else:
Ben, you should look for the geeks.
He was referring to an article we’d both read called Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution, which in short suggests that it's the geeks who create the culture, the mops who slosh it around, and the sociopaths that look for where they can put the geeks to work and get the mops to spend money.
This is a helpful lens to have going into a conference, because if you’re a geek then it’s in your best interest to be on the hunt for fellow geeks. A mop will only rob your attention and a sociopath will look for ways to exploit you. A geek however is someone who you can exchange a common language with in full authenticity and at best, collaborate to build something new.
Urbit Assembly 2021 had the lowest mop:geek ratio of any subculture gathering I’ve ever attended, so how in the *expletive* was this achieved? For one, entrance to the subculture ain’t cheap. Right now, it costs about $256 to acquire a planet unless you can get one gifted to you. If you’re interested, don’t be shy. I got a ‘spawn token’ for a planet after poking a bunch of the right folks on Twitter saying I was interested in what was being done with Urbit. Ask around.
The birth of a subculture
One of my favorite points of the whole shin-dig was when one of the organizers of this first in person assembly brought up the below image.
So who are these guys? From left to right, they are Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard. In the 1950s, a spark of subculture was ignited when this team was the world’s first to mount El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Not everybody in the world is a climber. But most places you go, you would be able to find a community of other folks who’re into ascending rocks for entertainment. In many cities, there’s enough of a community there to support one if not more climbing gyms, where these folks are able to converge to hone their skills without traveling to the nearest wall of rock. That being said, according to The Mountain Project’s route guide, over 250,000 outdoor climbing routes exist worldwide, with most being set in the 70 years proceeding the historic climb mentioned above.
So as to why this was a topical slide at the first convergence of nerds digging a new technology—we are these climbers—stated our presenter, known as ~ravmel-ropdyl on Urbit. The room was full of route setters, culture spreaders, and as mentioned above, geeks or fanatics.
The conclusory call for self awareness
For the event’s final talk, attendees had the opportunity to hear from critically acclaimed game designer Jonathan Blow. Jonathan was initially only attending the conference as an early adopter of Urbit himself, but agreed to an offer to take the last mic opportunity after the original keynote became stuck in Europe.
Jonathan began by echoing the above sentiment, recalling a time that he attended a similar early technology meet-up for what eventually became the internet. The message was inspiring, but turned on itself when he reminded us why we were all there—to replace that very internet.
He’d noted something about midway through the talk that he learned in game design, something that anyone who’s tried to conquer a project of ambitious scale could hear and relate to: the last 10% is 90% of the work. Urbit, Jonathan said, was probably just reaching 90%, and the enduring push to the finish was about to begin. In conclusion, we were reminded of this and encouraged to keep the ethos what it needed to be to contend with the future.
Jaws on the floor, and delusions of grandeur shattered, it was the perfect way to conclude the main event. Conversations of that future in one form or another carried on up until my Lyft picked me up for the airport at 2:30 am. They’re continuing on Urbit right now.
Okay, truth be told, this whole post wasn’t written in the early hours of the morning, although most was spare for some revisions through the week. I continue to talk about Urbit not to have something to say, but because I really believe in what’s going on with the technology and community. If you have questions or want to learn more, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or Urbit at ~padlyn-sogrum.
Next week, I’m going to talk about the difference between simple and easy.
Start from scratch if you have to.