Back before I began working in the blockchain space, I took vacations.
Vacations are escapes. You take them to free your physical and emotional self from everyday reality and to make space for exploration. The more drudgery you encounter on a daily basis, the greater the temptation to escape.
Vacations are often built around exhilarating, unsustainable adventures in exotic lands. Dune buggy racing, bungee jumping, jungle hiking, coral reef diving. The immersiveness and separation of an escape creates a parallel universe, perfect and self-contained.
The magic of vacations is that they end. You return home, bags in hand, back to reality. You again become the steward of your everyday life, performing small acts of maintenance, contributing to your community, investing in your family and friends. The memory of an escape remains — and it inspires the next adventure.
Today, most of the blockchain space is an escape.
100x leveraged trading is an escape. Decentralized gaming is an escape. The tribalism between projects and Twitter cartoon characters is an escape — a massive multiplayer online role-playing game. And crucially, in its current state, decentralized finance (DeFi) is an escape.
They are escapes because they immerse us in an alternate reality that gives us an inflated sense of the present, the future, and our place in both.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with an escape, and everyone needs vacations. But escaping reality while believing you’re actually reinventing it is akin to having delusions of becoming a professional dune buggy racer. The excitement of the moment misleads you into thinking you have created something more sustainable and more valuable than you really have.
Because the blockchain space is so secluded, so insular, we can create our own metrics, our own narratives. “ETH locked in protocol.” “Active wallet addresses.” “Transactions per second.” The more quantifiable the metric, the more its relative value grows within our tribes. It doesn’t matter if the metrics are manipulatable, provided there is social and investment capital to be gained.
The result: we are frequently deluded by our own success (according to the metrics we have created for our escapes, supported by the insularity of our space). We dream of becoming professional dune buggy racers.
But here’s the reality: we’re all on vacation. And it’s time to come home.
When I think of home, I think of a sanctuary. Someplace I feel secure and safe, where my privacy is protected, where I can build and maintain the things that matter to me and share them with the people I care about.
Home is an everlasting human ideal. We all want to feel rooted somewhere, to have a stable and sustainable foundation for growth. But creating and keeping a home is hard work, often unglamorous, often invisible. The banality of the actions we take to build our homes is what makes “home” as unexotic as it is important.
I don’t allow people to build unsolicited new additions to my home and periodically tear them down. I don’t build ziplines directly from my windows into my neighbor’s yards. I don’t invite strangers into my home without any understanding of their reputation or intentions.
The same things that are thrilling on a vacation — the serendipitous encounters, the lost wandering, the language barriers — are not as welcome at home. At home we need a sense of context, of belonging, of safety, stability, and reliability. And crucially, that is what creates sustainable and meaningful value for each of us.
When I open the front door as I return home, I want to see that my couch is still there. When I shut my blinds at night, I don’t want anyone prying them apart from the outside. When I can feel safe and secure in the space I have created for myself, I feel like I am free — knowing I can create value for myself and others, sharing it and keeping it as I like.
Home is where I build. Vacations are where I escape.
Right now, DeFi is an escape.
For all the talk of “banking the unbanked” and “unbanking the banked”, for all the bluster of “disrupting” legacy financial and credit markets, all we have really unlocked is the ability to better speculate on assets of our own creation, competing against people like us.
This comes with tremendous excitement. The leverage! The lending! The numbers going up! All these metrics, full of sound and fury, signifying… not much. The greatest excitement, of course, comes when unforeseen vulnerabilities are discovered and exploited by malicious actors, costing end users millions.
I have a good friend who got his passport stolen at gunpoint on vacation in Brazil. He was unharmed. While terrifying, it was indeed a tremendously exciting experience and it’s an excellent story at parties. It is, however, a terrible thing to happen right outside of your home — and a terrible foundation for an economy.
We all have our stories. Sometimes we’re having an excellent DeFi vacation, with lending returns in the double digits, making substantial “risk-free” returns that get reinvested in other speculative assets (on leverage). Sometimes our vacation turns sour, and you get events like MakerDAO’s Black Thursday — and real life lawsuits. As much as we want our vacations to be true escapes, if you have a bad enough vacation, your everyday reality goes to hell too.
The worst part of all this is how DeFi abstracts away people. We don’t know if our counterparties are humans or algorithmic. We don’t know to whom anyone is accountable, or if there is accountability. The easiest metrics to quantify are wallet addresses, transaction volumes, and ETH amounts, not people.
All this means we don’t end up solving problems for people. We just send them on vacation and hope they don’t get mugged.
It’s time for DeFi — and the whole blockchain space — to come home.
What do I mean? I mean we need to be building stable and sustainable ecosystems, where we’re also responsible for maintenance, privacy, and security, not just growth at all costs. We need to be building the right cultural values and living them, not just acting like tourists.
It also means we need to get back to putting people first. People are hard to measure, but if DeFi only improves financial systems for the algorithms, we will have only accelerated the societal trends we have been looking to counteract.
There’s a place for escapism in the blockchain space (and in fact, blockchain gaming has done this very well and built incredible communities). But when we confuse the escape for the work — when we start thinking that being professional dune buggy racers is what’s best for the world — we are destroying the foundations for future growth in favor of short-term excitement.
As I continue to work on building the Secret Network ecosystem, I am proud that our community has maintained our clear sense of ethos and that our technologies reflect it equally. Privacy-first, people-first, working towards sustainable growth driven by decentralization. By focusing on that ethos, we are building a home for the “unstoppable applications” that will gain global adoption and create value for the people who truly need it.
Vacations are fun. But it’s the hard work at home that creates lasting value for society — and meaning for those of us who build.