Identity & Inclusion in Web3
December 27th, 2021

Dame has been exploring identity and inclusion since their early experience in Web1 with a recent focus on democratizing access to crypto with Rainbow. They delivered a talk for Crypto, Culture, and Society diving deep into this topic. Below you can find a summary written by CCS Scholar Xian:

⚠️ Us: “Blockchain is forever, but identity isn’t.”

Every community positions itself differently and attracts an audience based on its niche. Look at these images below and think about which word you would associate with each community.

Each image brings up something slightly different for each person. To one person, a Bored Ape might represent an “exclusive frat club” and be negative, while to others it’s a powerful status symbol.

These associations may not encapsulate the totality of the communities, but they can give people a sense of how identity is shaped in the web3 space. From Dame’s perspective, there isn’t much intentionality behind the reputation of these communities.

When a community uses a PFP (profile picture) to represent themselves, this sometimes leads to dissonance. Why? A PFP is a static thing that doesn’t change or evolve. For example, if someone purchases a Pudgy Penguin, that PFP is not going to change even if you change as a person. Dissonance arises when the community that supported and bought into the PFP project changes over time, and the community identity embodied by that PFP is conveyed differently to different people. There may be a tendency to hold onto past versions of ourselves longer than one should.

What underlies the web3 space are values like immutability, unchangingness, and permanence. These are not compatible with the concept of identity. People can and will change. Even organizations are rethinking their identity in web2 and how they evolve for the web3 space. One example that Dame brought up was the Crypto Coven project, where the community was asked to create mood boards and be a part of shaping what the community’s identity can be. But before analyzing communities, it’s vital to understand each unit within the community: you.

🟦 You: “No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

We humans have many conceptions of ourselves. There isn’t one “true self”, but many sides to our identity. Which “true self” we employ depends on the context in which we are operating. Who we think we are right now / at work / on Twitter are all different. By extension, how people see us is also different – certainly, the way our parents see us is different from the way our dentist sees us. Our concept of self is fluid as the context we are placed in (family self, work self) and the time/space we are in (2021 vs 2011) affect who we are.

The traditional sense of self is built on outward categories such as age and gender. Every outward expression on social media, be it the username or profile picture, forms bits and pieces of the online self. The phenomenon of PFP projects in the web3 space allows people to have fun and choose how they want to portray themselves online, but on the other hand, people make assumptions solely based on the PFP. Whether people choose to have NFT projects that they support as their PFP or use their real faces, it is a signal to the wider audience as to how to read them and how one should approach them.

Identity management becomes a topic of discussion as the impact of how this information shapes the virtual self becomes significant. Below is a decision-making matrix for identity management:

Although unintentional and passive can signal a more authentic, raw self, there needs to be a space to allow people to carve out the experiences that they like. This can mean being intentional and active in managing how one’s identity is being shaped and interpreted.

A useful framework that Dame shared is the Johari Window to help people think about themselves and their identities. This framework requires constant feedback from the people around you in order to be aware of the impact of your behavior.

Anonymity and Pseudonymity

Meeting and interacting with real people with real human faces brings legitimacy to the space. Anonymity can help people step outside of themselves and feel safe to not divulge information. However, the presence of too much anonymity could also bring about more trolls. Such communities occasionally devolve into hating on identity, politics, and inclusion. Ultimately, there needs to be a middle ground built or the creation of a space that is well-protected and curated for the community.

🔴 Me: Dame’s Point of View

Dame described the evolution of their online identity alongside the evolution of the internet: from Dame1 to Dame3 as the internet went from Web1 to Web3. Dame1 in Web1 lived in the early days of AOL and video games. The Web1 days were about anonymity where no one knew their real name or age. There was a level of detachment and a physical-digital divide.

Dame2 was conceived in Web2 as Dame studied digital marketing in school, exploring identity through the capitalistic lens of “brand identity.” Simultaneously, experimenting with the expression of one's own identity became the norm for everyone with the rise of social media. Dame decided to bring more parts of their physical self to the online space, making a conscious effort to add labels e.g. non-binary, thus blurring the physical-digital divide.

Becoming known by the name ‘Dame’ (Dame3) happened almost by accident. When Jackson Dame signed up for an Ethereum Name Service (ENS) ‘dame.eth’ for their Twitter handle, others on Twitter started referring to them as ‘Dame’. This encouraged Dame to further explore that identity and personal brand. This started a $SELF experiment to change their Twitter profile picture that led to variations in what pronouns people used for them.

Dame’s interest in 2022 will be looking at communities born this year – where are they going to be and how are they different from now?

Xian is a S1 scholar of Crypto, Culture, & Society and has made significant contributions to the community and publications teams. She is interested in the stories of humans and communities in web3. She thanks Sarah, Nate, Kassen for their contributions on this post. KD (CCS backer) designed the custom art for this talk.

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