Understanding The Problem
What is the Challenge We Face?
What is the real problem posed by modern social media? The elements of the story are now familiar since the airing of The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix in 2020.
Centralized, corporate-run social networks create value for themselves and their shareholders by exploiting our basic human drives and motivations in order to extract as much advertising revenue as possible based on unprecedented access to our personal data.
Their singular focus on generating profit has led them to create algorithmically-designed behavior modification machines that manipulate emotions, distort reality, divide communities, and promote hate and fear at the expense of our collective sensemaking and well-being.
And yet there is no doubt that alongside these serious problems, social networks have also created enormous value for billions of people.
So here's the question: How do we build social networks that (1) protect human rights and digital sovereignty, (2) nurture genuine human flourishing, and (3) support a sustainable and scalable alternative business model—a model that does not profit from the commodification of attention and engagement by hacking our brains?
This is the challenge that Sapien is dedicated to meeting.
Sapien.Network Is Our Laboratory for Exploring Solutions
Web3 developers have many new technologies at their disposal to help address this problem.
- Blockchain and crypto technologies provide powerful tools for protecting digital sovereignty, creating new categories of digital property rights, and new models of value creation and distributed economic growth.
- Tokenized value economies provide another set of powerful tools for shaping social interactions while respecting autonomy and choice.
The Sapien team is bullish on the potential of Web3 technologies and is excited to play in this sandbox. In fact, we think of the current version of the Sapien.Network platform as a real-time experimental laboratory for exploring these toolsets, testing hypotheses, and learning from experience.
What Lessons Has Sapien Learned?
Our experience working on Web3 social networks has lead to some important realizations.
1. Human Agency First
Sapien has always been committed to putting "Humans First." We want to build social systems that promote human rights, welfare and agency.
But what does putting humans first actually look like? We need a clearer picture of what this means if the slogan is to play any role in actually designing a solution.
It's tempting to think in terms of engineering social systems that are optimized for certain desirable outcomes (health, material wellbeing, life satisfaction, social belonging, etc.) But even if we could agree on a set of outcomes, human nature is subtle, social systems are complex, and we simply don't know enough to reliably engineer such outcomes. No one does.
The approach that we take focuses on the relationship between human flourishing and choice. We want a system that provides the capability for human beings to achieve their own well-being, individually and in groups—a system where people have real freedoms to pursue the paths that they have reason to value.
Put another way, we want a system that optimizes for human agency, rather than any particular set of prescribed outcomes.
Focusing on human agency helps us make decisions about what tools and systems are best suited to achieving these ends.
2. Humans are a Social Species
Libertarians have long advocated for the primacy of individual liberties and choice. But a narrow focus on individual rights obscures the degree to which human beings are fundamentally a social species that has adapted to flourish in social groups, not in isolation.
A commitment to human welfare and agency needs to consider how many human goods are only achievable through participation in social groups, and what it means to make these goods available to anyone.
How do we ensure, for example, that anyone can enjoy the benefits of cumulative learning and knowledge, technological innovation, group identity and belonging, provisions for the common good, an equitable justice system, and so? All of these are inherently social achievements.
3. Group Sovereignty is a Tool for Optimizing Human Agency
In light of these observations, Sapien is pursuing a social system that optimizes human agency through social collaboration and participation.
The social groups we belong to are fundamental to our identity, our welfare, and the freedoms that we are capable of exercising. But each of us belongs to multiple social groups, each with their own identity, resources and benefits.
To maximize human agency, we believe that human beings, individually and collectively, must be free to create social groups around shared interests and goals, and be free to exit any social group.
But agency requires more. It also requires the right to control the benefits and value that are generated by members of a social group. This is the notion "group sovereignty."
Group sovereignty requires an ability to act and interact, as a collective entity, with other sovereign groups. Groups must have the right to create, curate, and share content, and the right to control and benefit from the value that issues from their shared activities.
And within this system, there must be member-controlled incentives to add real value that is recognized and rewarded by fellow members.
In a nutshell, these are the requirements for a Web3 social system that Sapien is pursuing in the next phase of its evolution.
4. Group Sovereignty Expands Our Capacity for Problem Solving
The creators of The Social Dilemma documentary argue persuasively that traditional social media is eroding our capacity to work together to solve critical social problems. Others have voiced a concern that scientific and technological innovation in many fields has stagnated over the past forty years.
At the root of the problem is a centralized social, political and technological infrastructure that is driven by a small number of drivers—profit and power.
A decentralized social infrastructure that protects the freedoms described here will be an incubator for innovation and experimentation. The network of sovereign collectives we envision will be able grow, branch, and self-organize organically across scales. Beyond the opportunities for human creativity and enjoyment, we foresee a socio-economic environment that optimizes for creative and collaborative problem solving.
This is the path that will give humanity the best chance of surviving and flourishing in the future.
This is the path that Sapien is exploring in its next evolution.