7 Books to Understand the Metaverse, Blockchain, and the Web's Future – Business Insider

From the metaverse to blockchain, Web3, DAOs, NFTs, and the seemingly endless number of cryptocurrencies emerging even amid a crypto crash, it feels as if some especially zealous tech leaders and enthusiasts are trying to uproot the internet overnight. It’s enough to make almost anybody’s head spin.
The feeling that the internet is due for some serious change is certainly widespread, with issues like data privacy, cybersecurity, and the consolidated power of a few tech giants increasingly causing concern among the masses and governments.
Enthusiasts of ideas like Web3 and the metaverse have a lot of confidence their visions will usher in a better digital world, and they’re making big bets, to the tune of billions of dollars. Total investment in the metaverse alone is expected to top $1 trillion by the end of the decade, according to CB Insights.
But the internet moves quickly and chaotically. No one can be sure where it will go from here. In fact, no one can even agree on a definition for “the metaverse.” The framing of some of these visions as inevitable has made it that much more confusing to keep up, as well as harder to buy in. (Not to mention the scams — the Federal Trade Commission recently reported that more than 46,000 people had lost over $1 billion combined to crypto scams since the beginning of 2021.)
To help readers think critically about these latest internet buzzwords, the history of the web, and how it may evolve, Insider compiled a list of books on the topic. They’re as entertaining as they are insightful, and some are true page-turners.
To understand how the internet might evolve, it’s important to understand how it began. 
“Weaving the Web” tells the story of the creation of the World Wide Web from the perspective of the man who created it. Berners-Lee, a British scientist, recounts the technical breakthroughs — from the HTTP protocol to the first website — that made his world-altering innovation possible, as well as the obstacles he faced in bringing it to life at CERN in the late 1980s.  
Perhaps most interestingly, he also writes in depth about the original vision for the web and how it could transform our world. Reading “Weaving the Web,” published in 1999, today feels like being inside a time capsule. It’s fascinating to compare how that early vision stacks up to both the internet we use today and the internet Web3 enthusiasts are looking toward. 
Additionally, Berners-Lee details his own critiques of the state of the web at the time, which   included privacy concerns and the increasing power of software companies. The fact that many of the same issues from over 20 years ago persist sheds light on why movements to reimagine the internet are cropping up.
Today, Berners-Lee continues to shape ideals about what the internet should be and who it should serve. He’s been a pioneering voice in favor of net neutrality and data privacy, cofounding the World Wide Web Foundation in 2008 to advocate for a free and open web.
Tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg insist they’re creating the metaverse, but there’s a real argument to be made that it’s already been done. 
“Second Life,” the online platform that allows people to reimagine themselves as avatars and do pretty much anything in a virtual world, was widely popular in the late 2000s. By 2013, the platform had over 1 million monthly “residents” and had processed $3.2 billion in transactions for virtual goods. Plus, it’s undeniable that platforms like Meta’s Horizon Worlds look eerily similar to Second Life: Almost no debate about the metaverse on social media concludes without someone drawing the comparison.
So consider “The Making of Second Life” a dispatch from the metaverse. In the 2008 book, Au, a journalist, goes on assignment inside the virtual world, embedding as its own dedicated reporter and detailing its happenings on a blog called New World Notes, which was published inside Second Life itself. 
Prefacing his mission in the beginning of the book, Au wrote he was “an avatar interviewing other avatars, chronicling their conflicts and aspirations.” And from protests and political campaigns to the ways brands and media companies pounced on the virtual world, there’s plenty of action in the story.
For more context, the book also details the history of immersive online experiences that came before Second Life, the making of Second Life, and even how the legendary Burning Man festival served as the aha moment that led to its creation. Overall, it shows how one avatar-based virtual world — which is still running almost two decades later, though on a much smaller scale — played out culturally, politically, and economically.
Many of the buzzy visions for a new internet revolve around blockchain and the technologies it enables, such as cryptocurrencies, nonfungible tokens, and smart contracts. But what exactly the blockchain is and how it works can be difficult to wrap your head around, especially for those who aren’t technically inclined. 
The goal of “Blockchain Basics” is to simplify the technology and make it as easy as possible to understand by breaking it down into 25 steps. And, in large part, it succeeds. 
Throughout the book, Drescher, its author, expertly leans on metaphors to explain the technical concepts in easy-to-understand, nontechnical terms. He additionally looks at each aspect of the blockchain through the lens of its goal, challenge, and how it works, sprinkling in plenty of helpful diagrams along the way. Each chapter concludes with a bullet-point summary, which reinforces the information and serves as a convenient reference to go back to. 
As information-packed as it is, “Blockchain Basics” looks and reads a bit like a textbook. But it’s written to be approachable and provides helpful context for the blockchain debates unfolding across the tech industry.
The science-fiction novel “Snow Crash” is quite literally where the term “metaverse” originated. Stephenson uses it to describe a virtual-reality-based successor to the internet, also popularizing the term “avatar” for virtual bodies in an online world.
Published in 1992, the book follows Hiro Protagonist, an aptly named hacker and pizza-delivery driver who spends much of his time in the metaverse to escape the bleak reality surrounding him.
After a global economic and governmental collapse ceded all power to a handful of tech giants, the metaverse — a virtual world centered around a seemingly endless street, where avatars stroll, socialize, and frequent the many virtual shops and attractions — is a welcome escape from real life. But after discovering a computer virus that transcends the virtual world and causes physical harm to the humans behind the avatars, Protagonist sets off on a journey to save the day. 
Despite the overtly negative portrayal of such a world, tech leaders have latched on to Stephenson’s metaverse as a source of inspiration since the book’s publication. Online avatars are now staples of platforms like Roblox and games like “Minecraft.” Facebook went a step further by changing its name to Meta last year and is one of several companies positioning a VR-based metaverse as inevitable. Even Microsoft has declared its plans to build the “enterprise metaverse.”
The idea of a virtual world existed before “Snow Crash,” but Stephenson’s novel fully formed the concept, gave it a name, made it accessible to a wider audience, and inspired a generation of futurists and tech CEOs in the process.
Like “Snow Crash,” the science-fiction novel turned feature film “Ready Player One” is essential to the metaverse canon. 
The story similarly takes place in a dystopian post-America that’s been devastated by economic and environmental disaster. Wade Watts, a teenager who lives atop “the Stacks,” an impoverished neighborhood made up of trailers stacked many stories high, is like most people in that he spends nearly all of his time as an avatar in a VR metaverse called the Oasis. The corporation behind the world holds more power than governments, and Watts even attends school in the Oasis. 
After the creator of the Oasis dies, a global challenge to find an easter egg he planted inside the Oasis is announced. With nothing to lose, Watts dedicates himself to scouring the vast virtual world to find the easter egg and claim the grand prize: inheritance of the Oasis and its creator’s grand fortune.
Readers generally do not come away from “Ready Player One” thinking it’s a world they want to live in, but it can feel like a representation of the type of metaverse leaders like Mark Zuckerberg are aiming for. The Oasis is not only VR-based but also run by a tech giant with unprecedented power. And Facebook, recently renamed Meta, is one of the most dominant companies ever. 
While many tech leaders view the metaverse as the interoperability between various virtual worlds, an idea even Meta executives have echoed to varying degrees, there’s still a lucrative competitive market emerging — and good reason to believe Meta would want to dominate yet again. Zuckerberg spoke about the Facebook platform in terms of connecting every person across the globe — and went on to make it synonymous with the internet in many parts of the world. Plus, the company is continually accused of using dubious tactics to squash the competition.
The ethereum blockchain is integral to many Web3-based visions for a new internet, and “The Infinite Machine” is a gripping read detailing how it came to be.
Through more than 100 interviews with the founders and developers who created the ethereum protocol, Russo recounts the ups, downs, and milestones of its creation — from the “blockchain road trip” that brought together some of the founders to the Miami house where much of the code came to life. 
Messages sent between the founders, as well as excerpts from their white papers, are also included. And while a lot has happened since the book was published in 2020 — ethereum’s price is tumbling yet again — the book does a good job illustrating how people attempt to use the ethereum blockchain to disrupt the entire financial system, from payments to fundraising and loans.
It’s important to note the book is written by and about people who make clear they’re wildly optimistic about blockchain and crypto. Russo opens the book with her own argument about why these technologies are revolutionary, specifically the “dream” that they can facilitate the transfer of power away from a few entities and into the hands of individuals.
While many of the visions for a new internet revolve around Web3 and the metaverse, they’re a limited way to think about how the web might evolve. Instead, “Four Internets” centers the influence of geopolitics, governance, and opposing ideologies around data flow.
In the 2021 book, O’Hara and Hall discuss the original vision for the internet as a singular global network, the problems with that vision, and the alternatives coming into the picture. 
As the title suggests, the book explores four separate internets they argue are emerging and must coexist: the Silicon Valley Open Internet, “based on principles of openness and efficient dataflow”; the Brussels Bourgeois Internet, “exemplified by the European Union with a focus on human rights and legal administration”; the DC Commercial Internet, “exemplified by the Washington establishment and its focus on property rights and market solutions”; and the Beijing Paternal Internet, “exemplified by the Chinese government’s control of Internet content.”
The authors are additionally up front about how the internet changes quickly and is full of uncertainty, a refreshing take amid many tech leaders’ insistence that new iterations like the metaverse are inevitable. In fact, Hall and O’Hara ignore blockchain and virtual reality altogether.
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