Chase Chapman: inhabiting the internet
The 23-year-old angel investor sees the lull in the crypto market as an opportunity to heal our relationship to the internet.
Written by Shreeda Segan
Photography by Amir Hamja
The crypto market has taken plenty of hits recently, from FTX to Ooki DAO, which got sued for running an unregistered crypto futures trading facility. None of that scares 23-year-old angel investor Chase Chapman. For Chapman, the lull in the crypto market is a moment of reflection, an opportunity for the community to heal and rethink its approach to building products — and to remember to stay away from the hypergrowth narratives that have come to dominate the internet.
“We spend so much of our time online, we inhabit digital spaces in the same way we inhabit our local coffee shops, bars, office spaces; and when we’re done with our days, when we’re in our most intimate moments, we’re online then too,” she tells me from her New York City apartment, her first “sovereign” residence away from her home in Michigan. “But we’re not building products as if the internet is our home.”
According to Chapman, the problem with how we build today is that we’re surrounded by products that trap us online — for example, many popular social media companies. This causes dissonance: Many people do treat the internet like a home and retreat to it when they’re done with their days.
"Ideally, you have a voice in your local government... we don’t have that in digital spaces."
While Chapman cannot remember the specifics of her first experiences online — she was playing with computers before she understood how to type or click buttons — she can recall when her complicated relationship with the internet began.
She remembers the following stories: A classmate recording a self-harm video and publishing it on Instagram; Ask.fm encouraging kids to compare themselves to each other; Chapman turning to social media management tool Hootsuite to schedule her tweets to avoid getting trapped in the addictive flow of the timeline; Facebook’s outsized role in the 2016 election. This election in particular solidified, to her, the idea that “the internet is a powerful tool that has real consequences in our everyday lives.”
And that’s where Chapman’s thesis begins: In order for people to treat their online spaces like homes, they need to own parts of what they’re building. That will empower them to self-organize (work together on their own, without needing help from an institution) to build things for the overall good of the internet.
She’s hopeful that people can find this future in DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations), which allow people to work together on projects online without needing top-down facilitation. And she thinks this autonomy will convince people to treat their homes — the internet — better. “We’re in need of new narratives. We’ve seen DAOs as companies; we’ve seen DAOs as democracies. I think DAOs as digital cities is the next interesting one.”
Just before entering college, Chapman became fascinated with economics, politics, and human systems — why our world is structured the way it is today. When she joined the University of Michigan, business was “the weird answer” for where to apply these interests.
Somewhere along the way, while doing an internship in data analytics, Chapman discovered blockchain and cryptocurrency. It superseded business school as a way for her to apply her interests.
She remembers her journey down the rabbit hole, discovering that web3 communities were talking about the internet’s power dynamics, who got to own the web, and what might incentivize people to build and treat the internet better. This was in 2018, when ICOs (initial coin offerings) were in vogue and the price of BTC was around $4,000 (compared to around $20,000 today). “It was a very technical space, but there were all these promises that crypto was going to change how humans exist in digital spaces,” she remembers. “And there was a bridge that needed to be built between the technical and human stuff.”
Chapman was taken by the mission to make web3 more accessible. Along with a mentor, Chapman — while still in school — co-founded Decentology, a company building tools for web3 developers. And she felt the best way to do this would be by empowering developers with the right tools so they could build the future.
But Chapman is not a developer, and this led her to question her mission. When she graduated, she questioned whether building developer tools was the right place for her to be. “I kind of acknowledged that if we were going to raise and take money from investors, I needed to know that the developer experience was where I needed to be.”
She changed her mind. What really compelled her was figuring out how all people — developers, marketers, designers, thinkers — could work together. She was drawn to DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations), which seemed like places where individuals could work together freely and autonomously, and where people could be convinced to build the future of the internet. She stepped away from the company.
Today, Chapman works as a governance researcher at Metropolis, where she advocates for DAOs to create small working pods to move fast and have autonomy. She has nearly 40K followers on Twitter, which she joined in February 2020 at the advice of a friend who shared that “being on Twitter was a must for anyone who wants to be at the cusp of what’s happening in web3.” She credits Twitter for introducing her to some of her best friends in the space. In many ways, Chapman says, “Twitter has become almost like a second home."
She still believes the internet should look like a well-loved city. When Chapman says “cities,” she’s not imagining a cypherpunk future like you see in sci-fi novels. She is painting a picture of something much more human-centric — a place where individuals have voices.
“Ideally, you have a voice in your local government, national government, all of that, but we don’t have that in digital spaces despite the fact that for a portion of the population, we’re spending more time in digital spaces than anywhere else in our lives,” she says.
Chapman believes that web3 has the potential to create these digital spaces. In web2, Chapman argues, people can only interact with one another within the confines of a platform. But in web3, these spaces are “instantiated on-chain,” meaning what they contribute is not confined to one platform.
"The reality is that we live in a world where being online is a necessity."
“By introducing sovereignty into digital spaces, we start to unlock new types of interactions and overlap between spaces. This is where we see cities emerge – complex networks of humans, businesses, institutions all interacting with one another to create something that is bigger than the sum of its parts.”
Just like cities can be thought of as large, physical ecosystems of self-organizing humans, Chapman — along with the rest of her team at Metropolis — believes that DAOs can band together to create a digital equivalent.
“Everyone always says it, but we are still very early in figuring out what actually works.” After all, re-inventing the ownership and governance structures of the internet doesn’t happen overnight.
At some point, I ask Chapman why all of this matters to her. Why focus on crypto and not AI or other emerging technologies?
Chapman explains that she grew up in a generation that never really had a choice about whether to be online — whether it was dating or making friends or getting a job. "The reality is that we live in a world where being online is a necessity, and network effects have made it so that we really don’t have an option when it comes to which platforms we want to use. So if we can’t exit these platforms, we should at least have a say in them.”
For Chapman, in a world where we have no option but to be online, having a voice in how these spaces are managed is vital. And no matter what you believe about web3 or crypto, it’s hard not to admire Chapman for imagining a future that’s better, even if incrementally, than the one we have today.
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