Find Your Squad and Build Vibes
An interview with the writers of Squad Wealth on how the internet and crypto enable a new paradigm for social coordination
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Dear Bankless Nation,
One day on Discord, Ryan sent me a link to this blog post titled ‘Squad Wealth’, written by three individuals with who I wasn’t familiar with.
I immediately fell in love with the ideas discussed in the piece, as well as the jovially facetious writing style and highly relatable memes.
To me, Squad Wealth is the pushback to the individualistic lifestyle that Web 2 social media siloed us in. It’s a resurgence of the importance of the tribe, the community, and the collective.
This is The Squad.
The Squad is about shared memes, shared narratives, and shared internet time spaces.
The Squad is your group of friends, stuck at home and separated from each other during lockdowns and quarantines, but nevertheless are together in the same group DMs, the same Telegram chats, the same Discord channels.
It offers an explanation for how random yield farms could arise and generate shared culture and memes in just a few days (don’t buy meme!).
In short, the Squad is the emergent result of increasingly liquid forms of digital communication. Importantly, it’s not just written text, but the ability to share images and videos across the globe has enabled more rich communication between people and groups. A picture is worth a thousand words, and now all major communication platforms can share not just pictures, but emojis and gifs with extreme ease.
On the internet, we don’t have access to communication via body language (one of the most important ways humans communicate), but we do have the ability to communicate with memes and 𝓿𝓲𝓫𝓮𝓼.
We highly encourage you to read the Squad Wealth piece first, because today we brought the authors onto the Bankless Newsletter today to go even deeper on the ideas behind Squad Wealth.
- David Hoffman
Find Your Squad and Build Vibes
Guest Writers: The Other Internet Squad: Toby Shorin, Laura Lotti, & Sam Hart
Here’s a quick synopsis for Squad Wealth, written by the authors:
SQUADS HAVE EXISTED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS as vital forms of social and economic organization. Thanks to group chats and a wave of private online social platforms, squads are reemerging today as a potent cultural force that rejects a strictly individualist market philosophy.
Squads play a key role not only in internet community dynamics but in emerging economic networks. Hawala, chit funds, chamas and other forms of P2P savings or credit associations are notable precursors to the kinds of financial relationships we anticipate decentralized cryptocurrency protocols will soon enable. These proto-squads are an example of Coaseian logic at play—that is, strong internal coordination decreases transaction costs, enabling greater productive capacities and financial opportunities as a group.
The informal nature of these peer-to-peer institutions, often composed of neighbors and friends, reveals the central role that trust plays in squad logic. Whether housemates or friends sharing a Discord group, squads allow social currency and financial capital to inter-convert, creating opportunities and group resiliency that would have been impossible to achieve alone.
Sam, Toby, and Laura… thank you for joining the Bankless Nation today.
Squad: Thank you for having us.
Tell us about the squad behind Squad Wealth. Who are you guys and how did your squad form?
Squad: Other Internet is an applied research organization working on emerging technology and cultural dynamics.
The way OI formed was both serendipitous and somewhat inevitable. Sam is a former genomics researcher, and we knew each other from the art and technology scene in NYC, where he edited an arts magazine on technology and politics for several years until he started working in crypto. Laura is an economist by training and wrote her PhD on the philosophy of technology and finance, and T studies and writes about how digital products and ecosystems determine agency, identity, and large scale cultural dynamics. The things we think about are deeply complementary and give us a very unique view on what crypto is and how it works.
Our trio got together while working out of Trust in Berlin when Toby was there as a researcher in residence. We were all invited to attend a conference and on a whim decided to host a conversation about “brands as consensus systems,” which ultimately became the basis of our essay Headless Brands. Conversations between the three of us have a very generative quality; we think it’s important that we’ve all had our own research practices for years and really respect each others’ work. We should emphasize that Other Internet also has other research groups, who work on topics including spontaneous self-organizing internet cultures, DAOs, altruistic behavior and consumer psychology, and spatial software, which have been significant influences on our thinking as well.
Where did the inspiration for Squad Wealth come from? Where did the dots come from, and what sparked the connecting of the dots?
Laura: The initial seeds for Squad Wealth date back to February-March, when the first lockdowns were happening in Berlin and NYC and the global situation started to feel quite tense. At the time we were working on another, more crypto-heavy, essay but decided to take a break as it felt quite out of tune with that particular moment. And that’s when all these info sharing and mutual support groups were beginning to emerge on Telegram, Whatsapp etc. So we wanted to write something that would celebrate group culture in its online and offline manifestations.
We realized that organizing as a group is something that we already do all the time—gaming communities, co-living projects, DAOs obviously, even OI and the way we work together. Historically group culture was more prominent than the wave of Web 2.0’s individualization, from ‘ancient squad formations’ such as IRL coops to The WELL and early virtual communities that formed through mailing lists in the 1980s and 90s. So the scope of the idea broadened and the piece became about affirming and reclaiming the group as a cultural force and fundamental unit of interaction.
In ‘Squad Wealth’, there seems to be a presence of ‘inevitability’ in the rise of Squads as internet-based organizational units. Where do you guys find your convictions about the rise of Squads?
Sam: First and foremost from direct experience. We tried to channel Other Internet’s idiosyncratic, vibey energy in the piece, along with the patchwork of neighboring squads we inhabit. Shout outs to Park House, Guild, Onion Street, Vandervoort, Foreign Objects, Variant Fund, Trust, Soft Surplus, Watering Plants DAO 💬 💬 💬
In all honesty, we wanted to write something on DAO micro-culture for a while because it was clear there was a story that wasn’t being told. What catalyzed the piece were friends coming together during the pandemic and lifting up their communities.
They arranged housing for people who found themselves stranded, shared groceries with neighbors, constructed face shields for medical workers. The world was falling apart but something special was happening at the local level and we felt like this was the kind of group solidarity that makes DAOs work but isn’t really part of the discourse. SQUAD WEALTH is over the top, yes. But we have a strong conviction about the cultural importance of squads. These are the people we elect to spend our time with, whether it’s shitposting in the group DM or spotting a friend when they can’t make rent. Groups that built trust and meaning together through shared experience, how could squads not be a vital cultural force?
What tools does cryptocurrency and DeFi offer to Squads?
Laura: Squads predate the internet age, particularly in non-Western cultures. In many ways, rotating savings and credit associations (e.g. chit funds in India, tandas in Latin America, chamas in Africa) can be considered ancient forms of squad fintech. DeFi and crypto protocols can supercharge the capabilities of a squad but, as we say in the piece, dialing up the financial infrastructure too soon can kill the vibe.
Importantly, squads don’t need another medium of exchange; squad vibes are non-scarce by definition as long as the squad lives. What the squad lacks today are capital assets—instruments to capture and compound the value generated through the uncapped production and circulation of 𝓿𝓲𝓫𝓮𝓼. And this is where DeFi components can begin to offer promising applications for the mainstream, providing infrastructure for translocal collectives to flexibly coordinate at much lower cost. When the financial part gets out of the way and lets the squad do what they do best.
During the DeFi Summer, yield farmers generated squad wealth out of memes and shitposting, but also podcasts, documentation, blog posts, epic Twitter threads etc.
They did so by funneling their chad vibes in crypto financial protocols just released in the wild and collectively taking on all the risks that come from venturing into new and uncharted terrain. On the other hand, DeFi is still a very young and an emergent space—rife with trolls, degens and exploits to be discovered and so it may not work for ‘all’ kinds of squads yet, particularly those that cannot afford to risk that much (I am thinking about small cooperatives or art collectives reliant on public funding schemes, a phenomenon perhaps more common in Europe than in the US).
But it’s an exhilarating (and exhausting) space to be in and we are intrigued about the opportunities that crypto is opening up for squads to organize across geographical boundaries and experiment with new economic forms.
Do you have any examples of crypto-related squads that have emerged?
Squad: There are a few crews that are quite interesting based on the memes alone… for instance, who is egirl_capital? We don’t know the background of team JUST (behind Fomo3D and exitscam.me) but there has to be a good squad story there. It seems like the just type of work that can only come from truly powerful squad energy. We were surprised how many heads showed up to read and share our piece—the feed must select for squads.
Would you consider the Bankless Nation a squad?
Laura: A “nation” is by definition not a “squad”. For a squad to understand itself as a cohesive social unit, membership must be well below the dunbar number. In the piece we arbitrarily cap the ideal number for a squad to 12 members.
There’s no science behind this, mostly it’s meant as a provocation that opposes the idea of infinite scale that pervades today’s platforms. We know that trust and shared identity do not scale endlessly (hence, crypto); what scales are the vibes a squad exudes. But surely within the Bankless Nation there are many squads bubbling and coalescing in the shadows of Discord’s private group chats, Twitter DMs and Substack’s comments.
Another great piece from your guys’ squad is ‘Headless Brands’. How do Squads and Headless Brands relate?
Sam: Brands mediate relationships between branded entities, say Nike or the New York Times, and a distributed set of stakeholders. If this sounds familiar, it’s because brands are a kind of consensus system. Bitcoin is a brand, but unlike brands of the past, there’s no centralized marketing department projecting a coherent message around what Bitcoin is and how it acts in the marketplace. Instead people who encounter Bitcoin as an idea and make a decision to purchase become stakeholders in Bitcoin’s success. Holders become shills, and shills are incentivized to promote Bitcoin and maintain its brand identity.
A squad is also bound together by a shared identity, but that identity is formed by a small group inhabiting a generative social space together, most notably the DM. Interactivity and co-presence are essential for a squad to come together as a whole.
The vibe needs to be right. The DMs must be fire.
So what’s the difference between a Headless Brand and a squad vibe? Well, it’s partly a matter of scale, Bitcoin vs. the group DM. But it’s also a sense of intimacy and trust that can only be cultivated in a small group setting.
We believe both are key social primitives that will shape Web3.
What’s the difference between a bunch of people in a Telegram group and a Squad?
Laura: One of the most primitive squad technologies is “The Group Chat”—the shared social space and time within which squads form, organize, and evolve. Telegram is one among the many messaging apps that today provide the infrastructure for group chats to be instantiated. So a squad can express itself through a telegram group but not every telegram group is a squad. Most crypto-related telegram groups I have been part of are decidedly not squads—at best, they are bulletin boards for community updates and, at worst, hotbeds for shitcoiners and scam-bots. What differentiates the squad is its internal economy: a solidarity economy where trust is the collateral and vibes the non-scarce yet invaluable resource.
Telegram, Keybase, Twitter DMs can be powerful tools for a squad’s internal coordination and strong vibes production, but the modes of existence of the squad extend beyond any one technological substrate. A group chat can unfold across telegram, discord, notion comments, github’s issues etc.—each platform a facet of a squad’s multidimensional activities.
Each squad assembles its own stack for organizing and producing itself piecemeal, and often this infrastructure is emergent, composable, and interoperable. What the squad currently lacks is a flexible set of outward-facing tools for financial coordination that takes the group as a unit of interaction and enables it to transmute the value generated internally into economic resilience.
What is the fundamental reason why an internet-faring adventurer would be interested in being a part of a ‘squad’? What can an individual do for a Squad? What can a Squad do for an individual?
Toby: Life is not so easy for the simple adventurer making their way across the vast space of the internet.
The internet is not a gentle zone with vanilla NPCs and sunshine and daisies. The internet is a big fucking dungeon crawl on brutal difficulty, and if you plan to solo run this shit, you will be destroyed.
Start playing on any of the enormous PvP servers that are big social media platforms and after a few hundred followers you will start to have some truly horrible player encounters. It’s the hardest roguelike you’ve ever tried, and if you’re knowledge workers like us, then you’ll have to play it, over and over again, every day for the rest of your life.
And not without adverse effects……..the internet can make you feel crazy. It can make you question your sanity. Five times a week we see something on Twitter and ask ourselves “are there people out there who really believe this?” The internet is so maddening and challenging because it exposes the clashing, stark reality of everyone’s beliefs. Picking up a few party members along the way is the surest way to prove to yourself you’re not crazy, there are other people out there who feel the same as you. That’s what a squad does for its members, and what its members do for each other, really. You keep each other sane.
What role do Memes play with Squad development?
Toby: Memes are the lifeblood of the squad… they are its sweet nectar.... 😳🐝🥵💦
Memes are such a vital component of online culture. Unlike some have claimed, they are not a type of language or hieroglyph. Almost without exception, the most popular memes communicate a highly specific affect. And although many memes follow a format of “this thing… Yes! This other thing… No!” the emotional valence and sense of physicality associated with each format is very different. Memes are important to internet-first group bonding process because they enable the circulation of shared affective sensibilities and responses toward the world.
You don’t feel like this every day? I’m sorry anon….
What advice would you give someone who is yet to find their ‘squad’?
Toby: “How do I find my own squad?” is probably the number one question we’ve received since publishing this piece. The honest answer to this question is probably both more straightforward and more complex than you’d expect.
The straightforward bit is that collecting a squad is like making friends. If you make a habit out of developing your interests, become a regular at online and offline spaces that support those interests, and hanging out with others who share your interests and motivations, you too are likely to soon find yourself in a group chat sharing dank memes. The second step is initiating projects that people in the group can contribute to. Here I’d point to the wisdom of Kevin Kelly on “scenius” and the importance of sharing successes, and the importance of positivity and encouragement.
This “group project” aspect is where it gets more complicated, however. Our squad formed in part because Sam and Laura and I, and all our colleagues at Other Internet, share certain assumptions about what it means to work together creatively. Every single one of us is a writer, in addition to other creative practices that intersect with our research work in various ways. Perhaps most importantly, we have all been adjacent to various art, music, and creative scenes for years.
The paltry amount of capital flowing into art ecosystems means that people who hang around those scenes mostly aren’t there for financial reward, they are there because they believe that art and music and creativity are intrinsically valuable, and this ethos makes it much easier for people to connect and choose to collaborate on projects.
While there is a certain celebration of “doing things” in tech culture, the emphasis is on creative entrepreneurialism, which is why narratives like the “passion economy” are so easily ingested. Prioritizing financial reward for creative projects introduces all sorts of subliminal constraints that make it more difficult to coordinate trustfully as a group—and, it should go without saying, prevent much more interesting types of thinking. The strongest squads are layering on financial tooling in order to sustain themselves and what they care about, not because they’re gunning to be TikTok’s top hype house or the next PayPal Mafia.
So our genuine advice is to seek out people and places who value the things you value as intrinsically worthwhile — thenceforth flows the squad vibes.
Toby, Laura, Sam… Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and giving the Nation a depiction of what’s to come out of internet social organization.
Squad: Thanks for having us!
So there you have it folks.
As I alluded to in the beginning, Ryan and I became enamored with the ideas that came out of the Open Internet Squad. The way in which the Squad Wealth piece was written matched the vibes of its own message.
The key takeaway for the Bankless Nation?
While you’re going bankless make you also take time to…
FIND YOUR SQUAD, BUILD YOUR 𝓿𝓲𝓫𝓮𝓼.
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