Hermicity's website is small and strange. It's topped with a GIF that looks a bit like the Atari game Space Invaders, except the space ships are drones leaving packages. Two of them move across the screen dropping containers onto a vast forest.
"We now have the technology to allow people to live completely alone," the website explains. "Drones will airlift soylent packets and water to the members of the hermit colony."
It says membership is paid via Ether blockchain payments, which, would allow users to make bids to live in Hermicities where solar-powered drones would deliver necessities.
"More details coming soon," the website promises.
It reads like quasi-science fictional nonsense to anyone who isn't pretty into cryptocurrency. At first glance I thought the entire thing was a joke at the expense of a certain type of solitary Bitcoin fan, but then I tracked the website's creator down. I found a very smart teenager who's been insulated from technology for much of his brief life and now has a love-hate relationship with the digital world. And he says he's serious about the Soylent-sipping, drone-supplied hermit colony.
John Dummett, 18, is from a town near Melbourne, Australia. He refers to Hermicity as a distributed autonomous organization (DAO for short), which is what the cryptocurrency Ethereum was built to support. I asked him how long he'd been working on Hermicity.
"Honestly, only since last Thursday," he replied via email. "But to be in the position to undertake a project like this has taken a lifetime."
Dummett works as a web developer and designer for Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, though he doesn't have much of a web presence himself. One of his personal websites, offline.computer, proclaims in capital letters that blink in and out:
I DON'T TWITTER.
I DON'T FACEBOOK.
I DON'T LINKEDIN.
I DON'T SNAPCHAT.
Dummett attributes this aversion to social media to his upbringing.
"I grew up offline, I never had any internet at home. I didn’t have a smartphone until I was 16. I grew up in a very controlling and conservative family," he wrote. "I only got twitter when I was 17 and it was the first social media account I ever had. It was fun, but I cant stand distractions."
So he quit. What remains of Dummett on the web is Hermicity's newly started Twitter account (a necessary evil, presumably); an about.me page for professional use; a largely untended Github profile; and a profile on the information security site Cobalt, where there's a headshot of Dummett looking young and stern with close-cropped black hair.
Though he insists he isn't a libertarian, Dummett knows his audience. After setting up Hermicity's website, he posted it on a handful of subreddits: r/ethereum, r/siliconvalley, r/anarchocapitalism, r/Rad_Decentralization, and a couple others. It was largely ignored at first, which worried Hermicity's creator.
"On Friday morning last week…I was writing a journal entry about how depressed I was feeling that no one was commenting on my reddit posts about Hermicity," he told me. "By the end of the day I was getting dozens of emails every hour from cypherpunk/silicon valley/libertarian vagrants saying how excited and interested they were in this project."
Dummett says he's surprised at the volume of responses, and that over 100 people have contacted him about Hermicity. To his delight Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum's 22-year-old creator, also tweeted about the project.
Calling it "the pinnacle of the 21st century" may be overstating things. But even so, the realizability of what he's proposing doesn't seem to concern Dummett. He explained to me that he believes "DAO's are the future," and will allow for "scalable order." Even though the plan for Hermicity is quite open-ended — Dummett outlined the general scenario, where a blockchain is used to allow people to propose new settlements and others to bid on spots within them— he believes there'll be enough interest to drive it forward.
"The question Hermicity poses, is how many people are interested in this now?" he wrote to me. "And how many more people will be interested in this in the future?"
He went on at length:
almost every great thinker has spent much time alone. I know the time I have spent alone (admittedly somewhat forced by circumstance) has made me a wiser, more intelligent person. Perhaps by making being alone more accessible we can unlock a lot of human potential that is standing idle at the moment, locked away in bodies that are too distracted by the other bodies around them and are therefore unable to look in and unlock their unique ideas and energy.
The fact that all of this sounds like a parody of tech utopianism is, according to him, part of the point.
"I believe this is in fact the most serious thing one can do for Ethereum, to make jokes," said Dummett. "To not take it seriously is to take it very seriously indeed."
How this attempted paradox is a key to success is unclear.
Dummett is also open to the drone delivering more than Soylent and water, which he says are just examples of easily delivered sustenance.
"The free market will ensue, we are not going to stop people from making any kind of proposal they like," he told me. "Perhaps a Hermicity with more expensive residencies may allow for hot cooked meals to be drone lifted to the hermits."
For now Dummett's hope is to receive a fellowship from Peter Thiel, the arch-libertarian who has reportedly begun losing hope of seeing his own personal utopian dream of Seasteading realized. Thiel fellowships offer $100,000 to young recipients if they'll forego or drop out of college to "build new things."
"The only reason I am working full time for the Bureau of Meteorology is that it is well paid and it is allowing me to save up a safety net so in about two years I will be able to take a considerable amount of time off to work on my own projects," he claims. "If I had the Fellowship I would work on this 7 days a week from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep."
The logistics of the entire project remain fuzzy. The main cost, that of land, is one that Dummett thinks will be sizable but feasible, writing to me confidently that "there will be people who will be willing to give us good deals on this."
The whole thing sound like a very complex, anarcho-capitalist fever dream. But unfeasible as it seems that it'll work, Dummett is eager for his own isolated, drone-supplied home.
"[O]nly two years ago I was spending hours thinking and researching how I could comfortably live on the streets. I practiced jumping out my bedroom window. I walked around town at night to feel freedom. Being alone is the best. So yes, a good Hermicity would be a dream come true."
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org