NFTs: The Internet’s Native Social Layer

18th March 2021

Why are NFTs so hard for Web 3 noobs to understand? We have all experienced a friend who is in the beginning of their journey, struggling to grasp the concept. Understandably, most noobs pay too much attention to the content and not the form. Marshall McLuhan said it best when he said ‘The Medium is the Message’.

He was of course originally talking about the rise of television media and that the medium itself says more about culture and how it informs than the content itself, in our case any given NFT. On the surface people ‘not of’ the early NFT space will look at a Crypto Punk and see a very simple pixilated 2D art and ask what all the fuss is about (like I did initially). Can this thing really be worth $1m? But this misses the point entirely. 

(NFT Evil by Moxarra)

Crypto Punks’ value comes from their commentary about the space, their role in its provenance as a cultural movement and as a marker of status, eliciting that feeling of being in the in crowd. Which is exactly why names like Mark Cuban entering the space will pay a hefty premium as the price you pay to join the club. 

(Mark Cuban wraps Crypto Punks) 

Lets zoom out. NFTs, as a media and communications technology, give the internet a native, unmediated social layer in the same way bitcoin gave it a native money layer. 

NFTs represent social media without a platform. A huge paradigm shift if you think that social media platforms have been the defining factor of Web 2. It was, for many years, called the ‘Social Web’. But it belies the fact that ‘socialness’, now gated and mediated, with users currently platformed and de-platformed at the discretion of a small management cabal. 

(Twerky Pepe – Twerky Club)

NFTs atomise (into unique instances) and commercialise the provenance of status; that is a sovereign proof of participation in the community. Right now that is primarily in its, and crypto’s, self-referential memes but increasingly extending to internet culture and then mainstream culture. From a Beeple every day to a 3LAU singles well as in-game items to digital wearables and virtual land. 

NFTs express a nostalgia for ownership of media, and the status and belonging that it brought with it, that the internet and “digitalness” ultimately destroyed. Digital things, for most of the internet’s history, are things to copy and consume- not collect. And the minute they become digital, precisely because they can be copied and shared innumerable times, they lose value to where they become free. 

(Crypto Wax)

But they are also much more powerful than that on their own. They will increasingly become the mechanism itself through which creators-as-platform engage with their communities. As a mailing list, to drop exclusive items, or access to a concert, either physical or digital. NFT ownership will not only bring status, but it will directly control permissions to socialness across the Metaverse.

In a way, NFTs are born from a desire to reimagine a past world the internet broke, while taking a giant leap into its infinite future. And if that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what the hell will. 

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