The REAL purpose of NFTs: beam hikikomoris up in the metaverse
It wouldn’t work, of course. But it WOULD explain a lot.
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are files in distributed online databases, that “prove” that someone “owns” some digital file stored somewhere, usually on the Internet. This does not makes the target file any less copiable, of course, but for whatever reason people are going crazy after attaching NFTs to anything digital, and “investing” huge sums to “own” them.
NFTs and the other buzzword of the moment, “metaverse” can propel great Ponzi schemes. A report from an NFT event, however, makes a good argument that NFTs may be something bigger, which I summarized and commented in the points below.
There are no REAL places anymore where to escape
In the 1960s, young people worldwide abandoned comfortable, middle-class lives to form counterculture movements of all sorts, which mostly did not, in the long run, work as they hoped.
So let’s go virtual
The youngsters of today, instead, are “so alienated, so profoundly unfulfilled, that they are considering abandoning the physical world altogether”. If they buy NFTs, argues that article, it is primarily to invest in, and prepare an escape to, “something new - maybe some place where they can be rich, or important.”
NFTs are a metaverse drill. NFTs are training for living in the fully virtual “metaverse”, in which digital selves would become more important for their owners than their actual bodies, and markets for digital assets owned via NFTs would be as large, or larger, than those for physical ones.
THAT is the real use case for NFTs, and NFT-based communes: to be bridges into persistent digital ownership, that prove the broader viability of online life.
It’s about community. Seriously. With money, of course
For people who feel this way, says that report, “this time is different. It’s not just speculation, it’s about community”. The report mentions a participant saying explicitly that the NFT of a digital ape he had on his smartphone “it’s not art. Don’t call it art. That’s offensive to real art. This is a new fraternity.“ In such a fraternity, selling an NFT “would be like cutting off my left arm.”
Community notwithstanding, success inside them is measured by NFTs paid in Ethereum or other cryptocurrencies, which are themselves measured in dollars. The founding dogma is that anyone who bought digital assets early is bound to see their social (and actual) capital skyrocket when the metaverse goes mainstream. As in “don’t worry if money can’t buy it here, cryptomoney can buy happiness in the metaverse. Nothing original, of course. That dogma is just the Gospel, Reloaded without any Jesus:
NFTs make us all equal. Some more than others
The beauty of NFTs is that it is extremely simple to confirm who owns what, and starting from there (see above) to create and enforce social hierarchies based on your virtual holdings. Again, nothing new here. John Lennon, you where right:
Incidentally, the whole idea that NFTs or smart contract are enough to “confirm who owns what” is a fairy tale, probably coming from decades of confusing “innovation” with “digitization.”
Society? What Society?
Many members of this NFT faith are likely sincere. This, however, doesn’t change at all a couple of facts:
- first, “living” online, surrounded only by like-minded avatars has little or nothing in common with any definition of healthy life and sustainable society: “Extended time in digital worlds necessarily takes time away from the few factors consistently shown to improve human happiness: family, physical health, and time with close friends.”
- second, and more prosaically: regardless of how many NFTs they buy, and unless they actively build the full physical Matrix and actually take residence into it:
metaverse residents will still have a physical body that will need real shelter, nutrition and sewers as close as possible to it.
Sex? What sex?
Quoting straight from the article:
“In all the discussions I participated in about the coming metaverse, no one ever mentioned how people would reproduce if they were spending all of their time in a virtual world, or how young children would be onboarded to this new reality.”
“Perhaps this is the result of the NFT community being populated mostly by single men. The question doesn’t come up, as if they have just forgotten the existence of children or the physical sex necessary for them to be born.”
“There is already a strange asexuality within the NFT community - a sense that sex and intimacy are probably not worth the effort.”
(Hmmm… sounds like another possible consequence of the fact that software polarizes everything. Even sex))
If all this is true, NFTs are much sadder than a Ponzi scheme. And dumber, too
The “total withdrawal from society and search of extreme degrees of social isolation and confinement” called Hikikomori is a mental health problem for which the metaverse is already evaluated as RESCUE TOOL, and the more it does that, the better. But this is exactly the opposite, and it’s terribly dumb too.
Pair the “going virtual” part of this picture with the one about hierarchies and wealth, and to me the result really sounds like:
Hey, let’s do something impossible (that is, negate that we have physical bodies on a finite planet, no matter how metaversy we live), but specifically to recreate the same problems we already have.
Smart, this is not, and if that assessment of NFTs communes is accurate the only solace may be that “forgetting about children” would painlessly solve the problem in a few decades, at the only cost for the rest of us of a lot of energy and money subtracted to much more worthy causes.
One-sentence summary: Alienation and unfulfilment are not something that you can fix with technology, no matter how digital it is.