NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens,” may go down as the latest dumb trend in a long line of dumb trends driven by people who made too much money off government lurking around the internet trying for fifteen minutes of fame.
When you buy an NFT, you essentially buy the right to a digital asset, but mostly in a symbolic and not practical sense. You get the bragging rights and any associated news headlines however, which is why these sell.
Bragging rights have limited actual utility, as one fellow found out when bidding on the first ever “tweet” only to see it steadily lose value:
Jack Dorsey’s first-ever tweet, which sold as an NFT, or nonfungible token, last year for over $2.9 million, is now only worth thousands of dollars.
The 15 year-old anodyne tweet — “just setting up my twttr” — was purchased by crypto entrepreneur Sina Estavi for 1,630.58 ether, which was worth an estimated $2.9 million at that time.
Last Wednesday, Estavi announced on Twitter that he was selling the NFT on OpenSea, a NFT trading platform, and planning to donate 50% of its proceeds to charity. However, as of the time this story was published, the highest bid for the tweet was worth $9,968, a $2,905,867 drop in value.
As an investment, the tweet was obviously worthless from the get-go, but really, he was purchasing ad space in the media that was disguised as news stories. No one can resist a good absurd and pointless story of people wasting money.
In exchange for his money, Estavi got a chance to issue a one-liner that would appear in all of the articles. “Why are you buying this expensive worthless property, sir?” he would be asked. His answer would spread far and wide.
Whatever he said would make it into every article. If he claimed it was for world peace through using his new product, or mentioned a book he wrote, those properties would go up in value.
Publicity transfers value to businesses, products, and individuals. In a society of equals, you must draw attention to yourself — begging and bowing like a slave for attention! — in order to have some claim on a life worth living.
Not surprisingly, much of our modern activity involves “raising awareness” or other types of campaigns designed to transfer eyeballs to some idea. In a service economy, masses of people paying attention is the only value, since it translates to sales and then permanence in the icon-field of object and name recognition.
NFTs enable this by allowing people to essentially buy publicity with greater splurges of money thrown into the abyss, especially as stagflation crushes ordinary lives. Opulence displayed shows power and draws interest.
It should not surprise us that this is the case, since democracy might be the first NFT. Your vote buys you a minor share in an outcome decided by a plurality that most likely does not include you.
In other words, you get nothing except the bragging rights to being equal and having helped in the choices that guide your country. Your expensive vote — since you face the consequences of the votes of others — gives you some cred.
Perhaps humanity, having discovered symbols, has replaced reality with them, and now is being replaced by them, since symbols have a viral life in their ability to draw attention without regard for consequences.
Instead of technology bringing us down, perhaps literacy did, because with the wider spread of the written word, the symbol took precedence over good results in the actual world. We live in a fantasy bubble of symbols, emotions, and awareness.
As the dust settles on the end of the twentieth century, occurring as is usually the case a quarter of the way into the subsequent century, our human tendency to worship symbols may be waning as we see a need to pay attention to reality again.