It's Alright If You Don't Get Into Something

The whole world is talking about NFTs, which are non-fungible tokens, which means it’s a thing that signifies another thing - say a piece of (digital) art or an NBA player moment on NBA Top Shot. The non-fungible part means that you can’t just copy it and have another one. Lots of people are buying them and there’s a few that are going for a lot of money, and thus everyone assumes they must be a part of it.

The same goes for Clubhouse. I have got asked by a lot of clients “what are you doing on Clubhouse?” to which I say “nothing, really.” It’s a voice-based social network where you can jump on and talk, instead of posting, and the rooms are basically hotlines where you can jump in and talk. It’s like a podcast that never stops, a sort of endless moan about different subjects.

In the world of tech, but also those adjacent to tech, there’s always this endless pressure to be on top of everything. It used to be that it was enough to just know what was going on, but now everybody is terrified of missing the next wave of something for fear of being left behind - that somehow the next TikTok or Clubhouse or what have you will be huge, and you’ll have missed it, which will mean that you’ve missed the big wave that you needed to crest for your career.

The specific pressure seems to be being “on” each of these platforms and trends, having a skin in the game and an active presence, as if not having one is the end of the world. I remember about a year ago a big push of random people I knew jumping on TikTok and forcing themselves to make videos in this awkward format for fear that a lack of immersion would mean missing some nuance in the human experience. The current one I’m seeing is that everybody seems to have an opinion on NFTs, which is fine, but quite a few people I know want to be involved in them, even though they don’t really see the value in them. They want to make sure they’re part of something.

I think one of the greatest moments of maturation in my life was realizing that I could not be on the apex of every single trend and new “thing.” While I enjoy seeing and doing new things, and indeed if I’m interested in something early and it blows up that’s cool, I have got past the fear of being left behind as, honestly, I realize that I cannot possibly see or do everything.

People think that if they don’t address and immerse themselves in every new thing - especially in tech - they’re going to be seen as behind in the times, when every single person I know who’s actually interesting and truly read-up on something doesn’t get on many if any of these new trends. Having to always be talking about the new thing is an exhausting, draining process - one that slowly but surely strips away the meaning of discovering new things and turns it (ironic considering the subject) into collectible items that you can trade for importance or relevance.

You’ll be fine.

So What About NFTs?

NFTs have been around for years, and the NBA Top Shots side is just…whatever. It’s a whole market in which people buy and sell videos of basketball moments, and getting a pack of three of them costs $14 but requires a great deal of luck 200,000 people compete with you to hopefully make some money. It’s interesting, but at the same time it is ultimately flat - like any collectibles market born in recency, the entire thing was built to strip away the actual joy of collecting something unique and replace it with a theoretical way you may make a profit, and a teeny tiny way in which you may make an insane profit.

The moment that anyone makes a big amount of money precisely once on this, the enterprise that creates the money-making object begins to contort not to create the thing it was originally creating, but more ways in which to attract more people to make more money. They set up challenges that require you to have 9 of a particular kind of card to earn a special limited edition other card, that will theoretically make you more money, and the only way to collect them is by buying them from other people, which Top Shot takes 5% of.

I personally collect original comic artwork (as in the pencils and inks that are then scanned in for the actual printed comic), and love doing so because while Marvel makes a lot of money on making variant covers specifically to get people to buy them because of a theoretical future bounty, the original pieces are truly one of a kind.

These NBA Top Shots are…not one of a kind. They’re at best one of twenty five. There is no quirkiness to them, nor is there a particular scarcity beyond “we won’t release more of these hundreds or thousands of moments.” There is nothing particularly joyous about owning them - there is nothing unique to admire, nothing to hold, and the moments themselves can be seen by anyone.

Now, each one that is owned is truly unique and can not be copied. That’s cool. There is a technical side to this that can be interesting - the trade of digital goods that have a way of verifying their identity and accuracy, with no (theoretical) way to fake them. That’s cool! They could do that with concert tickets, or items in games, and yes, even financial instruments. It’s an actual use of the blockchain (that has already existed for a while) and on the collectible side, it’s cool. I know there’s going to be a comics one at some point, and it’s going to just print money.

But the whole rush to talk about these things as if they are a truly new thing is…eh, it’s exhausting. The lack of a physical object takes away pretty much all of the joy of a collectible to me, partly because even those collectibles I own are one of maybe 1500.

Now I am also stripping away an emotional context that some people may have - there may truly be people out there who want to collect NBA Top Shot cards because they love basketball and want to truly “collect” it. I like collections when they’re not about the monetary value and more about what you’ve got, and how cool that set of whatever is, but I feel like the NFT rush has stripped away that part because of so much financial interest. NFTs lack the “collectible” part of collections because they are so expensive to get into - there are so many, and they are at cheapest $14 each, and while packs are cheap, packs sell out insanely fast. There is no fun entry point beyond buying a few different moments and sitting on them.

The joy of collections is starting small and building something, and having something to look at, and I feel like the very conversation around them is - and always will be - focused on monetizing them until they are nothing other than another currency.

The valuations will grow and be truly insane, and a client of mine made a really good point - it wouldn’t take much work for someone with a good amount of money to just absolutely ruin the market, buying up every single low-priced card and lifting everything. Maybe that’ll happen. But to me, none of this is about having a collection - it’s just another way in which people on both sides are desperately trying to make money.