On a rainy Tuesday in June, I found myself in a crowded and bustling Times Square theater, skipping a seemingly endless line that circled the city block thanks to a very convenient press pass. Occasion: An event hosted by Doodles that collected 10,000 colorful NFTs.
To say I didn’t cause a stir would be an understatement – one of the graffiti’s most prominent images seems to be cartoon vomiting rainbowone of its founders”poop” on Twitter. But attendees assured me it was a Very exciting time. Some are excited about what they say will be a highly anticipated new phase of the project, while others speculate on who the promised musical performance will be. Eventually, the audience saw video messages from Serena Williams’ husband (new investor) and Pharrell (new chief brand officer) and a performance by The Chainsmokers. The company is also promising more NFTs, music projects, and art, many of which are pending.
“Doodles are here to add color to our world, it helps us guide our inner child and ultimately helps us understand that anything is possible with our imaginations,” Doodles CEO Julian Holguin in a glorified TED talk said. He joined the project in May after coming over from Billboard. “The market needs it now, and the world needs it now,” he added. The market line drew laughter from the crowd. As you probably know, now is not an ideal time to invest in NFTs, crypto, or most investments lately.
“We’re speculating about the cultural impact doodles have on music, sports, gaming,” David, a doodle holder who traveled to New York from Los Angeles this week, told me. After Pharrell announced that the Bent Whisper NFT’s floor price had just risen, he excitedly explained to me what had happened throughout the night. “We hope to bring even greater benefits in the future.”
Much of what happens in cryptocurrencies, especially in Web3 (the putative next version of the internet) and NFTs (unique digital bits), is pretty deceptive and predatory. A lot of this is based on future promises of “utility,” which in most current iterations are little more than hype. This hype is generated by a few behind the masses, some of whom are desperate to be part of a man-made community. It fails on the basic premise of decentralization and taking power away from centralized authorities. NFT NYC, home to the Doodles event, is a prime example: Thousands of attendees paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars to attend a conference that can only be described as pure chaos.Some attendees criticized it as rob money by its few organizers.
Still, if you immerse yourself in the arena, you can begin to see why some of this works. Everything felt so bad and everyone seemed so disconnected for so long. People want to get excited, and if the rainbow painting it’s making an album with Pharrell works for you, why not?We have an innate desire to be a part of something, to belong, and we often spend money achieve this goal.
In the current market crash, being in a room full of uncaring NFT fans feels a bit like the “this is good” meme from a reality show. Then again, the same goes for everything else.
NFT folks still feel really good about it all, they promise
For four days in late June, thousands of people poured into Midtown Manhattan for the fourth phase of NFT NYC, which it claims is one of the largest in non-fungible tokens. Organisers claim that 15,000 people will attend, and they have a lineup of 1,500 speakers. If this all seems a bit much, it’s because it is. Navigating the touristy streets of Times Square is often easier than the corridors of the multi-story, casino-style Marriott Marquis hotel, where the conference is located. Most speakers only get a few minutes on stage, at best speaking in a half-empty conference room.
You might think the chaos of the conference itself would raise some doubts, while the recent crypto crash has seen the value of cryptocurrencies and NFTs plummet. On the contrary, the environment is almost one of the toxic positives. The “We’re all going to be successful” (or WAGMI) attitude is common, although in this case most people admit that “us” is a very narrow group of which they want to be a part.
Those with deep pockets on the field said they expected a recession and even welcomed it. “There’s so much noise in the NFT space, in the crypto space right now, that this crypto winter represents, if anything, the ability to get rid of part of it,” said Jason Melo, CTO of VHS, the company behind digital horse racing game Zed Run. This sentiment is echoed by Phillip Shoemaker, executive director of Web3-focused authentication firm Identity.com and former head of the Apple App Store. “Every OG crypto guy sees this,” he said.
I believe in both when they insist on building real projects in the thriving Web3 space. Gambling is fun, so why not numbers right away? Shoemakers seem to really care about pseudonyms.
However, both can also afford losses, a privilege not necessarily possessed by ordinary people and new entrants in the region with thinner wallets. Web3 definitely needs some shaking. Those who will be eliminated are those who may not be able to afford it.
Austin Kuechle, one of the founders of Galactic Gaylords, an NFT project for the queer community, spent thousands of dollars on a sponsored booth (there were dozens of them) and had his team participate in NFT NYC. Kuechle, who goes by the nickname Austin Please Online and describes himself as a “gay dad from Canada,” just quit his job as a mechanical engineer to get more into Web3, though he still has an e-commerce business. His timing wasn’t great, but he was determined to keep going. “For a long-term project like ours, I’m not too worried,” he said. The actual NFT is not yet available.
Galactic Gaylords will be “story-driven,” and the team will hire LGBTQIA writers “to tell their queer journeys within the confines of our super gay galaxy,” he explained. The ultimate goal is to get Netflix shows. At the same time, they plan to send physical playing cards to NFT holders on a quarterly basis. I told him I really didn’t understand. He told me I just wasn’t there yet. “You probably won’t feel it until you dive into it.”
Again, I trust him. I also couldn’t find anyone attending phishing concerts or collecting Pokémon cards, both of which have thriving communities around them. The culture surrounding many high profile NFT projects, be it Bored Apes or Doodles or whatever, is a fan of hyper-monetization. In many cases, Web3 may be a cynical cash grab from those at the top, but at the bottom of the pyramid there are plenty of people who are, at least to some extent, true believers.
“The Web3 community is so small that the people in it are super enthusiastic, so they’re willing to jump on almost anything,” says Lauren Mitchellone of the forces behind Save Web3which purports to try to maintain Web3’s commitment to decentralization and community.
We met with one of her business partners, Taylor Stockfield, the day after NFT NYC ends. She’s a very daring cryptocurrency trader (or, as the dictionary says, “degen”, in short) about to host some Bali NFT events, and told me she’s here to “eliminate poverty” for Web3 “.In a somewhat similar way, he talks about the remarkable connection between crypto, venture capital, and big corporations always sunny memes.
But then in the middle of the Herald Square Hotel restaurant, Mitchell hit the nail on the head. “There are a lot of people who have benefited from the desire for communities to emerge from the pandemic,” she said. Stockfield has a different, and possibly correct, angle. “There’s a close-knit person pulling the strings.”
NFTs are gambling, and so is gambling
I definitely still don’t want graffiti, and most people in the field agree that about 99% of graffiti will be non-existent in 5 to 10 years. But I’m going to say something I probably shouldn’t say: I sympathize with the hope that it could happen, and why it exists in the first place.
The internet is a mess right now – Big Tech rules everything, privacy is a lie, and Facebook may have ruined democracy. As a musician or artist, it’s hard to do that. It feels like the economy and society around us is collapsing. Crypto, DeFi and Bored Apes and anything else is absolutely unequal, pyramidal, unfair and bad for the environment. The same goes for big business and many aspects of capitalism. The metaverse may not be great, and neither is the real world. Encryption can be particularly bad when it comes to regulation and consumer protection, but we also keep people plagued by predatory financial services and investments. Everything is the same.
During the NYC NFT event, I was looking for a moment of silence in a conference room that was usually empty. There, I met Stephan Ledain, who is working on an NFT project called the Jenny Metaverse DAO. It deals with fragmented stakes in art – meaning multiple people can have stakes in it.
Ledain, who works at a consulting firm, was enthusiastic about the project and realized it might not work. He’s also very clear about what’s going on in NFTs. “Every emerging industry has this gold rush, the capitalist energy surrounding it,” he said. In his opinion, the art market today is the first to crash, so why not see if Web3 can help fix it?
This makes it hard not to support the loser, even if the loser is banking on a future that most likely won’t work out.
We live in a world that is constantly trying to deceive us and deceive us, and we are always surrounded by scams big and small. Feeling unable to navigate. Every two weeks, join Emily Stewart for a look at all the little ways our economic system controls and manipulates ordinary people.Welcome to big squeeze.
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