One rainy Tuesday in June, I found myself in a crowded and busy theater in Times Square, skipping a line that seemed to be endlessly winding the city block thanks to a very handy press pass. Occasion: a leading event Doodlesa collection of 10,000 bright colors NFTs.
To say I didn’t get crowded is understated – one of Doodles ’most prominent paintings seems to be one of cartoon vomiting rainbowand among its founders is a guy who passes by. “poopie”On Twitter. But those present assured me that this was it a very exciting moment. Some were delighted with what they said would be the long-awaited new phase of the project, while others speculated about who would be promised the musical act. In the end, the audience was honored with video messages from husband Serena Williams (new investor) and Pharrell (new CEO of the brand) and a performance by The Chainsmokers. The company also promises more NFTs, music projects and the arts, many of which are TBD.
“Doodles is here to color our world, it’s there to help us channel our inner child and ultimately help us realize that anything is possible with the power of our imagination,” Doodles CEO Julian Holguin said in something that represented the famous TED talk . He joined the project in May after coming from Billboard. “The market needs it right now, the world needs it right now,” he added. The market line elicited laughter from the audience. As you may know, time is less than ideal for investing in NFT, cryptoor, indeed, most investment lately.
“Somehow we’re speculating about the cultural impact Doodles has on music, sports, games,” David, the owner of Doodle, who traveled to New York from Los Angeles for a week, told me. He excitedly explained to me what was going on throughout the evening, after Pharrell’s announcement, which tended to whisper the lowest price of NFT, had just crept up. “We hope that the future is something that brings greater good.”
A lot of what happens in crypto, maybe especially in Web3 (supposedly the next version of the internet) and NFT (unique digital bits), is pretty deceptive and predatory. Much of this is based on some future promise of “usefulness” that in most current iterations means nothing more than hype. That pomp is created by a select few on the backs of the masses, some of whom desperately want to be part of fictional communities. It fails in its basic premise of decentralization and taking power from the hands of concentrated authorities. NFT NYC, the context in which the Doodles event took place, was a great example: thousands of attendees paid hundreds and even thousands of dollars to attend a conference that could only be described as pure chaos. Some present criticized it as cash grab by his handful of organizers.
Still, if you dive a little into the arena, you can begin to see why some of this works. Everything has been so bad for so long, everyone looks so unrelated. People want to feel excited, and if a rainbow drawing that says he’s doing an album with Pharrell does it for you, why not? We feel an inherent desire to be a part of something, to belong, and often spending money to achieve this.
In the midst of the current market crash, being in a room full of unconcerned NFT fans looks a bit like “this is fine”Meme in live action. And again, so is everything else.
The people from NFT still feel great about all of this, they promise
Four days in late June, thousands of people descended on Midtown Manhattan for a fourth installment NFT NYC, an event that claims to be one of the largest in irreplaceable tokens. The organizers claimed that 15,000 people were expected to attend, and that they had a line-up of 1,500 speakers. If all this seems small, it is because it was so. It was often easier to navigate the streets of Times Square full of tourists than the corridors of the casino-like Marriott Marquis, where the conference was located. Most speakers were given only a few minutes on stage, mostly addressing at best half-empty conference rooms.
You may have thought that the chaos of the conference itself would be a cause for doubt, in addition to the recent cryptocurrency crash that led to a decline in the value of cryptocurrencies and NFT. Instead, the environment was almost toxic positive. “We will all succeed” (or WAGMI) attitude was ubiquitous, although it is definitely a situation where most people admit that “we” is a rather narrow segment that they hope to be a part of.
Well-funded people in the arena say they expected a fall and even welcome it. “There’s so much noise in the NFT space, in the crypto space, right now, and if nothing else, what this crypto winter represents is the ability to get some out of it,” said Jason Melo, VHS’s chief technology officer behind Zed Run, a digital horse racing game. Phillip Shoemaker, CEO of Identity.com, an identity verification company focused on Web3, and former head of the Apple App Store, reiterated the opinion. “Everyone who was an OG crypto person saw it,” he said.
I believe both when they insist on trying to build real projects in a growing Web3 space. Gambling is fun, so why not on digital horses? The shoemaker really seems to care about pseudonymy.
However, both can afford to lose, which is a privilege that norms and newcomers in an area with much shallower pockets do not necessarily have. Web3 absolutely needs a little shaking. Those who will be shaken out are the ones who can least afford it.
Austin Kuechle, one of the founders of Galactic Gaylords, an NFT project aimed at the queer community, spent thousands of dollars on a sponsorship booth (of which there were dozens and dozens) and for his team to attend NFT NYC. Quechle, who is called Austin Please online and describes himself as a “gay dad from Canada”, has just left his job as a mechanical engineer to work more on Web3, although he still has an e-commerce job on the side. His timing is not great, but he is determined to make progress. “For a long-term project like ours, I’m not too worried about that,” he said. Actual NFTs are not yet available.
The Galactic Gaylords will be “story-driven,” and the team will hire LGBTQIA writers to “tell their queer journey within the confines of our super gay galaxy,” he explained. The ultimate goal is to get a Netflix show. In the meantime, they plan to send physical playing cards to NFT owners on a quarterly basis. I tell him I really don’t understand. He tells me I’m not there yet. “Until you dive into it, you may not feel it.”
And again, I trust him. I also don’t get people going to Phish concerts or collecting Pokémon maps, both of which have successful communities around them. The culture that surrounds many high-profile NFT projects, be they Bored Apes or Doodles or anything else, is a hyper-monetized fandom. Web3 in many circumstances can be a cynical money laundering from those at the top, but at the bottom of the pyramid are many people who are at least partly true believers.
“The Web3 community is so small that the people in it are ultra-passionate, so they’re almost ready to jump on anything,” he said. Lauren Mitchellone of the forces behind Save Web3who reportedly tries to keep Web3’s promise of decentralization and community.
We meet with one of her business partners, Tyler Stockfield, the day after the completion of the NYC NFT. She is a pretty brave cryptocurrency trader (or, as the lexicon says, “dough, ”Abbreviated from degeneration), soon runs some NFT event in Bali and tells me that he is here for“ poverty elimination ”for Web3. He talks about the striking links between cryptocurrencies, venture capital and large companies in a way that can feel that way. It is always sunny meme.
But then in the middle of a hotel dinner in Herald Square, Mitchell hits a nail on the head. “A lot of people benefit from people’s desire for the community to come out of a pandemic,” she says. Stockfield comes with a different, and probably the right angle. “There’s a close-knit club of people pulling strings.”
NFTs are gambling, and so is gambling
I absolutely don’t want a Doodle yet, and most people in the universe agree that roughly 99 percent of this won’t exist in five to 10 years. But I’m going to say something I probably shouldn’t: I sympathize with the hope of what it could be, and why that hope exists at all.
The Internet is a real problem right now – giant technology companies rule everything, privacy is a lie, and Facebook may have destroyed democracy. It’s so hard to do that as a musician or an artist. It seems as if the economy and society are falling apart around us. Crypto and DeFi and Bored Apes and anything else are absolutely unequal and pyramidal and unjust and bad for the environment. The same goes for many aspects of big business and capitalism. The metaverse may not be great, nor is it the real world. Crypto could be particularly bad in terms of regulation and consumer protection, but we also allow people to be fucked up by predatory financial services and investments all the time. Everything is more and more the same.
In the midst of the NYC NFT event, I sought a moment of silence in one of the side conference rooms, which were mostly empty. There I came across Stephan Ledain, who is working on an NFT project called the Jenny Metaverse DAO. It’s about fractionated stakes – meaning more people can have stakes in it – art.
Ledain, who works at a consulting firm, is thrilled with the project and is also aware that it may fail. He also has clear eyes on what is happening in NFT. “Every emerging industry has this gold rush, the capitalist energy around it,” he said. In his view, the art market as it is today is broken in the first place, so why not see if Web3 can help fix that?
This makes it difficult for an outsider not to cheer, even if the outsider is counting on a future that may fail.
We live in a world that is constantly trying to entice and deceive us, where we are always surrounded by big and small scams. It may feel impossible to navigate. Join Emily Stewart every two weeks to look at all the little ways our economic systems control and manipulate the average person. Welcome The Big Squeeze.
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