A couple of tools for thinking about NFTs, metaverses and Web3

Eaon Pritchard
By Eaon Pritchard | 5 January 2022
Eaon Pritchard

At the close of 2021 a couple of ideas have captured the (lack of) imagination among much of the tech-media chattering classes trying to look up-to-date for the ‘crypto-punks’ on LinkedIn.

Yes, the final months of the year belonged to grand proclamations around NFTs, Web3 and metaverses.

To greater or lesser degree all three are, of course, intertwined with the blockchain, the next-big-thing in tech for the last few years Although still largely a solution out looking for problem.

There’s enough been written attempting to explain/obfuscate the terms so I’ll leave the dubious pleasure of that exploration to the readers.

Although suffice to say there is nothing mysterious about NFTs. It is essentially a bit of tradeable code that creates a distinct identifier for an asset, usually a digital asset. My wife is an artist and so naturally became interested however choked at saying non-fungible token which she told me sounds too much like a nasty yeast infection. NFT is probably the best candidate for a bit of rebranding.

And I’d wager that the majority of the most enthusiastic metaverse/web3 proponents are non-parents who do not spend most of their waking hours trying to drag kids off of the Xbox.

If you really must reposition yourself in 2022 as an NFT or metaverse consultant then the good news is that it’s still Wild West and rich pickings out there for a half decent bullshitter. Simply Google the keywords and tweet every news article as your case in point. Then sell all your new clients on loyalty programs 3.0 or impossible to navigate pseudo-ecommerce in the name of engagement.

What I hope to add value with, are two thinking tools I wrote about in my 2017 book Where Did It All Go Wrong?

The first is one I’ve borrowed from the legendary Theodore ‘Ted’ Sturgeon. Ted was, and still is, widely acclaimed as one of the giants of science fiction and horror writing.

He wrote a number of novels, was an early scriptwriter on a promising TV series called Star Trek in the 50s and 60s and also one of the foremost critics in the sci-fi genre, also penning over 400 reviews before his passing in 1985.

After many years of fielding attacks on the science fiction genre from critics, he had a moment of insight. This became known as Sturgeon’s Revelation, later shortened - less dramatically - to Sturgeon’s Law.

Speaking at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in September 1953, Sturgeon responded to the highfalutin literary critics who claimed that ‘ninety percent of science fiction is crap’.

Ted agreed. Ninety percent of science fiction is indeed crap. But, he argued, to say ninety percent of science fiction is crap is meaningless because science fiction conforms to exactly the same distribution of quality as all other art forms.

Sturgeon's Law, therefore, states that at least ninety percent of everything - all film, literature, products, culture, and advertising - is shit. 90% is generous, it’s more likely closer to 99% but you get the idea.

There’s a fallacious honeymoon period when any new approach, new platform or new technology that comes along - for a time - seems to be granted exemption from this law.

Social media marketing, content marketing, QR codes, VR/AR, chatbots, programmatic and adtech have all arrived, been heralded as the next big thing, then gradually landed in a ditch of disappointment or murky nefariousness. QR codes have made a comeback, to be fair.

For our second thinking tool lets fast-forward to the mid 80’s and an accidental influential piece of musical tech, The Roland TB-303 Bass Line. This rudimentary early synth was originally devised as a cheap tool for guitarists who wanted bass accompaniment while honing their licks.

Only about 10,000 units were produced between 1981 and ‘84, sales were poor, on the surface it looked like a flop product and most remaining units ended up in music store bargain bins.

A few of these discarded synths were picked up by some bootstrapped young DJs and producers in Chicago, among them one Nathan ‘DJ Pierre’ Jones, who found that by overdriving and cranking the box - using the tool in ways it was never intended to be used - he could manufacture the squelchy ‘acid’ bass sound.

Shortly after this discovery, DJ Pierre issued a disco 12” ‘Acid Trax’ on local Chicago label Trax featuring a large portion of the 303 squelch, and a new genre was born.

I always attribute this quote to Bill Drummond. ‘The technology always comes first.’

It’s just technology for a while, then when CREATIVE PEOPLE MESS AROUND WITH IT, doing things with it it’s not supposed to do, then things get interesting.

Christopher Hitchens famously noted, ‘The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.’

So, in 2022 let’s keep a pragmatic view on the new technology. Keeping a cool head. Let’s be neither technophiles nor technophobes, but adopt the position of an informed buyer.

A sceptical optimist even, one who remembers that 90% of everything is always shit, and the really creative uses of the new technology have almost certainly not happened yet.


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