Back when my first NFT article, Needless Fucking Things, was posted on Webworm, I got a bit of backlash from NFT enthusiasts. Most of it was vitriol but at least one person said they could do an actual point-by-point critique.
The critique followed, which you can find here. To my disappointment, it was mostly tone policing, not pointing out factual errors. I wrote out a massive reply, then felt profoundly conflicted about posting it. It felt mean. Despite appearances, I don’t actually like conflict, and I was pretty sick of the argument, because (as you’ll know if you ever upset crypto people) they just don’t. stop. talking. So I did nothing. Nothing, as is often the case, turned out to be the wrong thing to do.
Then, because I am not a smart man, I created an NFT scheme from scratch and wrote a follow-up article about that. The same people showed up in my mentions saying that, having been schooled so hard, I could never write anything about crypto ever. I updated my response then, again, didn’t actually post it. It didn’t feel right. I figured the problem would go away, and it did, until today.
Just now, Ethereum has gone proof of stake (good!) and crypto stans have, yet again, used this as an opportunity to write at me telling me that I need to go back and update articles I wrote months ago before Ethereum went proof of stake. I think this says a lot about the sort of mentality these people have. If someone is a serial killer, and they’ve spent years serially killing, and then one day they finally stop, I don’t have to hand them a cookie and announce that everything is fine because all that murder is in the past. I’m glad that that Ethereum is no longer using up a small country’s worth of energy, which – I really shouldn’t have to say! – is something it never should have done in the first place. What an arrant fucking absurdity.
So, for what it’s worth, here is my reply to my NFT criticism critics, with a couple of updates. I’m genuinely sorry it took me so long to post it. I should have done it months ago. Now, to dig a tunnel deep into the earth, where I never have to engage with this thriving brainworm ecosystem ever again.
(Bold italics are the original tweets. My replies are underneath.)
It’s hard to consider this an impartial analysis of a new asset class when headings like ‘needless fucking things’ and ‘pollution monetised’ are used – crypto/NFTs are described as a ‘hellscape’ in the opening para – that language just comes across as prejudiced, not balanced
Sigh. I was hoping this was going to be pointing out factual errors but it’s leading with complaining about my tone. My article wasn’t meant to be “an impartial analysis of a new asset class.” It’s an opinionated story based on my own experience. But I’ll try and explain why my writing about NFTs was so relentlessly negative:
It’s because all the evidence I could find was that NFTs were terrible.
I’m super open to the idea that NFTs aren’t terrible! I want to believe that they’re a great way of supporting artists! But everything I could find suggests that they’re just not, and I still, still, haven’t seen any strong evidence to the contrary, even from crypto’s biggest and most sincere supporters.
‘The biggest currencies have decentralized databases so big and so unwieldy that transactions can take hours, or days.’ A few hours ago I converted some eth to GBP then withdrew that GBP to my debit card to pay my rent. This process took less than 10 minutes from beginning to end
Good for you, but that doesn’t negate my point. Bitcoin transactions commonly take hours, and, as I said, can take days. Ethereum transactions can also take hours, and even become “stuck”. What’s more, blockchains are incredibly, inherently computationally inefficient. Normal databases make individual transactions in seconds for a minuscule energy cost. One Ethereum transaction can require electricity equivalent to the weekly energy use of an average American household. “Oh but they’re going proof of stake soon!” Good. Fucking hurry up. And even when/if that happens, it’ll still be incredibly computationally inefficient compared to any modern database because that’s how blockchains are designed.
Edit, 16 September 2022: Ethereum went proof of stake. Good! The giant Ponzi scheme attached to the catastrophically unwieldy database that charges you to interact with it no longer uses more power than the entire nation of New Zealand.
On the environment – while pos has been a slow, decades long project, you admit yourself you ‘just kind of tried to ignore it’ after not seeing its fruition. Aside from the fact you haven’t referenced in the main piece that phase 1 of eth 2.0 is due this year..
This is alluding to the promise that Ethereum is moving from the environmentally-ruinous “proof of work” to the less environmentally ruinous “proof of stake”. Except that I did reference it. In a footnote. You know, the categorical definition of “reference.” Here’s the screenshot.
Again, your statement isn’t a factual refutation of an error I made, it’s just posturing. Big proof-of-work cryptocurrencies take huge amounts of electricity to run – comparable to the entire energy output of New Zealand. This is bad for the environment. It’s a fact. Deal with it.
…and phase 2 in 2023, you’ve also not examined how NFTs 2021 changed everything in terms of pure demand and possibilities on the eth blockchain – and how mainstream adoption by climate conscious companies will accelerate the implementation of eth 2.0.
This is a promise that’s still months from fruition, mixed with pure conjecture. I’m writing about the here-and-now of crypto and NFTs, not some pie-eyed utopian hypothetical, and “but it might magically all get better!” is not something I’m prepared to say with a straight face.
(Edit: The promise has now come to fruition, which is good! – and the rest is still pure conjecture.)
You also haven’t addressed green blockchains such as Solana as alternatives to ethereum NFTs – even if eth is overwhelmingly used rn, this is an important point. Address the dirty global banking system too & how crypto could soon provide a greener alternative to the fiat system..
My article wasn’t about Solana, but here’s my critique: it’s just another blockchain except that the people in charge of the project are promising to offset their emissions. That’s great! But it doesn’t address any of the fundamental problems with the blockchain platform. Also, I talked about the “dirty banking system” — actually the dirty capitalist system — at length:
The rest of this comment – the idea that “crypto could soon provide a greener alternative to the fiat system” is just more magical-thinking conjecture. There are no reasons cited as to how or why this would occur, it’s just flatly stated as if saying so makes it so.
.. plus the potential for NFT tech to cut waste and tighten supply chains.
HOW??? YOU HAVEN’T SAID HOW! AAARGH! I keep running into this. Stop just saying it’s just somehow going to do something good or that it’s just somehow better! If you’re going to make a big claim, you’d best back it up with some actual big proof.
I’ll chuck something in here, though. Many, probably most, large corporations don’t want their supply chains made public, which is what blockchains inherently do. There are a range of reasons for this, including maintaining competitive advantage and the fact that a lot of their product sourcing is shady as fuck. The idea that they’d voluntarily upend their operations to put sensitive information in the public domain is hilarious. When you add the hard-to-use and computationally inefficient nature of blockchain, you quickly realise why essentially no blockchain supply chain tracking systems are operating at scale.
‘It’s just a string of numbers and letters’ ‘they don’t have any inherent value’ shows no understanding of the fact that markets set value. What makes something have value? What’s the value of a rare baseball card that never sees the light of day?.
This would indeed be a glaring omission if I hadn’t written about it at length.
I’ll say it again “The attitude seems to be: if enough people agree something has value, ipso facto, it does.” The idea of “what is truly valuable” is an entire philosophical can of worms here that I’m unwilling to open because it’s way beyond my pay grade, but I did try to touch on it in the article where I talked about Nozick’s theory of value. To borrow your rare baseball card example, I’m fine with handing it to someone else if they pay me a tonne of money for it. Whereas the life of my son is priceless. No amount of money could ever compensate me for it. That is true value.
What’s the value of the social power a Twitter blue check brings? What’s the value of the cute little 🐊 on the Lacoste logo? Of a modern art piece? Membership to an exclusive club with once in a lifetime rewards? The answer is at the end of your para – the value is whatever ‘enough people agree‘ the value is. This is already how the world works.
What you’re saying here is “you used rhetoric to make a point.” Which, I admit, I did do. I am not sure why this is bad.
Phrases like ‘disgusting ape JPEGs’ ‘this would have earned yawns, or derisive laughter’. This is unwarranted vitriol and displays inherent prejudice again – it’s a cartoon monkey ffs. Comes across as bitter & with an axe to grind
This really isn’t a fact check, is it? As we’ve just discussed, the value of art is in the eye of the beholder. As an artist, I think the Bored Apes and a lot of other NFT art is absolutely hideous. That’s my opinion. It’s OK if people think the art is rad, I just don’t personally like it.
But we’re halfway through your thread now and you haven’t corrected any errors. You’re just taking issue with my opinions, which is all any other NFT advocate has done.
‘Royalties can be skipped altogether if future buyers simply switch blockchains.’ This is just not true. What is your source for making this comment?..
Oh good, something definitive! And I absolutely could have worded this better. I meant that a buyer could quite easily pay a seller in another cryptocurrency, whereupon the seller could transfer the NFT for no more than the price of gas. This is true — private sales effortlessly bypass any royalty baked into a smart contract. But what I should have said was “buyers simply switch marketplaces,” because switching marketplaces can also bypass NFT royalties entirely, as explained by these articles at VentureBeat and Wired.
‘As I write this, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies are tanking, with the market falling by over $1 trillion, in just a few days.’ – this is not realising how price fluctuations in crypto economies work.
I’m writing this answer with the benefit of six months hindsight and I can assure you it absolutely fucking is. When you wrote this tweet, the price of Bitcoin was $43,892 USD, down from its all-time high of $68,990.90. As I write this, after a sustained tanking, a Bitcoin is worth $22,962. This isn’t a fluctuation, it’s a hiding. There’s a reason that many articles about crypto prices now come with suicide hotline advisories.
Naming ‘buying black market goods’ as ‘uses for crypto’. From El Salvador to Adidas, crypto is barrelling towards the mainstream – this commentary is outdated.
Black market goods were and remain one of the main use cases for crypto. But I’ll admit that this hasn’t worked out all that well for some criminals. Turns out that keeping the records of your crime on a public ledger that turns out to be not particularly anonymous at all has its drawbacks, like in this harrowing case of a child sexual abuse ring being busted by blockchain analysis. I’ll also happily admit that there are other use cases for crypto, like ransomware scams and art theft and rugpulls and pump-and-dump schemes and many, many more. Crypto adoption by corporates is mostly trend-jacking, and when it’s not, it has been met with furious, sustained consumer backlash by mainstream consumers, who mostly hate NFTs. El Salvador’s Bitcoin punt has, so far, lost them 50 percent of their original investment and has massively damaged the country’s economy.
You mention the Lazy lions artwork, just a note on so-called ‘ugly projects’ – you’re not acknowledging the difference between ‘contemporary art’ and social avatar projects where the art is not ‘the point’. People can love or hate the art but this is incidental, these NFTs are best understood as membership to a club rather than art for art’s sake.
I don’t care. I’m an artist, and I’m mainly interested in the implications NFTs have for artists. If, for some, NFTs are just about buying entry to a club, I can’t see why the art on the catastrophically expensive ticket shouldn’t be nice.
The article doesn’t seem that objective to me.. it’s full of emotive language & opinions based on your personal experience, rather than an analysis of the nuances of this new asset class and the truth of the good and bad of the space… it seems more to do with your obvious dislike and bad experience of the contemporary art world in general, and your opinion that digital art doesn’t have value – but every new art movement in history has faced a backlash from traditionalists.
Yes. I started my research wanting to like NFTs. What I found out made me dislike them. The article reflects that. Just because something faces a backlash doesn’t mean it’s good. You’ll also find there are also backlashes against bad things, for example: slavery, child labour, fascism, and attempts by crypto proponents to finacialize and tokenize every aspect of our lives.
As one of the small % of left-wing women in the space I have special experience of the downsides of NFTs and can name plenty – but I believe the downsides should not be exaggerated or invented, and should be discussed in context with both sides considered..
I’m genuinely sorry you’ve had bad experiences in the NFT space, but I haven’t invented any downsides. And I have considered “both sides,” and come to a conclusion, which is what my article is. There’s this weird expectation that, when considering “both sides” of an issue, the conclusion must be neutral — that arguments for and against have equal merit. This is a fallacy. Let’s say we have two opposing factions. One is the SPCA, who oppose cruelty to kittens, and the other is made up of people whose hobby is feeding live kittens into a blender. Now, if I consider “both sides,” I’m not going to come to the conclusion that “on balance, some people really like blending kittens, so I have to conclude that a bit of kitten-blending is OK.” I’m more likely to be of the opinion that kitten-blending is cruel and bad. Having considered both sides of NFTs, on balance I think they’re pretty bad, even though I’d like to like them and there are potential upsides. But you don’t actually want balance: you want me to have a different opinion.
. If not we descend into misinformation which results in abuse & demonising participants in the NFT space. It’s vitally important that diverse voices are represented in Web3, especially as white crypto bros have had a massive head-start…
I haven’t descended into misinformation. You just don’t like the conclusions I’ve drawn. That’s OK, you don’t have to, but please stop mistaking “I don’t like your tone” for “You are factually wrong.” My article is not abuse or demonization of those in the NFT space, it’s saying that those in the space are regularly abused, scammed, or otherwise taken advantage of, that the structure of web3 facilitates these abuses, and that this is wrong. By way of example, David has written multiple articles against abuse in megachurch culture. That doesn’t mean he’s siding with the abusers, or saying that everyone in megachurches is an abuser. He’s saying that the structure of megachurches facilitates abuse, and that abuse is wrong.
It’s hard to see disinformation used to dissuade or bully women, LGBTQ, and POC collectors and content creators on Twitter so they feel uncomfortable getting involved.
My article isn’t bullying, and I resent the implication. But I am absolutely trying to dissuade vulnerable people from getting involved in a space where many are routinely scammed and taken advantage of. I think it’s analogous to multi-level-marketing, where the vast majority of people lured in by extravagant promises lose money. While some do do well, that fact doesn’t make the space any less inherently exploitative. However, I’m not the NFT police. If people look at the information available and decide to get involved anyway, good luck to them. I hope they come out OK.
In Web3 decentralisation is the ultimate goal, even if there are some bad actors running around in the NFT space rn. And that means redistribution of wealth & power, and allowing voices restrained by rigid web2 systems to seize the narrative..
This is wrong. As demonstrated repeatedly, even if “decentralisation is the ultimate goal” of Web3, it is not the reality. Crypto is centralized as hell, and most “redistribution” is upwards. In fact, its ultra-capitalist structure mirrors colonialism. Here is researcher Catherine Flick, in an article that is worth quoting at length.
The vast crypto world — which includes blockchain-backed technologies such as digital currencies, non-fungible tokens, internet organizations, play-to-earn video games, the metaverse, and Web3 — has what researcher Catherine Flick calls a “colonialist mindset” that she says relies on central entities and low-paid workers.
“These people are kind of sailing their ships across the sea to get there first and plant their flags and make the money,” said Flick, who is a researcher at the School of Computer Science and Informatics at De Montfort University. “But at the expense of the people who do the labor, who are less likely to make the same sorts of profits and who are more likely to be exploited or not understand what they’re getting into.”
The laborers, like some artists behind collections of digital tokens called NFTs, are paid less than their fair share of the profits, she said.
..Breaking down these gatekeepers and enabling artists to be paid what they are worth will revolutionise the music industry & the arts in general.
Again, this is just something you hope will happen at some point in the future.
I feel the article neglects the potential use cases that NFT tech enthusiasts would claim – aside from social communities & indefinite royalties for artists, some examples would be play to earn gaming inc cross-platform trading (ordinary gamers can earn, not just the studio)..
Artists have always had the ability to form social communities, and in the last couple of decades the internet has helped to facilitate this. NFTs are entirely optional. Personally, I think they make things worse. I’ve hung around a lot of NFT Discord servers and they are so, so boring – instead of talking about art, they’re endless blather about “going to the moon” (or, more recently, crashing to the earth.) On indefinite royalties: great! Assuming (as previously discussed) people don’t easily sidestep paying them.
Play-to-earn gaming, though, has already proven to be a nightmare grafted to a grift. Unless your idea of entertainment is a playable Ponzi scheme that exploits vulnerable workers in third-world nations who spend their lives grinding crypto, you should probably stick with games where you play to have fun. And cross-platform trading in games, despite the hype, isn’t really a thing. Video games are complicated, highly customised systems, and NFTs do not magically solve the inherently difficult problem of getting assets to render across different platforms, as Wired explains.
.. authenticating art & identifying counterfeit goods, supply chain tracking, real-world land deeds & real estate transactions, NFT ticketing to prevent fraud, voting (combats disenfranchisement), immutable records for academic courses, protecting IP..
This is like a list of things that crypto and NFTs don’t or won’t do. They’re useless for authenticating art — in fact, they commonly facilitate art theft. Companies have not, by and large, embraced them for supply chain tracking, for reasons already discussed. We already have land deeds and real estate transactions that gain nothing from being put on a blockchain. The idea of moving voting from “secret ballot” to “publicly visible ledger” will not, I can promise you, help disenfranchisement. My university already keeps my academic record (which isn’t something I’d want to be publicly visible because it’s terrible) and a tradeable digital receipt does nothing to protect IP. As I said kind of exhaustively in my article, all an NFT is proof of is having an NFT.
..virtual real estate (digital marketplace & advertising), music (e.g music is pooled and fractionalised, then streaming income as dividends), safeguarding medical records – thousands of new job roles too especially creative roles.
Virtual real estate is a grift: you pay money to own nothing, and the nothing you own can disappear whenever the company hosting it decides to take the money and cut server costs. Music? Pooling and fractionalizing revenue is a fine idea that doesn’t require a blockchain to work: co-operatives have been around for centuries.
But “safeguarding medical records?”
No. Just no. Fuck no.
This argument is so often brought up by blockchain enthusiasts and it is so obviously wrong and terrible I once thought it was an actual joke. A blockchain, I don’t think I need to remind you, is a publicly accessible database, and medicine requires privacy to function. There is a reason that doctors have for centuries sworn a literal oath to never disclose what patients tell them. If you take away patient privacy, medicine cannot be practiced. It’s that simple. The idea of publicly accessible medical records is a gross violation of privacy that would destroy the lives of billions of people. It’d be hilarious if you weren’t apparently serious. And don’t start on “but blockchains are anonymous!” — no, they’re not, as previously discussed. Proposing to put medical records on the blockchain is hideous. It’s the opposite of “safeguarding.”
But, you say, why can’t medical institutions just have their own blockchains, that aren’t public? Congratulations, you now have a database — a terrible one that’s far slower, uses much more energy, is infinitely more computationally expensive, and requires a bunch of computers doing pointless work or sitting on a stake of a useless digital currency to verify transactions!. The real problem of making medical records easily readable and transferable across institutions can’t be fixed with blockchains, and for evidence, I submit the fact that blockchains have existed now for well over a decade without doing anything to solve this issue. It’s just another pie-in-the-sky promise.
Whew. With all that said, I want to conclude with this: for all these replies, you haven’t elaborated on your original tweet:
Yeah let’s spread ignorance and bitch on the sidelines while the right-wing happily build out Web3 the way they want to – this attitude is damaging to left-wing goals
It’s not my attitude that’s damaging to left-wing goals. Crypto is damaging to left-wing goals. Crypto, NFTs, and the broader Web3 project, are about the financialisation and commodification of everything. Left-wing thought is (very broadly) about achieving social equality and egalitarianism. The crypto ethos is the opposite of that. It proposes, as you’ve neatly pointed out, that all kinds of things be tokenized and monetized. That the notion of private property can be broken down into smaller and smaller chunks until everything is traceable and tradeable. This isn’t left-wing thought; it’s a hyper-capitalist laissez-faire nightmare. Proposing that socialists get into crypto spaces so they aren’t left to the Right is like suggesting that the real way to seize the means of production is to invest in the most profitable factories.
At the end you state you are turning your artwork into NFTs and putting a ridiculous price on them to make a point. If you’re going to go to the trouble of minting NFTs anyway, why not see what other artists are doing and where your work, which is great btw, may fit best. ..maybe your intention is to let your art stand on its own, maybe you want to create a social community around your collectors, explore themes of social identity, implement a rewards system, integrate metaverse or real life interactions..or work in partnership with a project or artist already established in the space – I think that approach would have a better chance of success than just slapping a collection up ‘at the price of your mortgage’.
You are 100 percent right, and I’ve spent the last six months doing exactly what you’ve suggested. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into turning my art into an NFT scheme that’s functionally identical to (and in many ways, better than) market leading NFT projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. It’s called the Bird Hat Grift Club. It has everything you’ve suggested – a community based around my collectors, exploring themes of social identity, a rewards system, and even a video game metaverse. The fun twist is that for every artwork I sell in a non-NFT way, I’m reducing the number of NFTs available to mint. If you still believe in NFTs, good for you! Please, go buy mine.