TL;DR: WTF is going on with NFTs, where it’s going (hint: someplace better), and why our family’s NFT Xmas 2021 is like a Woodstock ’69 t-shirt. (Also, a Fudōshin and Cherry Blossom Morph 3.0 showcase :))

The Landscape

Collin’s Dictionary named “NFT” (aka Non-Fungible Tokens, aka a digital ledger, aka non-interchangeable data storage unit – seriously, if this is Greek, don’t worry about it – it’s all still fairly foreign to most) the word of the year (WOTY) in 2021. (Which, while it seems a stark contrast to my personal WOTY for 2021, is actually very compatible, as this post affirmed my learnings that listening is showing up for what is while holding space for what’s yet to come.)

In 2017, few people apart from those working in crypto were aware of the CryptoKitties craze, and fewer people still thought it anything more than another example of the industry’s quirky ridiculousness.

Five years later and the same sentiment is still shared, but now by a mainstream audience, for talk of NFTs is everywhere.

Holding the record – at least for the minute – on just how valuable NFT art can be is artist Beeple, who sold a piece to Christie’s for $69m. Sotheby’s got itself a dedicated NFT marketplace, and everyone from Nike and Coca-Cola to the 2021 Olympics has joined the hype.

CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club gave rise to profile-pic NFTs (PFP NFTs). Punk and Ape profile pictures have come to – seemingly – separate those who ‘get it’ from those who don’t. The lowest Punk currently for sale is priced at over $266,000. The highest that’s ever been sold went for $10.26m. Two weeks ago, an Ape sale made the news when a fat finger error caused the seller to list their Ape for $3,000 instead of $300,000.

The Future

I was recently interviewed alongside well-known voices – including Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Ja Rule, billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper – on the past, present, and future of NFTs.

In it, I acknowledged the significance of the phenomenon:

“Why not decentralize art and allow technology to bring forth a modern-day Renaissance? Tech was the revenge of the nerd, crypto that of the anarchist, and NFTs the revenge of the artist. Society labels stereotypes ‘undesirable’ until it starts turning a profit; then it becomes pop culture. Why the uptick in popularity? Because it’s an idea whose time has come.”

What’s important to grasp, though, is that NFTs in their current manifestations likely won’t be how we perceive and use them down the line. NFTs as they exist now are products of how mainstream society has existed to date. Luxury offline brands are being replaced by brag-gable digital swag. Artists are finally making the money they’ve always dreamed of. And the media has a treasure trove to write about. But technology evolves as its usage becomes more diverse, bringing onboard people who cast a wider lens.

This entry-level use case of the tech blinds most people. It’s a buzzword that few understand and most shake their heads over, calling it all sorts of names, whether deserving or not. Naturally, this is propelled by the media. A lot of press – both hype and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) – focus on NFTs’ Flex Factor. This is not only short-sighted but exclusionary. For most of society, NFTs are still very limited in scope. In the crypto industry, we have more of an idea of where things are going, but in truth, no one has a true handle on what the future of NFTs will look like.

Henry Ford said asking the public what they wanted would’ve led to faster horses. The Wright Brothers were accused of a mad man’s fantasy. Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet, said the internet would supernova and collapse within a year…in 1996. So the bigger question is, which visionaries will use the technology, and for what purpose?

This Xmas, I Gave You My (First) NFT

It doesn’t come as a surprise that NFTs have entered the Xmas stocking. Of course, being as new and niche as it is, unless you buy the “right” asset, the act of participating in any manifestation of an NFT Xmas in 2021 is likely a lot more significant than the gift itself.

At AdLunam, where our NFT business use case – investor profiles – looks very different from the typical association with art and collectables, we’re giving away limited edition Xmas ’21 NFTs to our community, with winners being able to direct the design itself.

We’re not doing this because we expect it to 100X in value, but because there’s intangible value in wearing a t-shirt bought on-site at Woodstock 1969. It honours your courage to be an early adopter. So to be part of a group of pioneers who are willing to explore the unknown, that’s worth celebrating – and gifting – this season.

I spoke to the press earlier this week about how an NFT Xmas will look like in our family:

“Our household actively steers away from buying labels, yet we’ll be gifting one other NFTs. For us there won’t be Apes or Punks in our stockings – it’s simply not our thing. Instead, we’re taking our usual Secret Santa online. As a family, we have a ritual of personalising Xmas, from the quirky trees we put up that prizes creativity above tradition, to hand-made gifts that have no “value” other than expressing the identities of both maker and receiver and marking the special relationship between them. This year, we’ll be doing it NFT-style by creating our own custom NFTs. Will this become a thing? Who knows? But the early tech is here now, and we’re making it our own.”

And this is exactly what we did. In 20 years, I might entertain a grandchild with the story. In 40 years, my son could be using it as an example of “Back in my day…” Either way, they now live forever on the blockchain (or as long as these human assets and activities may last).

Fudōshin and the Cherry Blossom Morph Vibes of Web3

My gift to Alexander, entitled Fudōshin – seen here as a PNG that I right-click saved from where it’s listed on his account on Open Sea cos, yes, mere image files are what many NFTs are 🙂 features unlockable content accessible only by the owner.

Here, it links to a password-protected page where I wrote him a letter about the meaning of Fudōshin / 不動心 (literal translation: “Immovable mind”) and the haiku I added as a description:

An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond, splash!
Silence again.
-Matsuo Bashō

What I’m keen to experiment with is the idea of adding to this post every year so that it becomes a living letter on equanimity and mindfulness.

Alexander used a website that generates art by mashing together two separate images. Combining a tree (mutual favourite) and the colour pink (my one true colour-love), the NFT I received was a video of the process called Cherry Blossom Morph 3.0. He first discovered the site a few months ago while helping me research NFT minting platforms, and it’s a sweet memory that’s now stored in a digital time capsule of sorts.

This is likely not something we’ll do again anytime soon. But commemorating the infancy of a future technology by participating in one of its first press ‘n plays has been fun. (Side note: Minting the NFTs and transferring the assets to each others’ accounts didn’t cost a cent, so as far as affordability goes, this might just hold the record for the cheapest digital gifts I’ve ever given or received.)

It’s important to depart from the standard narrative that NFTs are all about digital collectables to upgrade your social status, and this little exercise – little more than once-off sentimentality riding a trendy wave – is solid (pseudo*) on-chain proof.

* Since no fees were charged, it’s not actually on-chain… and what we own are the hyperlinks to the NFTs, not the images themselves. The debate rages on: Is it the contract that’s valuable, or the actual image? Just a few of the growing pains of NFTs.

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