D̶i̶g̶i̶t̶a̶l̶ ̶S̶c̶a̶r̶c̶i̶t̶y̶ Feasible Abundance and the Shock of the Nude
Robert Doisneau: Woman Registering Shock at a Painting of a Nude in Paris Shop Window, 1948
Robert Doisneau: Woman Registering Shock at a Painting of a Nude in Paris Shop Window, 1948

7:17PM CET update: People requested to collect this piece of writing so I made it collectible. That is very nice and compliments the piece. <3

The "Web 3 arbitrarily introduces scarcity to digital media" critique seems to never go away and I think it is fundamentally flawed.

Digital media has always been scarce, because there is a rights holder conferred by law unless that rights holder renounces those rights with a license.

In plain terms, this means that at least in the jurisdictions where I am able to comprehend twitter arguments, when you take a digital photograph or create a piece of digital art, the copyright of that art is automatically assigned to the creator. It is scarce. 1 of 1. In the case of infringement of your rights as copyright holder, it can be advantageous to have formally registered the work, however the fact remains that digital media is scarce at the point of creation.

That these critiques often come from corners who mistakenly characterize crypto as a fraudulent fiction is ironic, as the premise that the digital media we enjoy on previous internets is not scarcely owned by anyone is fictitious. No scarcity is being imposed on media, existing scarcity is being surfaced and experimented with.

This is the brilliance of the NFT experiment. NFTs represent an elegant proposal to attempt what I would describe as feasible abundance. I.e how can we make free media fair for the people creating it?

Decades deep into the internet experiment we had not yet found a way to reconcile our desire to have as many people as possible enjoy media, while also making life financially feasible for the creators of that work. NFTs create games and value exchange around ownership and collection abstracted above access to the content itself, which ought to be available to everyone. As Jacob.eth articulates, the experiment proposes that the more a work is freely available, shared and memed, the more valuable ownership of that work becomes. As such, it is almost impossible to find a piece of NFT art locked behind a token gated wall. In real terms, meaningful scarcity would mean withholding that access.

This premise also explains why many of the most celebrated early NFT auctions from within the Ethereum community were held to retroactively compensate popular memes, from Nyan Cat to Disaster Girl. The values put forward by many corners of the NFT community are that media ought to be freely available, and that free media ought to be valuable. Information is now free and expensive. To achieve both states to the satisfaction of all parties at this immature stage is a minor miracle and to be celebrated.

This accomplishment is made possible through experimentation with previously hidden dynamics, and foregrounding them can be startling to those who were not previously aware of their existence. I call this phenomenon the shock of the nude.

Many critics of crypto and NFTs mistakenly suggest that crypto is introducing financialization, inequity or scarcity to our digital lives. This is false. Public blockchains, through making visible latent forces such as financing, unequal returns, or scarce and valuable ownership, are bringing long existing dynamics to the surface to be scrutinized. These forces are not new, they are nude.

Our previous internet lives are financialized daily on interfaces most of us do not have access to. Web 2 has concentrated wealth and attention to a handful of players at the top (who often most dutifully serve the objectives and accept the universal terms of a handful of platforms), but few other than professional insiders have seen the full extent to which this is true.

What often emerges on twitter is people with a casual, idealistic, fan-side relationship with media condescending those with a longstanding commitment and understanding of their respective industries. This gulf in knowledge becomes apparent when critics are invited to propose their own alternatives to the current state of the web for creators, with highly RTable but practically infeasible ideas ranging from laborious illegible key exchanges on a private database (i.e like a blockchain but way worse) to vague allusions to revive failed state based internets from 50 years ago. These ideas sound nice to an equally inexperienced crowd, but are unserious and do not stand to help anyone but their authors. If only things were so easy!

An unsurprising byproduct of a web modeled to facilitate advertising, it is often quite difficult to discern between solid information and promotional misdirection on Web 2. There is a significant discrepancy between the statistics the public has access to and the hard financial and industrial realities obscured by them.

In the arts, the followers and stream numbers we see are a very distorted indicator of how well the person in question is doing financially, and say little of how people actually make a living. Due to tired dynamics of self promotion and brand construction encouraged by web 2 platforms, there is little incentive for anyone to disclose that they are struggling or in a precarious position. Crypto’s public ledgers shatter illusions and hold potential of unveiling sobering truths. Web 2 is the grift. Web 3 is a gift. It is not morally sound to accept that many people are committing their 20s and 30s to participating in a fiction while silently struggling, adrift of access to good information.

Only once the warts-and-all truth is made visible do we have any hope of addressing how the world actually works. The shock of the nude may be a cold shower, but a dose of reality is far more useful to practicing artists or internet denizens than a fictitious understanding of the web and creative industries. Access to more accurate information outside of the promotional mirage of likes and follows is an uncontroversial good for anyone aspiring to make a living.

That said, while public ledgers make it quite difficult for many to pretend that things are going better than they actually are, there is no shortage of illusion creation on public blockchains too. For a minority who have the means, it is possible to distort perceptions by illicitly pumping bags, making anonymous acquisitions and the like. Public ledgers are no panacea, however I find it far preferable that such coordinated distortions be legible and open to scrutiny. As discussed in our podcast with Context.app, more tools are being built to make on-chain activity human legible.

It will become harder and harder over time to get away with as new forms of journalism are made possible through the ability to track foul play, even retroactively. As Taylor Monahan recently suggested on Twitter, so far often the best policing of foul play in crypto has come from within crypto itself, and that accountability will spread as more learn how to read on-chain activity.

You can follow me @matdryhurst on twitter

We discuss matters like this with wonderful guests weekly on the Interdependence podcast

Subscribe to Herndon Dryhurst Studio
Receive the latest updates directly to your inbox.
Mint this entry as an NFT to add it to your collection.
This entry has been permanently stored onchain and signed by its creator.