What NFTs, the iPhone Launch & David Bowie Have in Common 👨🎤
Experiment your way to the future — how I'm looking at NFTs, with thanks to the iPhone launch of 2007 and David Bowie.
This week I’ve been looking into NFTs, a kind of digital asset that has taken crypto culture onto “the streets” — due to its internet-meme aesthetics, along with some 80s-style $$ greed. While many in the tech community are highly critical of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), there may be viable use cases for it. I mention art and book distribution examples in the newsletter.
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that we don’t always see the use cases for a new technology at first. Case in point: 15 years ago this week, Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone (see my thoughts on that in the ‘Notes from the Past’ section). But in that announcement, Jobs missed or glossed over two things about the iPhone that would completely change our culture: third-party apps, and the camera. So even Steve Jobs didn’t truly forsee how the smartphone would revolutionize our society. I’m not saying NFTs are equivalent to the iPhone (!!), I’m just pointing out that it often takes several years for new internet technologies to settle and reveal their use cases. Also, it sometimes needs complementary technologies to emerge (in the case of the smartphone camera, it needed social media to grow some more before the likes of Instagram could combine those technologies and build amazing products). All of this is why I’m keeping an open mind about NFTs.
Oh, and don’t miss my ‘one more thing’ this week — celebrating David Bowie’s life and his internet explorations of the 1990s. One of Bowie’s great achievements was teaching us to experiment with new things and play at the edges.
Notes from the Present 📱
NFTs Influencing Street Culture
I don't claim to understand street culture these days, but there's no doubting NFTs are part of it now...
The Bored Ape What Now!?
The Bored Ape Yacht Club was the most popular collection of NFTs over 2021. This Rolling Stone feature last November is a good intro:
[…] the four thirtysomethings behind Bored Ape Yacht Club — a collection of 10,000 NFTs, which house cartoon primates and unlock the virtual world they live in — were living modest lifestyles and working day jobs as they fiddled with creative projects on the side. Now, they’re multimillionaires who made it big off edgy, haphazardly constructed art pieces that also act as membership cards to a decentralized community of madcaps.
In a tweet thread, the founders described their background. It’s another clue that crypto/NFT culture is about to collide with the metaverse trend:
Book Distribution as NFTs
While the current NFT craze is largely based on speculation and interest from “the street,” some of us are looking out for more practical use cases. Billionaire investor (and Dallas Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban thinks NFTs could change book distribution:
“Now you can distribute the book as an NFT, with the smart contract associated with that NFT enabling the payment of royalties to the author, publisher, teacher, school, whoever. As a result, each semester rather than shipping/re-selling physical books, w/no $ to stakeholders”
He summarized his thinking in the following tweet:
I’m also intrigued by how artists — whether they be digital media artists, painters, or whatever — can potentially earn an income via NFTs. I have to research this more, but this week I came across an Australian project that supports local artists:
Celebrities Get in on Web3 Craze
But…there is a lot of noise around NFTs, including from The A List. Reese Witherspoon has an NFT profile pic and has also drunk the metaverse kool-aid:
My Column: Nvidia’s Metaverse Pivot
NVIDIA goes all-in on virtual world tooling for consumers and creators, after starting out as primarily an enterprise platform. Just don't mention the M-word. Check out my column about this news.
Wordle is a Web App (Not a Native App)
You may’ve noticed the latest trend on social media, a word game called Wordle. It’s a daily guess-the-word challenge that takes about five minutes to do each time. It’s fun and evidently addictive (judging by how many of my Twitter contacts are sharing their results). What’s especially great about Wordle is that it is not an iOS or Android app — rather, it’s a website, a.k.a. a web app on your mobile device. Anything that routes around walled garden platforms and runs on the web is ok in my book. (Also, Apple has had to remove a bunch of app clones trying to take advantage of Wordle’s success.)
You might also be interested in some of the social media theory and design mechanics behind Wordle, which this thread unpacks:
Internet Culture is Impacting Novels
One of my favourite authors is Bret Easton Ellis, a key trendsetter for Generation X (my generation). He runs an awesome podcast too, which you can subscribe to via Patreon. In the latest episode, he made a comment that novels written by millennials tend to be “inert,” because the authors are too focused on screen time and they don’t seem to get out much. Ellis has a love/hate relationship with millennials (his boyfriend is one), but even so it is something to ponder as we enter the crypto-fueled metaverse era — will the next generation of novelists have enough real-life experience? Or will novels even matter to this new generation?
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Notes from the Past ☎️
The iPhone Turns 15 — It Changed Our Culture
This week it’s 15 years since Steve Jobs announced the iPhone at MacWorld, in January 2007.
TechCrunch reporter Ron Miller pointed out that one feature of iPhone 1 was conspicuously absent from the keynote:
“Jobs didn't even mention the camera in that summary, but that would be a big part of the change we would later see, being able to take photos and video wherever we happened to be and share them with the world instantly.”
The camera has arguably been the most influential feature of smartphones over the past 15 years (other than perhaps apps). The ability to post photos and video to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snap, and now TikTok, has been the main driver of the ascent of mainstream internet culture. Webheads of my generation joined the internet revolution in the text-based era of early blogs and even the early years of Twitter. While we also had Flickr and YouTube from the mid-2000s, it wasn’t until smartphones really took off in the 2010s that the internet began to set the culture. And it all goes back to that first iPhone.
As for the Blackberry…
Things didn’t go so well for RIM, as this Twitter thread shows:
Pivot to Video
Ah yes, remember the ‘pivot to video’ era of the web? From about 2015 on, web publishers began letting go of their journalists and switched to producing short-form videos for social media platforms like Facebook. It was a disaster for many publishers, as this 2017 article attests:
“Venture-backed startups like Vice, BuzzFeed, Vox, and others have increasingly thrown money into video production in the hope of capturing ad revenue on Facebook and capitalizing on the disruption of the traditional TV business. Neither has yet to materialize to an extent that can sustain expensive accountability journalism.”
One More Thing 📞
This week we remembered one of the pivotal artists of our time: David Bowie. His birthday was on 8th January (he would’ve been 75), followed by the sixth anniversary of his passing on 10 January 2016.
See you next week! Do reach out by email (just hit reply) or on Twitter (@ricmac) if you have any content suggestions, or just want to touch base.