Feeling all the feels while talking all things crypto
A report of STRP Scenario #17: Crypto therapy for mixed crypto feelings
Author — Pernilla Ellens
“You get pulled in out of curiosity, and suddenly you find yourself in Telegram groups, taking part in a community. NFT bloomed during the pandemic, it was a great way to stay entertained and to interact with people. But will all relationships be assets then? Isn’t that scary? Isn’t everything in life we do transactional? Is life not just one big marketplace?”
Above is a paraphrase of some thoughts that were shared during STRP Scenario #17: Crypto Therapy for Mixed Crypto Feelings. The fragment shows how ambiguous the feelings towards crypto are, exploring the full wheel of emotions. On a rainy Friday in April, the Pullman hotel is the setting for some much needed crypto therapy. The sessions are led by curator and writer of digital arts Michelle Kasprzak, who is acting as a therapist for the occasion, and co-created by artist Kyle McDonald. Furnished with soft rugs, green plants and comfortable chairs, the hotel space feels welcoming for the participants to share their heartfelt sentiments. On the tables are boxes of tissues, for when crypto really becomes too overwhelming.
It is undoubtable that NFTs and cryptocurrency evoke a lot of questions in the minds of both tech people, artists, and common citizens alike. NFT is short for non-fungible tokens: these are things, or actually not-things, you can buy on the internet. They have a specific value, and often come in the form of works of visual art. Cryptocurrency then, is the digital monetary system through which the sales of NFTs flow. Opinion in society about NFTs and crypto is mixed to say the least. Tech bro’s praise it, but there is criticism coming from the artworld. The value of a work of art, as determined in the offline world is completely overturned by the existence of the NFT. Then there is the ambiguity around equality and cryptocurrency. Is crypto democratic, because it gives everyone the opportunity to generate wealth, or is it the most crystallized form of capitalism, where the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? And what are the effects of NFTs on the global climate crisis, as all this digital hustle and bustle causes a lot of CO2 emission?
These questions are addressed in the Crypto Therapy sessions. It becomes clear that beneath the questions that this new system and its tokens evoke lies a mix of feelings of fear and insecurity, as well as more hopeful feelings of optimism and excitement. Michelle first asks the participants to name a word, which they associate with NFT and crypto. The words indicate underlying emotions. Some feelings that were mentioned:
After listing these words, Michelle poses a few simple questions, which creates a space for the participants to respond to. The participants play ping pong with each other’s thoughts. The conversation flows easily, with every participant actively partaking in the session. Patient zero, Kyle, responds to the statements by providing a few examples from his personal experience, or by expressing an opposing thought or sentiment, sometimes concluding with analyses.
To give you an idea of the ever-flowing nature of the conversation, here is a rough summary:
It’s an opportunity to make quick money. Many young people are in debt and cannot get a house. Crypto is then a solution. But you have to be able to invest, it’s not free. You need money in your wallet. That wallet is kind of a dream, it gives the illusion of success. Where money in the real bank is concrete and can’t change much, the wallet has the potential to grow into something really big. The crypto wallet sparks hope. But there is also a lot of anxiety. Sometimes a transaction fails, each currency has its own set of rules. Friends who are worth financially more than me, make me anxiously doubt myself. But isn’t that financial success a bubble that’s going to burst?
People who critique cryptocurrency often talk about the ecological impact. Awareness of electricity and sustainability is new. But under this excuse to reject bitcoin lies a deeper question in how we want to be oriented towards our environment. Plus, there is also a sense of shame, of people not knowing what they are talking about. It’s easy to mock something if you don’t understand it.
Transactionality is here to stay. Transactions are made kind of fun, but it can also become an obsession. People get addicted to crypto, and hurt friends and family with their actions like minting. Reflecting on crypto is reflecting on society, under every anxious thought lies a deeper feeling regarding the fast-changing pace of society and the fear about the future.
Towards the end of the sessions, Michelle asked the participants to formulate in one sentence, if their attitude towards NFT and crypto has changed, and whether they are motivated to turn their feelings into actions. Some participants are open to explore NFT’S a bit more, where they were more hesitant before the session. Others are excited to buy an NFT themselves. Some are still processing all the info, and some are disappointed: cryptocurrency is less democratic than they thought. Someone else sees crypto as the basis for a new social construction. Another participant is motivated to start making NFT art themselves. Someone else has been confirmed by the session that you don’t have to own art to enjoy it. One participant noted that after a year of living on Discord, it was really refreshing to finally see and hear people talk about crypto in the real world, outside of the digital world. That hardly happens, and that’s what makes this session valuable, the participant shares as more people nod in agreement.
The purpose of these sessions is not to come up with a definite answer as to whether NFTs are good or bad, or whether a future in which cryptocurrency rules is either bright or doomed. That answer is not proposed in the sessions, either, but the participants have all been able to express their feelings individually and simultaneously getting the opportunity to learn from others by listening. And that’s what makes the STRP Scenario set up special. Because where else in this fast-paced society can you both express yourself and listen to each other in a safe space when it comes to these complex changes in an accelerating world? Whether it stems doomy or gleeful, we cannot deny that cryptocurrency and NFT is blooming.
In all her work, with a critical view, Pernilla Ellens places footnotes on our existing systems and give space to the autonomous and the subversive. She has worked for Onomatopee, Wallspace and Baron Books as a curator and writer. Since 2018 she runs the zine platform Blitz Books. In addition, she helps various artists and initiatives with grant applications, writes for arts and music magazines such as Gonzo (Circus) and Metropolis M, and creates zines herself.