We’re Not Here to Tokenize the World

Dec 6, 2018 · 5 min read

How we can get to higher-order creations in the world of creative cryptoassets.

The first article in this two-part series explored how the language we use is quietly — yet powerfully — shaping our ability bring creative new concepts into the cryptoasset world, specifically with regard to non-fungible tokens (NFTs). In this piece we come to understand how our ideas can unintentionally trap us in our current limited understanding, when what we truly want to express—as designers and developers working with creative cryptoassets—lies somewhere beyond.

Higher-Order Creations

In the best case, aligned language and metaphors support our creative endeavors, helping us envision and build new ways of doing. In the worst case, they hinder our expression and ability to explore higher-order creations — those things that truly advance the utility of a new medium.

The most interesting creations of a new medium are those that make use of what is possible, given that medium’s unique features and potential. So it is critical that we employ the right metaphors to help frame our thinking. Currently with NFTs and other creative cryptoassets, we are largely exploring first-order creations rooted in financial idea-space — which is a great starting point, but a starting point nonetheless. And we must avoid confusing our current state with our goal state.

Bridges and Books, and Evolving Metaphors

Early metaphors for new things tend to anchor our thinking in past creations, and this can dramatically slow their evolution. We always evolve eventually, but how fast evolution happens is a function of imaginative capacity and context.

Take bridges as an example. For thousands of years humans built stone bridges with similar arch structures due to the properties of the material. Then a fundamentally new material, became available: iron.

With iron, you might expect completely new bridge forms featuring increasingly audacious designs to emerge at rivers and divides around the world. But when looking at early iron bridge construction, the first several rounds of bridges mimicked the structures of stone that came before it. These early bridges missed the highest application of the new material; they were first-order creations — essentially stone bridges made of iron.

Today we have bridges with entirely new designs that couldn’t possibly be built using only materials like stone. But it took many years to go from first-order creations (stone bridges of iron) to the higher order creations we now see.

The same goes for the printing press; the first printed books mimicked finely calligraphed bibles.

It wasn’t until publishers freed themselves from their initial comparisons to handwritten texts that they were able to develop the new medium to its fullest—exploring the potential of block letters and text. Higher-order form factors took many years to emerge, as did the associated higher-order content.

Beyond Tokenization

Bringing it back to our industry, we’re currently focused on tokenizing (the act of converting assets into some form of a token) because that’s what current the metaphor offers. But tokenizing is still a first-order creation—a stone bridge out of iron—and we should all be interested in going beyond that.

We’re not here to tokenize the world.

Because today, tokenizing is a reflex. It is a useful starting point, but we must remember that tokenizing is not the end-game. And blindly acting without understanding this fact can limit our evolution of the technology because we risk becoming too enchanted with these first-order creations.

We’ll need to do better quickly, because the things we create in this domain are going to become complex — fast. Our creations will communicate with (and relate to) each other, people, and the world in completely unique ways. Thus, we need to reach into completely new territory if we are to fully explore expression, definition, and creation in this emerging domain.

Now Is The Time

As it stands, now is the perfect time to collectively find the right metaphor for NFTs to help us imagine and build higher-order creations. Our ecosystem is large enough that people in the world know about what we’re doing, yet small enough that we’re all two degrees removed from anyone we need to speak with.

It is a moment of extremely high leverage. And it is the right moment to imbue our domain with more interesting things than the financial world offers., so let us wield language and ideas with new intent.

Why, you ask? Because NFTs deal in something more universal.

Human Universals

At their core, NFTs hold functions that let people play with identity creation, definition, and interaction — through world-building, gaming, collectibles, and new uses yet to come. As a result of these simple (yet powerful) capabilities, NFTs wind up dealing in the worlds of magic, myth, and play. They tap into what anthropologist Donald Brown termed “human universals.” These are traits and characteristics that span continent, culture, and time: universal parts of our shared human experience.

It is universality that awakens creative engagement.

It is universality which hints at something that carries far greater potential than what we see in these early days.

And it is universality that invites every writer, designer, engineer, artist, and contributor in this ecosystem to imagine a new use of language that can expand our collective, creative capacity.

Let’s build that new world together.

Got ideas for new language or metaphors that we can use for creative cryptoassets? Tell us at @ideocolab.


A collaborative network focused on accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies. ideocolab.com

Thanks to IDEO CoLab and Gian Pangaro


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color provided by thoughts


A collaborative network focused on accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies. ideocolab.com

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