Why I refrained from minting my work as NFT’s and created my own protocol instead.
The Age of “Mining”
“Mine” is one of the first words we use as children. As every parent knows all too well it is a perfectly normal phase of childhood development for toddlers to suddenly proclaim that everything is “mine!”. As young children we begin to understand the concept of possession, test boundaries, and gain identity through asserting the things around us as mine. Then as we grow older we gradually get better at managing our wants and needs in a far more socially acceptable manner, but the desire for declaring possession never tends to fully recede.
It seem to me that the infant technologies of both #Cryptocurrencies and #NFTs are still in their developmental “mine” phase. Both in terms of their physical state of being mined (extracted through complex computation processing) and their metaphysical state of being mine’d (exclusively claimed). A blockchain ledger is essentially the exact definition of an assertion and validation of what is and isn’t “mine” for everyone using it. The Age of Mining is causing us to become increasingly possessed by our meta-possessions and the ability to take meta-possession of digital assets.
The act of claiming possession, and exchanging rights of ownership, is of course nothing new, and indeed it is not inherently ‘immoral’ (but has undeniably led to holistically immoral acts and histories). It does, however, raise questions and concerns for the social and ideological presuppositions upon which NFT’s are currently built upon.
The introduction of Non-Fungible Tokens solved a significant issue with digital cultural production: realising financial compensation for the time, talent, innovation, intellectual property, and contributions to culture. More specifically NFT’s are unique in facilitating compensation to digital creators in something other that “kudos” [the likes, shares, comments, views, and social status signifiers that have become the default payment model of Web 2.0]. But just like the vast majority of technological progress, with the pros also comes the cons. The cons in this case being a distinct similarity to the same ‘market commodification’ and ‘exclusive ownership’ of centralised capitalism, the same forces that at first #crypto appeared to retaliate against, but now seems to be fully embracing. I fully realise that this is an oversimplification of all that crypto and NFT’s have to offer.. but the very presence of these tendencies didn’t / doesn’t sit well with me.
The second issue I had is the NFT auction houses. An auction is a performance specifically engineered to maximise an asset’s value through the manipulation of scarcity uniquely driven by anxiety and #FOMO. All auctions tend to be time limited, as the time ticks down the sense of scarcity in-turn ratchets up. And it is this scarcity, the endeavouring to claim something as ‘mine’ in competition with other who want to make that same claim, that ultimately engineers an asset to find its ultimate ‘value’. Or so the theory goes. Again, there is nothing inherently immoral about this, but it does raise the question: are Web3 NFT auctions now the ONLY emerging alternative option to the dominant Web2 model of payment in “kudos”?
A question of Value(s)
It was this question of alternatives that initiated how isnt came about. If a digital media asset isn’t merely published for kudos, nor commodified into financial value, what viable options remain for that asset? For me this is best considered through our interpretation of the notion of value. Value can both be defined as ‘estimate the monetary worth’ OR ‘the regard that something is held to deserve’. What we value is defined by our values — there is an alternative internet to the emerging Internet of Value, and that is the residual Internet of Values.This is the version of the internet where transactions in; accountability, solidarity, community, and attribution are valued as equally, or more, important than transactions of information. isnt.cc is an experiment in embedding such values into digital media.
isnt is a new approach to working with, and within, the internets as a shared and attributable cultural commons
•What if a digital asset wasn’t defined as just being mine or your, but everyones?
•What if the publication of digital assets wasn’t built upon the theory of supply and demand markets, but on the theory of a shared commons?
•How can a digital asset achieve fair financial compensation without relying upon an exchange of exclusive ownership?
•What if we returned to the pre-centralisation possibilities of Web1?
The protocol of isnt is pretty simple. Rather than put the entirety of our effort and bets into the decentralisation projects of Web3, why not return to the pre-centralisation potential of the distributed networks we first found in Web1?Web1 was, in hindsight, actually not that bad.
isnt market commodification
Rather than rely upon the valuation mechanics of markets (specifically auctions), why not lever the existing but hardly recognised payment model of Pay What You Want (validated with a Trust Score)? And rather than ignore and exploit creative attribution, why not make it the norm under a Creative Commons licence?
isnt exclusive ownership
The primary three projects I’ve published to isnt are intended to set the tone for not only how isnt might formally evolve, but also how these works have already been informally evolving through loosely attributed citations, translations, and reinterpretations. Open source files associated with each published project are now available to further continue this evolution, with more to follow.
The first, Users Are / People Are, is probably my most shared and most attributed work to date — as such it’s ‘Post-Publication Fork Log’ is rich in examples from linguistic translations, to citations, to re-interpretations.
The second, Preferability, has currently seen far less post-publication activity but illustrates a vast heritage in its ‘Pre-Publication Fork Log’ of futures cones.
The third, This, represents a median ground between pre-publication and post-publication attribution - with it’s very existence based upon a call to action to collectively ideate and share emergent pluralities.
isnt artificial scarcity
Each work has been associated with an ascending, rather than descending, timestamp as a means to favour future emergence over imminent scarcity. Some works might have achieved a degree of recognition and significance over time, where as others could be just hours old and still potent in potential. This is a shift in temporal horizons that quite literally inverts market norms from a scarcity mindset, to the appreciation of abundance.
As a metaphor I propose isnt as a comparison to the undervalued/unvalued stencil of a Banksy work. Not the work itself, nor the certificate of ownership, but the means to recreate and reinterpret work. What if we all shared our stencils? A very current example of stencil-like publishing is perfectly incapsulated in the recent Holly Herndon/Mat Dryhurst project. Holly+ is a free to use webtool that allows anyone access to Holly Herndon’s synthesised voice. Holly+ is arguably the stencil to her most recent album Proto. It is a benevolent act of “commoning” not only her voice, but her ideology and working methodolgy.
isnt only mine, isnt only yours
All of this is a brief attempt to describe what isnt both is and isn’t, and the specific reasons it isn’t those things. To define things not as they are, but by what they aren’t, seems counterintuitive but it is in fact the very foundations of our reality.
Once a child learns to stop defining things as “mine” they enter a far richer social world of sharing and collaboration, of relationships and intersubjectivity, and of coexistence and interdependence. Maybe the crypto “mines” will also grow out of its own possession.
Ted Hunt is a London based independent speculative and critical designer. His research and development into time and temporality includes the collaboration with King’s College London Sense of Time — which recently has gone on to be realised in the crowdfunded projects Circa Solar and Circa Lunar — along with the fourth-dimensional thinking consultancy x-AXIS. He is a graduate of The Royal College of Art and currently a fellow of the School of Critical Design and advisor to The Billion Second Institute.