Let's Not Forget Dissent-ralisation
This is our opportunity to construct a new economic fabric; one that is inherently collaborative, creative and non-extractive. We mustn't compromise our vision.
As you have probably guessed by now, I am enthralled by the world of NFTs, the future potential that they unlock for artists and other creatives, and I can't wait to see how it all unfolds over the next few decades.
These decentralised networks have the feeling of being an asteroid; an object from outside of our known realm, having landed in the midst of our reality. As the first discoverers, we slowly poke and prod this strange entity, in an attempt to fully come to terms with what has just landed. H.P. Lovecraft's short story, 'A Colour Out of Space' sings as a somewhat horrific metaphor for the way this immaterial manifestation is leaking into various facets of our lives; morphing and transforming the organic matter around it as it seeps into our bodies and minds and takes hold of our ideas.
My Concern: Where Does This Lead Us?
I do think there is a fear to be aware of as this unknown entity comes to embed itself into our world. That fear is around the relentlessly extractive economics of the current system simply being layered on top of this creature and blanketing all of it’s radical potential to disrupt.
As a passionate creative and critical thinker, I don’t want this opportunity we have to build a better world, to be taken away from us by the greed and cumbersome mudslide that is the worst of our traditional thinking. By us, I mean the creatives, the dreamers, the activists, the technologists, the progressives and the critical thinkers who seek to discover an alternative to what we are currently taking part in; consumed in the hyper-capitalist world bred from neoliberal economics that’s been uncahllenged since the days of Thatcher/Reagan.
Case in Point: Balenciaga X Fortnite
$725 hoodies isn’t going to lead us anywhere different to where we’ve already been.
So: can it lead us somewhere new? Towards a world of freedom, truth, creativity, community, connection and abundant discovery? I believe so, but that dream will have to be fought for, and we will be sold a million lies along the way by those we should be warned against trusting. We must be smart. We must have a plan. And we mustn’t compromise our dream of a better world.
The Bigger Picture Behind NFTs and Decentralisation
I think there is a dangerous short-sightedness in seeing NFTs and crypto as simply a way to make money fast. Of course a lot of people are excited about this developing space because of the opportunities to make money fast; flipping jpegs and accumulating dramatic wealth overnight. Whether that be artists rushing to put out work, trying to capture their corner of the market with drops and promises, or collectors buying the hype and pumping the price to sell at the top. These are inevitable in a market such as this, where there is intense speculation, very little regulation, and when people are seeing stories of ‘the winners’ as a green light to pull the trigger on nearly any project with the slightest hint of repeating CryptoPunk’s/BAYC’s exponential growth.
There is a danger in this though. This is the qualities of the old system being basely implanted onto this new space, with little thought and time taken to try and dig deeper, to potentially uncover how this space can be something absolutely socioeconomically new and liberating. This has the potential to completely rewrite the structures of our value systems, in a way that supports community initiatives, ‘cooperative assimilation and financial freedom in a non-exploitative financial arrangement.’
This means stepping away from the jpegs for a second, to think at a much broader scale about the decentralised system we are just beginning to engage with, and speculate on how this could upset the standard, and be the foundation to a fundamentally different economic system.
I think this is a tremendously exciting, if not complicated concept to wrap our heads around, but it begins by reading and breaking things down simply in order to make sense of it in the big picture, which is what I hope to do here.
Economic Space Agency
There are a few organisations and people out there; incredibly smart and critical thinkers, who are laying the groundwork for this adaptation. It begins first with the language we use to talk about such change, and so the best place for me to begin my research was with the Economic Space Agency.
Economic Space Agency (ECSA) is a digital economy organisation and an international network of radical economists, developers and artists. ECSA works on a post-capitalist economic expression capable of communicating intangible values such as care and the biosphere, and develops a distributed post-blockchain environment to enable the creation of modular, interconnected economic spaces.
This is a group of technologists, critical thinkers, philosophers, game theorists who are coming together to try and mock up the new language we can all engage with to express the new economic structure they see great potential to develop in the decentralised networks.
The economic space they speculate on is one that is inherently entrepreneurial-entredonneurial - a network of holding and giving - a shared place of 'fully modular and interoperable economic spaces' to collectively distribute the risks and opportunities of living. After describing the Euclidean economics of today, “defined by the competition of economic agents over scarce resources,” they build a new vision of it’s opposite:
“In contrast, non-Euclidean economic spaces move beyond the imaginary of limitations, austerity, scarcity and powerlessness, foregrounding a continuous unfolding of possibilities, options, connections and creativity. When resources and affordances get shared on a distributed platform, they become nomadic and start to mutate. Non-Euçlidean economic spaces call for a non-linear distribution where nothing pertains or belongs only to one person, but all persons are arrayed here and there in such a manner as to make possible a greater range of interactions. Nomadic economic spaces are the associated milieu of the networked tribes of the 21st century. They are the spaces of continuous innovation and as n-dimensional programmable and vibratory metamorphosis. Think of them as organisations that allow for the creation and circulation of new types of value. Econauts will navigate these financial and futurial border-spaces that are not hard and bounded - liminal spaces that allow you to fold yourself within and without.”
When I read how they talk about the interactions in this economic space, it strongly reminds me of my research into the Situationists; a collective of French radicals in the 60's led by the political activist Guy Debord, author of The Society of the Spectacle. As a collective they attempted to bring down the establishment with a will to ‘no work’, a will to wander freely in space and express the politics of our bodies in public space through dérives; a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. These acts of wandering around a city, following epicentres of ambiance were early examples of psychogeography. Below is an example of a map they built, designed to break away from the idea of Euclidean urban geometry. Instead they pushed for a much more nomadic and collaborative creation, and experience of urban space, following the natural ecology and variations of space.
ESA’s Non-Euclidean description is incredibly un-economic in the context of modern times, but that is what we have the chance to build on the decentralised framework that is busy transforming the future. The more gifted thinkers we have theorising on this, the more this new space will come to reflect what we need it to, not what we are sold into.
It's helpful to have such spatial and architectural metaphors for complex economic theories. It helps make them relatable, tangible and experiential, as opposed to conceptual and hard to grasp.
“Humans are spatial creatures. We experience most of life in relation to space.”
The Situationists took aim in their incredibly innovative architectural imaginings at Euclidean thinkers such as Le Corbusier, who was best known for describing a house as 'a machine for living.' He very much designed the heart and soul out of urban spaces with his grand and egotistical visions of system-based, rigid space control - breaking peoples lives and ways of living into the broad subdomains of work, leisure and rest.
The Situationist’s countered this with a radically free and open alternative mode of being. A network of living that allowed for the continuous expression and discovery of life in uninhibited states of play. They dreamed of a world of continual imagination and expression, and this very much lines up with the economic space that is being framed by the language and vision of those at ESA.
For me, as a human being who is passionate about creativity, the power of the imagination and the collective beauty in expressing our underlying collective consciousness together in atmospheres of festival and life, the fact that there is beginning to be a pivot in the way that economics could potentially function in our lives, and become a place of non-extractive play and discovery, is one that is extremely intriguing.
It gives me further belief in all of the people educating themselves on NFTs; how to mint, exchanging value the world over, engaging in this new decentralised system - economically ‘playing’. They are the pioneers, and it is in those communities of play that future systems of being will be built and discovered. It’s early in its’ days, and that experimental space must be nurtured. Those communities are helping fuel the generation of these new economic spaces built on community, creativity, connection, play and expression; and in doing so they are building the new world ahead of us.
These are the econauts that are stepping into the unknown and forging new liminal networks that are subtly taking power away from the old antiquated system, and replacing it with something that can't be controlled or tampered with by any singular authority. It is a shared consensus network and everyone has the incentive to maintain it, which is why blockchain technology, and decentralised systems have so much to offer us as a species; tribes looking after and exchanging value with one another as an act of creative expression.
…the next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.”
I think it is great that people are being attracted to the space with creative intent, to innovate and share and connect at a global level, because that energy will define the sense of play and discovery that I hope lives through it going forward.
“Social software is an interesting special case where the strongest forces of improvement are users’ actions… The reason Wikipedia works so brilliantly are subtle design features that sculpt the torrent of user edits such that they yield a net improvement over time.”
So the fact it is in the disguise of a toy right now is almost necessary. It’s just we need to simultaneously spend time doing the hard work, asking the big questions and working together to develop the disruptive potential of the technology for the good of our global socioeconomic health.
Sense of Play and Discovery in 3D
With the game-like environments of 3D digital space, I think there is a case for the gamification of economic theory and engagement.
“Game-like interfaces could be incredible for almost any social use-case, not just for running conferences. However, these interfaces are usually combined with a competitive objective. What if they weren't?
I think there is an incredibly exciting UX challenge that is only just beginning to be explored. This is how the use of space can be designed in a way that allows for complex theories and concepts to be explored, like a video game. That is why the language used by ESA, and it’s similarity to the Situationists and their experiments, strikes me as an interesting example of how metaphors within space could be built to hold and exchange knowledge and understanding.
We could have games for anything. Games for attending classes, co-working, and making art. Games for work. Games for just hanging out. We're going to make these kinds of games. But at this point, it's time we stop thinking about them as games and start considering them part of a broader field: spatial interfaces.”
The idea of these spatial interfaces could penetrate so many layers of our reality, and by making them decentralised and globally accessible, we could build a University of Metaspace, open for all and explorable by anyone. This brings to life Borges’ Library of Babel, an endless labyrinthine hall of books in every possible combination. The implications for open knowledge, learning and interaction are dramatic.
At its’ heart is the need for humans to take part in stories, to explore and discover and find meaning in their lives. To inspire them to see things differently and to think outside the box. That is a future I would give everything for.
Look to Nature for Guidance
“I’m not trying to copy Nature, I’m trying to find the principles she’s using.”
— R. Buckminster Fuller
So after going through my concerns, laying down the description of a new economic space courtesy of ESA and imagining how this space could be programmable, explorable and open to all, how do we make it happen?
Is it possible to co-opt the useful functions of a healthy market economy and expand them to include a more complete concept of economic success, creating a new method of truly global collaboration in the process?
It can feel overwhelming to think about where we start in making this happen, and how we could even begin to change the world. However, as I have said above, the work has already begun, and we have already come so far.
There is no need to be overwhelmed or hesitant, or baffled by the size of the job or the language. It is a matter of play and continuous discovery, as part of a global community. Apes together; strong. I don’t mean Bored Apes, I mean all of us, exploring the metaverse, building communities, sharing ideas, supporting one another and slowly liberating ourselves from the shackles of the old system, and discovering the rules of this new one.
I think there is a huge amount of hope and inspiration in simply observing how nature survives, mutates, adapts and supports itself.
Murmuration is a beautiful example of complex group decision making in the absence of hierarchy.
If we look around at nature, we can find many examples of self-organising systems that achieve complex and efficient system design and management — without anyone in charge.
The process of nature is slow and organic, it happens without you realising. Take the example of a plant emerging from the soil. It seems to happen extremely slowly, until you watch the process in time-lapse and realise it’s an incredible dance, and the activity is extremely dynamic, it just happens at a different rate of time than we witness.
So I have faith in the organic growth of these ideas and spaces, and with playful curiosity, alongside the hard work of asking the big questions and pushing away bad actors, we can guide ourselves towards the sun and open up to a flush meadow of rich pollen and vibrant colour, for all the bees to thrive amongst.
The late Mark Fisher, who left such a huge impact on the fabric of Goldsmiths where I had the good fortune of studying, saw through the promise that digital companies sold as ‘social change’ in what he called “the great digital swindle”. Fisher stated that “generalised insecurity [precariousness] leads to sterility and repetition, not to surprise or invention,” and warned of the extractive animal behind the bewitching mask of the corporate marketing machine; an ugly mutation of the spectacle that Debord fought to penetrate.
Mark relentlessly attacked digital propaganda from very early on and he did so from a position of deep fascination for cybernetics and the (pop)culture it spawned.
I sense great reasons to be optimistic about what’s to come. I am aware of the extractive games that are being played out with NFTs right now, and I think that is a feature, not a bug right now. It is a stepping stone into bigger ideas and concepts beyond the ‘get-rich-quick’, and the more people that begin to scratch at that scab, the more it bleeds, and the faster we start to see the wound we are all carrying on our backs
There is a radiant intensity in his work that is extremely life affirming, always searching for cracks in a suffocating present; cracks that might lead toward a possible future.
Thinkers such as Fisher, and organisations such as the Economic Space Agency and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (of which Fisher was a member of), can guide us in developing a common language, and a common space, where these ideas can be explored, nurtured and discovered in a collaborative dance.
I hope I have gone a small way to convincing you of this. It’s incredibly fun exchanging jpeg’s and participating in a global conversation, but there is so much at stake for so many. I see decentralised networks as a tool we can all collectively operate, to wrestle back some of the power we all have to help one another, and discover a much more penetrating sense of place and purpose as a member of a global, creative community.
Here’s to the journey.