Tuesday, January 31

By becoming an NFT, Steve Smith is stumbling into a culture war he may not fully understand | JR Hennessy

yesor has it come to this. The coda to a long history of Australian cricket memorabilia, from Don Bradman’s baggy green to Channel Nine’s deep vault of autographed ephemera: Steve Smith is becoming an NFT.

in a instagram post At the end of last week, the Australian vice-captain announced a partnership with Glorious Digital, a New Zealand NFT studio. thrown by All Blacks great Dan Carter. The studio plans to launch a range of digital collectibles this month, with collaborators including Crowded House’s Neil Finn and the estate of Kiwi portrait and landscape artist Rita Angus.

There’s no word yet on what Smith’s collection will contain, but it can be safely assumed there will be no references to Sandpapergate, artistic or otherwise. Presumably, it will offer more than just photos of Smith staring pensively into the middle distance, as the Instagram post might suggest. The price devoted Smith-heads will end up paying is also unclear, but Glorious Digital is currently selling a “founder membership” package for 0.75 Ethereum, or around $2,500.

Response to the announcement has been, to put it charitably, mixed. Amid the flood of love heart emojis from Indian cricket fans, a number of Smith’s supporters are uneasy. “This is not all, boss,” reads one comment. “Congratulations on a massive scam,” reads another.

Smith is likely just looking for a way to get more revenue from an audience hungry for collectibles and memorabilia. But, perhaps unknowingly, he has also stumbled upon a thriving Internet culture war. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have become mainstream over the past year, with clear battle lines drawn between passionate advocates and those who think they are, well, extremely stupid.

No doubt you’ve come across many stories when explaining what NFTs are (here’s one from The Guardian), but the simple version is this: they are bits of data stored on the blockchain that provide proof of ownership of some asset or other. NFTs are not cryptocurrencies per se, but they are in the same ballpark and digital currencies like Ether are generally used to buy and sell them. They can represent ownership of all sorts of things, but the one use that has captured the imagination of the internet and beyond is digital art.

For true believers, NFTs are the spearhead of an exciting new economic order centered on artists and creators. The future is online, they say, and soon the divide between the internet and “reality” will atrophy, bringing unlimited economic growth and eventually the chance for those artists to be properly compensated for their work. They envision a world where everything is associated with a corresponding blockchain token that can be sold, traded, or loaned, from event tickets and club memberships to real estate.

Critics say that this is all self-justifying nonsense, and that we are in the midst of a speculative frenzy not unlike the tulip mania which took over the Netherlands in the 17th century. Seen from this less charitable angle, the sparkling NFT market is fueled not by its potential to bring about sea change in art and commerce, but by a legion of homebound players looking for ever newer ways to secure their purse. .

Once the tide goes out, the Covid fog clears and a red-hot, overstimulated global economy cools down a bit, the notion of paying huge sums of money for a ledger entry, corresponding to a series of ones and Zeros, in turn corresponding to a link to a picture of a cricketer, will appear much less attractive, these critics argue.

Other critics, including many in Smith’s comments section, focus on the environmental impact of crypto mining, though Glorious Digital insists it is working to ensure the energy footprint of its ecosystem “operates at a minimum.”

Somewhere in the midst of these epic debates about the future of capitalism and the internet is something far more bland: brands and public figures trying to capture a piece of the pie, for better or worse.

That’s where we find Smith, along with a growing legion of athletes and other celebrities, trying to make a quick buck from an audience that has been willing to buy just about anything, as long as it’s signed up to the blockchain and offers the dim promise of big profits in the near future. There is certainly money there. According to TheBlockResearch, there was a turnover of $2.2 billion on Ethereum-based exchanges in December alone.

It’s safe to say that Smith probably doesn’t have a bold vision to revolutionize the art world, unless the NFT brand’s growing army of strategists has really caught his eye. You’re much more likely to see your next collection as something akin to whipping an autographed bat.

But, diving into this brave new world, you might find that digital collectibles are more politically charged than a baggy green.

  • JR Hennessy is a Sydney-based writer who directs The terminal, a newsletter about business, technology, culture and politics


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