About the miasma of art made in the chain of blocks. A personal ramble. Just to preserve my current thoughts for my future self.
So I’ve been lurking, watching, since the first phase of the hype in April 2021. There’s no need to get into what Chain of Block Art is and what it does, as other people have explained the phenomenon better than I will ever do.
Let’s get this out of the way too: I’m not convinced by Chain of Block Art or this corporate-capitalist new mall called the Verse of Meta*. As someone who grew up on the internet; who has deeply experienced and witnessed multiple virtual communities/worlds like it’s a second culture (Neopets, forums, Deviantart, Tumblr); who makes webcomics; whose career is almost entirely based online; who passively reads about AI and startups; who watched the weird epic of WeWork from darling start to embarrassing finish; who saw the emergence of social media, gig economy, digital commerce, smartphones powering our world etc… there’s nothing that the chain enhances or improves for art or MMOs any better than whatever current technology we have or alternative technologies present and future.
*I’m intentionally bastardising the names so that search engines will not log my post. It’s the same thing I do for Book of Face and Blue Bird Site.
My qualm is not so much technical as
I’ve read the pieces, I’ve read the buzz, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t evoke anything in me other than disinterest.
I’m super fine with it btw.
I’m interested in the future (in the sense that I want us to continue surviving on a climate-stable Earth while improving everyone’s quality of life), but does the technological future really need that much hyping? If something is truly going to part of our mundane day-to-day in a decade, like cars, telegrams, ATMs, QR code payments, lasers, then it’ll come in ways that are equally mundane and so boring that usage becomes as thoughtless as printing a receipt from a cashier machine. It’ll come… probably, so why should I be forced into it right now? I don’t think technology that will become mundane-use needs more of my attention beyond ‘huh, okay, noted.’
Maybe that makes me lazy and potentially a billion dollars poorer (the popular quip about time-travelling to invest in Apple stocks, which if you read my time-travelling funpost sometime back, is not what I’d do), but I recognise I have two specific roles as a words-and-pictures creator who makes things based on my interests and a normie who just wants to enjoy my time on the planet with things that truly matter. Neither personas are interested in becoming an investor, a speculator, a tech unicorn, a ground floor ‘I was there before it was cool’ hunnie or whatever. I’m also super fine with this. I am happy staying in my lane.
Plus I am burnt out from years of reading about venture capitalist startup culture and internet drama. I know too much that I understand that fusing those two worlds into one product will definitely create something embarrasingly bad. I cannot tell you what my prophecy is here or it’ll turn into another novel, but look at Kickstarter dramas/scams, the rise and fall of tech unicorn startups, Gamer/Comic of Gates, the internet pipeline towards extremist and cult-like communities, the harm caused by AI due to poor data or poorly-thought out plans, wellness cure-all scams, and a few retrospectives on the dot-com and housing bubble crashes. Combining all of those in mind, what I can tell you is that it’s better to be watching the trainwreck than being inside the train.
Anyway, once the wreck has burned itself out, maybe we’ll see if this technology becomes mundane-use. If it does, cool! Those of us left behind, including me, will be glad none of us were the tinder to marshall the arrival of a gadget that processes block of chain receipt-contract-deeds for a house or whatever.
Regarding Chain of Block Art, nothing about it appeals to my core reason for making art or any of my future plans for art, storytelling, comics, anything. Or why I like the internet in the first place.
All the hype around Chain of Block Art is based around its ability to wholecloth invent Speculation (as a culture, thing, concept) and Scarcity in a medium that is inherently replicable, accessible, open-source — created, posted and seen in an infrastructure that is developed around and running from and funded by volunteers, collaboration, freeware, open-source, public funding, citizen contributions, generosity of ideas, creativity and expertise, and the naive-but-noble belief for the public good.
My appreciation for the internet as a public service, lifelong involvement in digital art, and belief in and gratitude for the original purpose of the internet as a library/archive/commons, makes me go ‘??? eh??’ at this whole hype machine.
My first experience on the internet was free and accessible games (intentionally made this way, not pirated).
My earliest internet communities were Neopets, Deviantart and Tumblr, where folks freely made media and talk about things (original, independent, corporate, pirated) we love in the ways we are able to. We posted stuff. And if we want to get paid and pay others, we made the means to buy and pay accessible. But it’s not based on future speculation or scarcity. It’s plain, simple, boring direct patronage and peers/friends supporting each other.
And that’s the thing. That’s the source of my disconnect, my lack of faith.
When I want to support a creator, I either buy non-chainblock copies of items or commission them to make something one-of-a-kind. Yet nowhere during the process of thinking ‘I want to buy something from a creator I like’ to actually buying the thing to actually enjoying it, do I think about how I want to resell this to someone else, how I am investing, how this is an asset for future wealth. The materiality or material value of the item is beside the point. I don’t care if the item degrades or depreciates due to the mercilessness of time and hardware updates (though I’d prefer it didn’t so I can enjoy it for as long as I needed it – that’s why the work of archival is so important). I don’t care if copies of the item magically end up in everyone’s possessions. I don’t care if the item itself is unique UNIQUE.
What I care for is the complicated experience formed between me and the item and the creator. The experience in that moment in time in context of my personal history with the item/creator/both. An experience which is unique and cannot ever be sold or become material enough to be made sellable. If I have to pay money to obtain my copy of this item, I’m paying to support the creator, and for the temporary, transcient ability to bring this copy with me across devices or time or chapters of my life.
This is me as a consumer of art, and this is how I want my peers and audience to support me. Money in exchange for an experience, compensation of services/skill and as a token of appreciation. Even better would be to serve an inspiration, a gateway, a beacon of hope, an ally. On both sides of each interaction.
But my art is not an agent for millionaire-billionaire benefit. We know the difference between gentrifying a neighbourhood versus actually going to the community to truly revive it. The outcomes may look the same on a superficial level, but there is a disconnect born from development that hinges on increasing a landlord’s real estate value, which kills the soul/history of the neighbourhood in favour of yet another white cafe wall and ivy ceiling.
Don’t conflate this with a disgust at art sold for a million dollars. I freaking love money. I am always constantly thinking of ways to improve my financial situation (while not falling into the trap of Workaholicism). I like engaging in business. Doing my taxes is actually exciting to me because then I get to see if I have jump up another tax bracket. That’s how much I love making money. So it’s not the act of purchase or the dollar value that irks me. It’s the… well, the presence of a gentrifying intent within a purchase.
Sure, it’s the client’s business whatever they want to do with the art after they buy it (within the limits of whatever rights have been granted to them, subject to tier pricing). But let’s not kid ourselves over here. They are buying smoke. They are buying hype. They are operating in a dimension outside of a musician signing on to a label or an author getting a book deal with a publishing house. At least, despite the flaws of the two examples and the annoying gatekeeping of executives, the art being sold gets to be seen by the public. In speculative art markets run by yacht-buyers, the art goes nowhere.
There’s no way that I, myself, will encourage the mentality of speculation into my work. I am definitely not going to encourage it amongst my audience, or court people who are only interested in my work as one asset of many, part of a collection gathering dust in their digital warehouse to be auctioned off later.
This was true with actual hard cash and this will continue to be true with the coins.
So no, I won’t be making tokens. Chains have nothing to do with me right now and I will maintain absolutely no interest until it becomes as mundane and regulated as a laser scanner, by which point it’ll only be an increase of interest towards a tool that Exists. Something I may possibly encounter with a property agent or a bank teller.
But good god, I am just so bored and tired and annoyed by this second phase of the hype. I want to row into my island deeper and deeper.
The Chain of Block Art is disappointing-annoying enough. Then the mainstream tech world goes bonkers as suddenly they want to revive scrips and impose ‘real estate’ into virtual spaces and make megacorporate-controlled MMOs that flex their IP acquisitions, which would be fine as silly fun games except they want to bring that into the real world through boring ideas like making me use VR to sit through a company meeting in my SIM avatar, then walking said avatar through a High Street of corporate branding and advertisements sitting on parcels of digital land artificially created inside a corporate server.
Why do I need to do that when experiencing life through my physical body is suffering enough? Sure yes, the real world has a lot of those things, but at least I won’t need to add to my suffering with nausea, eyestrain or migraines caused by 3D Theatre Discombulation (which is a real problem these tech savants haven’t solved yet, like??? hello??). And in the real world I get the option to go to a park or a beach or somewhere else with different smells and senses-of-place and containing people who have no idea what Web 3.0 is – in essence a real world full of wonder -, far away from the yatterchattering of Zuckerberg demanding me to share my data for the predictable algorithm – something I cannot do when my eyes are covered by a headset glued to a screen boxed in a virtual universe.
Which is to say, simply, this whole phenomenon is becoming unhinged. Why do we need to Roger Rabbit or Spacejam or Ready Player One everything as an end goal??
The fact that so much of these Chain of Block art projects and Verse of Meta are about turning the actual world into one big open-world MMO video game seriously shows the fallacy of the hype (and tells us a lot about the specific type of audience interested in this – if your entire life is about being a shut-in at home playing video games…)
The other fact that they are so transparent it’s all about financial benefit for investors instead of it being an actual public, social good for everyone is…
Well. I am watching this trainwreck, but I will be watching it from very, very, very far away.
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
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French Book Tour, January 2024