Editor's Note: You don't need to be angry about NFTs
In this issue:
This essay took a long time but it felt good to write! There are always details I couldn’t get to in the main post with that I’m glad for the chance to share with you here.
The benefits of self-publishing
I always intended to publish this particular essay with Cointelegraph since I knew it would reach a wider audience. Originally I thought it would go live on Thursday — I actually found out it had been published when a person on Twitter asked me if I was the author. Thankfully the editorial hand was quite light and reasonable! They even used my headline (You don’t need to be angry about NFTs) which I didn’t expect but the Tweets, image captions and social media summaries were not mine and … not great. It’s fine, hazards of the industry.
I was a *bit* more bummed by the decision to strip the links from the article, which was actually the lion’s share of the reason I republished to the newsletter myself instead of just linking to the Cointelegraph piece. I like links in general but they felt especially important here when I was fighting bad-faith anecdata with counterexamples. Removing links also seems to have killed a lot of the downstream flow to the newsletter and therefore a lot of the value of cross-publishing.
Hopefully that improves over time as people forward to skeptical friends. Either way I’m glad the message reached a larger audience!
The downsides of parasocial attachment
I was genuinely surprised by how hurt I was watching Folding Ideas’ video. Not because he hates NFTs, but because he clearly hates anyone who likes NFTs. It felt like a friend was angry at me! My favorite thing about the Folding Ideas canon was how gently and kindly he approached people he thought were wrong. That was totally absent from Line Goes Up. He was so angry it burned away my favorite parts of his style. What a shame.
Don’t critique the critics
A recurring theme of the "You don’t need to be angry about NFTs" post is that I had to choose between focusing on the actual defense of NFTs and pointing out how cheap and bad-faith the argumentation in Line Goes Up often was. Here’s a few of the specific examples that I chose to omit even though they frustrated me:
Olson mentions the Wolf Game project and summarizes the bugs they faced on initial launch (which were real and significant). He acknowledges that the devs attempted a migration but says only "it didn’t go well." … but everyone who held through that migration made money hand-over-fist and the minimum price of a Wolf Game NFT is now ~1 ETH (~$2700 USD). There are lots of criticisms you can make of Wolf Game (I personally am not a fan) but the idea that they were a failure because they had launch bugs is a shameless lie. If Olson know that Wolf Game existed at all, he would have known it was still a thriving game. He deliberately lied about this example because it was easier than finding one that fit his narrative.
Olson cites multiple crypto skeptic sources throughout his video (Stephen Diehl, Amy Castor, David Gerard, etc) without ever quoting or considering the perspectives of anyone who values the space. Contrast that with his exploration of flat earth theory, which elevates and prioritizes the voice of flat earthers, even while disagreeing with them. Amy Castor is a worthy critic and her inclusion is good, but the absence of anyone with another perspective is still really stark. Stephen Diehl and David Gerard are bad-faith resources and it is disappointing to watch Olson quote them without further examination.
Olson’s perspective of NFTs comes from accepting every Discord spam invite and then concluding that NFTs are spammy. I mean, at least hide your fucking motivated reasoning so it doesn’t embarrass us both. That’s fucking ridiculous. It’s like sampling food from another culture by exclusively eating out of the garbage cans and then concluding that culture can’t cook. If you seek out garbage it is what you will get and it is what you will deserve. Enjoy it.
It is interesting how much more sophisticated and accurate Olson’s technical summaries of Bitcoin and the 2008 mortgage crisis are than his technical summaries of Ethereum and NFTs. I wonder who taught him about the former and why he didn’t ask them for help with the latter. NFTs are not little ketchup packets stuffed with code. If you don’t understand NFTs it’s OK to not make a two hour movie about them.
Privacy: I had to avoid this topic because it is so large and hairy and irrelevant. Privacy has *NOTHING* to do with NFTs, NFTs are by definition meant to be public status objects. Privacy does not apply. That’s not to say privacy is irrelevant! But saying NFTs don’t help with privacy is like saying billboards don’t help with privacy. They … aren’t supposed to? Olson is also wrong that blockchains are synonymous with no privacy. Zero-knowledge proofs are a central part of crypto research and are already capable of much more sophisticated things than are common place today. Privacy today is limited by bad habits of users and contemporary technology — both have improved rapidly so far and there is no reason to think they won’t keep improving. Even if they don’t that isn’t a criticism of NFTs! It’s just a cheap shot Olson thinks he can take without his audience noticing.
Olson keeps imagining a world where predators get more sophisticated but everyone else just sits around twiddling their thumbs waiting to be harvested. That makes no sense. Compare email spam: in the beginning of email both spam and spam filters were very primitive. Over time both spam and spam filters got more sophisticated. But that competition wasn’t symmetric, it favored the filters! The more sophisticated the technology got the less it serves spammers and the more it serves legitimate use. The same will be true of crypto and NFTs. You can’t snapshot today and then project forward only for the bad guys. The whole point of crypto is that it favors defense. The good guys get stronger faster than the bad guys do.
An amusing thing about the people who hate NFTs is that if they really believed their arguments they wouldn’t feel the need to make them. You don’t need to make a 2+ hour documentary about things that will obviously fail, you can just for them to finish collapsing on their own. The sheer existence of Line Goes Up is existential evidence that Olson knows in his heart that NFTs are real and transformative. He is angry because he is afraid. I am sorry for him.
Writing the counterpoint to Line Goes Up was an exercise in Brandolini’s law, which says it will always be more effort to dismantle a bad faith argument than to build one. So far Line Goes Up has reached ~6.2M people. That won’t slow the adoption of NFTs a bit, but I do feel sorry for the ~6.2M people who have been mislead. Ultimately I wrote this post for them — at least the ones curious enough to keep asking questions.
Everyone else is welcome to figure it out at their own pace.
Cointelegraph does pay, to be clear, but the visibility is a more important motive for me.