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Depending on when you got into crypto, and to what extent you opted to be a maximalist for a certain cause (most likely either Bitcoin or, later, Ethereum, since these have the most single-minded communities), your initial perception of the sector would have been very different.
In the early days, even that word sector would not be an appropriate descriptor, and crypto meant bitcoin. Initially, it was a fringe movement, with all the positives and negatives that being on the fringe consists of.
To the good, alternative movements are subversive, disruptive and unlimited in their capacity to ignore convention and play by their own rules. On the other hand, they are open to dismissal or ridicule from the mainstream. Not that ridicule usually matters, as another characteristic of outsider movements is that they are not seeking approval, even if they do seek, in the case of bitcoin, an ambition no less profound than to change the world.
And, it tends to be the case that people, products and ideas that actually do change the world don’t wait around to request permission, they simply go ahead and produce alternatives.
Exploring New Uses
In the next crypto era, as Ethereum and altcoins come to play prominent roles, the atmosphere shifts. Noise, chaos and competition are injected into the space, and there is a branching off from cryptocurrency as simply a form of money, into the realm of crypto as a tech tool that can perform other roles.
Ethereum and others, it is suggested, can function as the platforms on which decentralized applications and networks will be constructed.
From there, we have the DeFi era. On the one hand, this is a new fintech frontier, and it can be portrayed in its best light as democratic and inclusive, opening doors for the financially sidelined, and replacing human error with transparent, incorruptible code.
In contrast, it is a landscape primed for ponzis, pyramid schemes and baseless speculation that cannot help but attract the attention of regulators, and by the way, that cold hard code was written by sleep-deprived over-caffeinated humans.
Although these various cryptocurrency stages veer off in multiple directions, and are in important ways distinct from one another, they all still remain within the broad realms of tech and finance.
As such, they will attract the most interest from individuals and institutions who are primarily concerned with tech and finance.
Art, Gaming and Memes
With NFTs, the existing crypto dynamic was spun around and flipped on its head, as crypto suddenly turned psychedelic, and a new edge opened up that was undoubtedly techy, that made (and lost) a lot of money, but that was centered around, and drawing energy from, subject areas far removed from the rest of the crypto world.
Through NFTs, crypto became tied up with the traditional art world and, in fact, all areas of art and design, including street art, generative art, product design, manga and anime, fashion, photography and almost any other imaginable subset.
From there, NFTs knock at the doors of the music world, of literature, and, stirring up rancor in the process, of video gaming. The gaming industry is hugely profitable and always at the forefront of tech innovation, but it has often been hostile to blockchain technology, while blockchain technology pushes ahead regardless at making inroads into gaming.
Importantly, in an age of online culture wars and meme-driven ideological clashes, NFTs have displayed a capacity for tremendous memetic power. The fact that NFTs are often outright hated by those not involved with NFTs is an indicator of how culturally potent they have become.
Observers tend not to hate things that don’t matter, whereas cultural phenomena that are acquiring relevance (and that relevance may be in flux and indefinable, even by those on the inside) are liable to provoke a hostile reaction. Popular culture is filled with obvious examples, from beatniks to punks, to the Young British Artists of the 1990s.
Onboarding and Adoption
The next logical question is to wonder what NFTs are actually leading to. It should be noted that the technology itself has a range of plausible applications. A unique digital portable token can be installed with whatever utility its creator sees fit to apply. A straightforward example is that an NFT can simply act as a verifiable, trustless key to unlock online doors.
On a wider level, NFTs are acting as a great on-boarder, pulling in crypto participants from disciplines that didn’t have a natural connection with blockchain technology. They begin to embed decentralization, and the notion of conducting transactions entirely peer-to-peer, in areas where decentralization had not previously been part of the conversation.
This doesn’t mean that everyone now engaging with or utilizing NFTs is thinking deeply about crypto fundamentals, but from the perspective of an advocate for decentralization, it’s a meaningful step to have people using decentralized mechanisms without necessarily paying attention to the underlying philosophy.
Perhaps that development, utilization by voluntary newcomers who needn’t expend effort contemplating the technology, is what true crypto adoption will look like, and it’s NFTs that are, in weird and arresting ways, forging ahead down their own colorful branch of this path.