Facebook recently changed its name to Meta, a reference to the metaverse which is essentially an online universe separate from the physical space we exist in. With this came the recent boom in non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which seem to be the only way of exclusively owning digital assets right now.
It’s difficult to comprehend exclusive ownership of a digital asset since digital assets like photos, videos, and essays can easily be copied and pasted or downloaded. But NFTs have made this possible, where ownership is verifiable and exclusive. There’s a public ledger almost like a Register of Deeds, but for online property and easily accessible to anyone . Thus, the prices, parties, and property transferred are public and unalterable.
Put simply, anyone can turn digital photos, videos, gifs, essays, and practically any digital art into an NFT. These NFTs are placed on a marketplace for people to buy and sell. It’s a young industry, but so many young artists have already earned hundreds of thousands to millions of pesos from this. The most popular way of earning from NFTs right now is through “flipping NFTs”—buying good NFT collectibles at a low price, holding for days, weeks, or months, then selling at a much higher price when demand goes up. This takes advantage of NFTs made for flipping, rather than collecting.
Out of curiosity, I tried flipping NFTs recently, and I found that it truly was profitable. I understood why artists such as Heart Evangelista could sell digital paintings for millions of pesos, and how it could be worth over five times that value in less than a year. It’s similar to the physical art collection industry, except it’s all online, not as expensive if you buy early, and the marketplace is accessible to everyone.
But here’s the problem: it creates a ‘hot potato’ culture that inevitably leaves the last person at a loss. Smaller NFT collections tend to propagate a culture of buying NFTs at low prices and selling them at higher prices after a few days or even hours. It allows those who are able to sell it to earn a lot, but the last holder of the piece is left with a piece worth nothing—and these last holders are usually those new to the technology, or victims of pump and dumps. It makes it difficult for artists in the fine arts to really thrive in the platform, since the NFTs that dominate are those made for flipping.
I was reading Tim Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors when I came across this quote by Ann Miura-ko: In a world where we emphasize the creation of new products through rapid iteration and experimentation, we often forget to step back and make sure that the future we are racing to is one we truly want to create.
This hot potato culture, plus the bad environmental impact of NFTs running on older blockchains, made me pause and reconsider: am I contributing to the future I want to create? There are NFTs that run on environmentally-friendly technologies, and truly are collectibles not made for flipping, but they aren’t as profitable. Which is a better choice? The decision should depend on the future we want to create, and not the next five days.
The point is this: in a pandemic where everyone is trying to make money, there are so many side hustles that can make easy cash, like flipping NFTs, overpricing PPEs, or selling votes. But before we decide to fully pursue a side hustle, we ought to ask ourselves whether this decision leads to the future we want. We’re in the “instant” era, but that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice the long-term for short-term gains.
This is relevant especially in politics, considering that elections are coming soon. Let’s not pretend that vote-buying isn’t rampant. It’s easy money, and it has worked for so long. But short-term profits that will last us a week should not make us sacrifice the next 3 to 6 years of our lives.
We have to start playing what Dorie Clark refers to as The Long Game. If we truly want good things to finally happen not only to our own lives but also for the next generations, we have to start thinking long-term. Our choices on whether or not to exploit technologies, accept that P1,000 bill, or fully pursue a cruel side hustle is our vote for the future we want to create. We continue to cast that vote each time we act on these choices. Votes, when compounded over time and chosen by more people, determine what practices and industries eventually control our lives and the lives of the next generations. Let’s make sure that that future is a good one.
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