With every passing year, the Matrix feels less and less like science fiction. With the continued rise of the metaverse — Zuckerberg is betting all of Facebook on it — we are increasingly living our lives between two worlds: one is offline and one is online. What this will ultimately mean (for us and for our cities) is of course up for debate. But what is clear is that the traditional trappings of real life have quickly made their way online into the metaverse. Arthur Hayes recently penned this fantastic article about the future of the world (it’s the metaverse) and the role of art (including NFT art). In it, he makes the argument that to “flex” is integral to the human experience. Here’s what he means by that:
As social beings, the sole purpose of many activities and purchases is to publicly display how much energy you can waste. The nightclub economy is extremely a propos to this concept. Individuals walk into a dark room, listen to loud music (art), dance (a waste of energy akin to a mating call), and pay exorbitant amounts of money to drink liquid. Everyone gets dressed up real nice in articles of clothing that serve no useful purpose other than to demonstrate that the wearer spent a lot of money to display their social status to the rest of the clubbers present.
People go to clubs to flex. In the words of the late Clayton Christensen, that is the “job” to be done.
Why this matters is that many of us are now doing the same kind of things online. Buying a CryptoPunk (an OG NFT) for a large sum of money and posting it as your social media profile pic is a flex. Is this rational or irrational behaviour? Whatever your answer, it is akin to paying several hundred dollars for a t-shirt from some cool streetwear brand. The real job to be done is not that you desperately need a t-shirt to cover your upper torso. It is the signalling that goes along with owning something scarce and valuable. One of the things that is so special about NFT-permissioned stuff is that there’s now a simple way to prove and enforce all of these things: ownership, scarcity, and so on.
What’s equally fascinating to me is how offline and online will end up interacting with each other. (Arthur refers to our offline world as the meatspace. I don’t know if he coined the term, but I’m going to rolling with it for the purposes of this post.) If people end up preferring to flex online instead of offline (and I’m sure many already do), what does that do to our meatspace(s)? And what does it do to our cities and how we build? I have no doubt that these questions are coming.