By Scott Magee
You probably caught the stories earlier this year surrounding a forum called WallStreetBets on Reddit. Essentially, a group of people who enjoy talking about stocks got together and turned the market upside down, short squeezing shares of companies like GameStop. What initially started as an enterprising community seeking to pwn hedge funds and get rich trying, became a rapid-fire assault on wealth creation norms and the systems behind them. More importantly, digital sagas like these highlight how gated knowledge favors wealth building for the connected few over inclusive, whole-population experiences.
Before this, Robinhood was the iconoclast broker offering commission-free equity and options trading, accessible financial literacy, and an ambitious brand. Then GameStop happened. News of the skyrocketing stock price (a signal of supposedly objective value assessment) traveled fast on social media and provided a quick primer on derivatives (a signal of supposedly sophisticated value prediction). Trading volume soared, and unrealized gains accumulated—setting off the familiar signs of market opportunity. The GameStop phenomenon is nothing new. Easy money has always attracted the inexperienced, and will in the future.
However, money represents more than monetary currency. It’s a reward for an effort. It’s an acknowledgment of accomplishment. Often it’s a memory of accumulated events, experiences, and ideas. Money is a provocation to do more, better, faster. It seeks specificity, not stasis. When in doubt, money finds a way. It seeks new definitions and opportunities even if the holders prioritize the status quo where perfect information hasn’t yet reached a common understanding.
Once we remove the physical exchange of dollars for services and products, we notice what money does things for us. Money has a job. Whether one-time or recurring, we task money to accomplish a job for us with every transaction.
NFTs are a great example. You’ve probably heard about the trend, or at least about the large valuations that they drive. These non-fungible tokens allow users to transact unique digital works and track ownership using the blockchain. NFTs can be a one-of-a-kind work or a licensed edition of a song, sports card, album, or even the digital source material of a viral meme. Is this just the next incarnation of Beanie Babies or digital Pokemon cards? Think again.
The concept of owning digitally hosted work falls flat until novices understand the whole experience. NFT entrepreneurs are building atop crypto bedrock to enable new expressions of possession and confidence. NFT investors are clamoring for wealth accumulation, FOMO, curiosity, and remorse. They’re banking on people reimagining what it means to ‘own’ something. That less is actually more.
When the iPod launched, it faced fierce competition from established players with “more.” More storage. More battery life. More inputs. And yet, the iPod skipped the race to feature parity by simply reframing technology into reality: put 1,000 songs in your pocket (not 5 GB of storage). Thinking about the user and how they experience technology is the path to standing apart from the crowd. For NFTs, we’ve yet to hit this stage. There are still several roadblocks including that it’s confusing to get started, accelerated market-based pricing is daunting, and displaying a virtual art collection, for example, is more complicated than dropping an acquired piece in an overpriced frame. Despite the inviting access to marketplaces that manage to smooth out technical details, virtual velvet ropes remain.
Many of us had baseball cards as kids—perhaps a similar approach can bridge the gap between physical and virtual. Developed by the NFT pioneers that created Cryptokitties, the NBA’s Top Shot Moments transforms familiar collectible basketball player trading cards into NFTs. “Cards” are dynamic, memorable, refreshed via unscheduled “drops,” and can be picked up in the marketplace.
And yet, money-making mechanisms that move fast and break trust are still destined for difficulty. Until we decide to enhance anchoring concepts or reinvent them entirely, acceptance will be limited and fleeting among the masses. How can we reimagine collections and publicly display them? How can we trade the marketplace for a social trading experience? Without being accessible and social, the next big thing in digital collectibles will reclassify to niche investments and asset classes for those on the “right” side of the experience divide.
No one wants to be a digital consolation. To be accounted for is to be seen. To be designed for is to be understood. This shift to digital currency represents an opportunity to redefine to include everyone. When it comes to money, which is a fundamental building block of modern culture, we can’t hope for fairness. We must demand it. Improvement begins with acknowledging how little we know and its deviation from the truth. We (and the systems we create) don’t have all the answers. What we do have is integrity and our willingness to align internal and external incentives without diminishing ourselves. We are inputs for worlds that we can’t imagine yet, but still want to be included. And yet opting-in pales in comparison to being invited in.