PPPPositively Impossible - Four P's #162
Summer Sun Sets, and the Fall Into Focus: NFTs and the Digital Day of Rest
Just like that, summer is over and the Four P’s are back!
And as the fourth “season” gets underway, there is a big development (improvement?) to share: Video and podcast versions are on indefinite hiatus and this we are now newsletter-only. As much as I enjoyed presenting in multimedia, the juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze. You’ll no longer have to see my face on a weekly basis. Unless you’re related to me. Or work with me. Or my neighbors. Or work at the local hardware store.
Another development: After a summer hiatus replete with family time, work, pool, golf, camp, road trips, baseball games, fireworks, and a Labor Day Weekend trip to Montauk, I’ve come to a very difficult realization: I am incapable of relaxation or disconnecting. It’s impossible. There is just too much happening in the world, in the digital world, in my brain. So much to share, so much to unload. So fall is here, and it’s finally time to go back to school.
Something Practical: NFTs 101
Teachers will tell you that the hardest part of their job is teaching children who do not want to learn. Stubborn is worse than stupid. I’ve spent some of this summer talking with friends, relatives, neighbors and people on the internet about NFTs (non-fungible tokens). Some are curious. Most remain resistant to learning more. But whether you embrace this trend now or later, there is no stopping the blockchain/ cryptocurrency/ token movement. So open your mind, your hearts, and your (virtual) wallets.
When talking with friends or colleagues, I still struggle to explain the value proposition. But those who do get it are quickly jumping all-in. Those willing to learn and experiment will have an advantage when the inclusive, community around “NFT 2.0” takes off.
But we’re not there yet, and need your help to get there. The current “NFT 1.0” buzz is being led by a handful of influencers, advocates, celebrities and companies. Prices for Punks, Apes, Koalas, Dragons, Kitties, NBA TopShots, and Loot are driving the market out of reach for most buyers. There is a feeling of exclusivity that has kept this from becoming mainstream. The technology and process behind NFTs are currently complicated, confusing and costly.
So what are NFTs, anyway?
NFTs are the latest creator/consumer digital items built by blockchain technology. Blockchain’s applications are already changing so many aspects of our daily lives – from finance, manufacturing, and distribution to communication, travel and ecommerce. Blockchain’s most popular use case is cryptocurrency, the financial system backed by decentralized, verifiable records of transactions and communication.
NFTs use cryptocurrency-backed exchanges to fund and fuel the creation, monetization, maintenance, and marketing of digital assets. Digital art, sports highlights, even music clips. They are uniquely identifiable and ownable that don’t just live on your computer or someone else’s. There are people far more adept at breaking it down for beginners, but I’ll do my best to boil it down here.
NFTs give artists and art collectors a new way to buy, display and sell editions of their art. I stumbled upon these things late last year, reading articles about groundbreaking ways blockchain technology could influence art, but I never had time to personally explore any of the methods myself. This summer finally gave me some time to discover the world of cryptoart, and it's emerging as a creative digital universe where digital art, programming, and new financial technology outshine the allure of physical artworks, the restrictions of physical galleries, and physical (traditional) currencies.
How does this work?
With physical art, when you own an original, the art is tangible and on display in a space: on a wall in your home, in a gallery, etc. With digital art outside of the crypto universe, ownership is not that obvious. When you mint art to the blockchain, there is a permanent and public record that you are the true creator. After it's purchased, that token transaction and transfer is public record on the blockchain. Not only can you show it off, but you can resell it for a profit and depending I am not the creator, and the original owner, but now they are for sale.
How to Get Involved
This can definitely get complicated, and I've made a few mistakes along the way. But the current steps are not impossible to grasp. (You can find a more detailed technical description here).
Step 1: Downloaded a new digital wallet. Think of it like Venmo or Paypal, but it's just an app or plugin in your desktop browser. (I use MetaMask). In this wallet you can hold your Ethereum, Bitcoin, and any other coins you'd like to hold and keep safe (which you can buy on places like Coinbase and transfer over).
Step 3: If you want to buy something, make sure you have enough eth in your wallet to cover the cost, as well as those gas prices.
Step 4: If you want to upload art and mint your own NFT, you'll still have to pay a small gas “gas fee” (the transaction fees associated with buying and selling) to setup all future sales, but it's worth it. When the network is busy, the fee goes up. At quieter times, the fee is low. Then you wait for the transaction to complete you've minted your first token and you can put it on the market to sell
I use OpenSea, and have newly minted my first two collections. Check them out! It’s still a bit clunky, and lacks many of the social features we’ve come to expect out of digital communities (as well as metrics), but I’ve spent much of the summer connecting and collecting.
It feels very much like those early days of social media platform usage and creation. Back in 2006-7, people questioned the future of social. They challenged it. They doubted it. They called it a fad. They were wrong. And NFT doubters will be wrong here, as well.
Ok, you got all that? Good, because next week, we’ll talk about the metaverse…
Something Personal: The Storm Before the Calm
NFTs are a distraction from the real world, and they may just save our sanity. If you’re like me, struggling to find something positive in the world to latch on to… or searching for some good news and optimism to buoy your descent into the long winter ahead… well, I’m not sure you’ve come to the right place. I’m not going to sugar coat things. Things are bad.
Our Planet : It was an intense summer for weather events, and it’s clear that our infrastructure is not ready for the severe impacts of climate change (see: NYC subway stations). As fires, storms, floods and other disasters become more frequent and severe, the cost of rebuilding has added a much greater burden to our economy. According to the NY Times, extreme weather has caused more than $450 billion in damage nationwide since 2005. The number of disasters causing more than $1 billion in damage reached a record 22 last year. And while not every place can be protected and situation prevented, the time to act was long ago. President Biden and progressive Democrats are using the moment to push for aggressive climate provisions in a sweeping $3.5 trillion budget bill, but the impact that climate change is having on our planet has already spreading like, well… you know. 🔥 🔥 🔥
COVID: Speaking of spreading, I would have hoped we wouldn’t still be talking about the virus at this point, but the unwillingness for many Americans to get vaccinated has resulted in ongoing, unnecessary illness, the 102,285 hospitalizations per day, and 1,544 deaths per day. Many leaders and decision-makers have made grave errors in thinking things were back to normal, but we know there is still a long way to go. 50 million kids under the age of 12 are still not vaccinated, and we, as parents, feel increasingly backed into a corner as they reluctantly send their children back into the classroom. My two pieces of advice: Subscribe to this newsletter, as well. She’s amazing. And listen to doctors, not the morons.
Texas: You know what else is terrible? The assault on reproductive rights happening in Texas, obviously. The abortion law put into effect last week in Texas bans all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court decided not to block it, making it a reality for Texans. This means that about 85% of abortions in Texas are now illegal. Why? To what end? The abortion rate in the United States has decreased significantly over time. From 2009 to 2018, the total number of reported abortions decreased 22% (thank you Obamacare and access to birth control). Yet this decision will likely lead to an overturned Roe vs. Wade decision in 2022, which will introduce a wave of strict abortions laws across the United States.
Those who feared the worst the night Trump won the 2016 election are now living this nightmare after Trump is no longer in office. We were called alarmists, but we were right. The next 40 years of Supreme Court rulings are going to haunt us unless more seats are added. I wasn’t initially in favor of this idea. Now I’m all for it.
It’s hard to be positive about the future of our country at the moment. But hey, at least no one is trying to suppress minority voting rights.
Something Professional: Adopting the “24/6” Mentality
This summer, I had every intention of pressing a “reset" button” in my brain to become more effective, healthy, and creative. But fantasy baseball and masking and client pitches and Twitter and Unicorn Horns all got in the way. However I DID get to read several books this summer - some fiction, some non-fiction, some professional and some practical. I’ve realized that my attention span is gone. Read a chapter, pick up phone. Which is why one book, in particular, resonated more than the others: 24/6 by Tiffany Shlain.
According to the author, taking a 24-hour break from your devices each week – what she calls a “Technology Shabbat” – both slows time down and gives us more of it. We know "rest" days have been present in our cultures for thousands of years, but fewer and fewer of us are adopting the practice. This isn't a new concept for me: my boss and mentor for a decade at 360i also preached the power of "Digital Shabbos." As an orthodox Jew, she had no choice. But even with her high-stress role, she still laughed more, noticed things in more detail, and maintained healthy levels of stress (at least from my outsider perspective).
A day of rest was quite literally carved in stone as one of the Ten Commandments, establishing a single, nonnegotiable day without work each week. But it wasn’t until around the turn of the 20th century that the weekend was established. Having two days of rest freed up time for education, worship, reflection, creativity, and building family bonds. Unfortunately, many people no longer have weekends off. In the U.S., 63% of people report that their employers expect them to work most weekends.
One of the benefits of a digital day of rest is improved sleep. When you take time to rest, you sleep better, and getting in a full eight hours of sleep each night increases your efficiency. Our screen use is at war with our desire for sleep. A full day off from your screens to a “system update” that will ultimately make you more productive and creative. S
It isn’t just our weekends that are being eroded. Nowadays we’re constantly bombarded by news updates on TV and on apps on our phones. And whereas we might once have read a novel in bed, now we often find ourselves answering emails and messages instead. It isn’t good for our health OR our work. Research shows that employees working 60 hours a week are actually less productive than if they worked 40 – and what’s more, that overworked employee also faces an increased risk of heart disease and death. So many of us work more than 8-hour days, and that’s not helping. Which is why I’ve recently come around to support and champion the 4-day work week.
To make wider-ranging positive changes, we need to think about the future we want to live in, and then work back from that. Then, both as individuals and as a society, we’ll be able to see the steps we need to take to reach that goal. We need to envision the future we want, not the one we’re heading for. This fall, I'm going to make it my plan to do this is on Saturdays - or at least for long stretches of Saturday. 9am to 6pm on airplane mode. We'll see how it goes. I know there’ll be times when it’s just not possible at all. But if I'm going to disconnect, I need you to do it, as well.
Something Political: Pulling the Rug Out in Afghanistan:
With the benefit of several weeks to process the end of the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan (which coincides with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this week), it’s clear that President Biden and his administration did the necessary thing, even if not executed perfectly. Those criticizing the President, despite the overall public approval of the decision to bring troops home, first need understand the context history beyond a political lens.
The Taliban formed in the mid-1990’s, and quickly amassed control over nearly half the country. The United States, along with other allies, spent nearly two decades on the ground in the country, but never could change the reality of what happens there. In recent years, the Taliban grew stronger, and even the Trump administration recognized that the Taliban is the real power in Afghanistan, and set these wheels in motion for our withdrawal by formal recognition of the Taliban.
Nothing either the last administration or this one would have changed this outcome. It probably should have happened years ago (or: we should never have even been there). Our mission was to help the Afghani people build a counter-force to prevent the rise of the Taliban. But corruption and incompetence always stymied progress. Between the military and our elected officials, no one had the courage to actually step up and make the hard, yet inevitable, decision. Until now.
The speed with which the Taliban takeover happened these past few weeks further reveals the degree to which our presence made no impact. There are hard truths here. For the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, it is now painful to admit that they faced a mission in which they could not succeed. This isn’t their failure, but ours, collectively. There were also intelligence failures the past 15 years, but it would have taken a much larger investment and military effort to prevent the Taliban from taking over.
Acknowledging failure is important, but not letting it drag on was still the right thing to do. We don’t compound lies and mistakes with new ones. Acknowledging that our role in the world has limits is also the right thing to do. We cannot and should not rely on the military to improve human rights in our country or anywhere else. Our withdrawal was the best bad option among many awful ones. Anyone who says we had other choices or options is merely playing the same political blame game.
Thanks for making it this far, and I promise to make next week’s shorter, and ideally more positive. But no promises… the rest is up to you.