NFTs are garbage psy-ops

It all started off so innocuously.

Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of tech publication Semafor, tweeted a screenshot of a text exchange earlier this week between himself and an editor of a court sports magazine. The topic: The pickleball craze currently sweeping the nation.

“Meanwhile, because the tennis establishment is so ossified and beset by infighting, all the VC money that wants to go somewhere has propped up a garbage psy-op NFT.”

“Wait did you just refer to Pickleball as a ‘garbage psy-op NFT?’”

“[Venture capital] took a backyard hobby for retirees and is trying to fuel it into a pro game with leagues and tv rights even though it’s about as compelling to watch as darts.”

Because this exchange was publicized on X, formerly Twitter, and did pretty well for itself in terms of virality (almost 100 quoted tweets and 600 likes), I assumed that Crypto Twitter would be all over this. I scrolled through the comments and quotations, looking for some funny NFT one-liners I could use as a jumping off point for this week’s opinion piece.

But I found nothing.

In fact, in an unexpected twist, it is the throwing darts community that has fought back. While some darts fans cited viewership numbers from televised darts championships, another just wrote “this is way too mean to darts.” Another dart fanatic took the text exchange even closer to heart, writing that calling darts boring is the same as believing in “flat earth shit.”

I had to think for a minute.

Ben Smith, EiC at Semafor, former New York Times media columnist and editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed News, is (what I thought) a relatively important person on X for crypto news. Besides, I had thought that anyone even tangentially related to crypto would show up on the timelines of the crypto-obsessed, who were always ready for an online fight over the merits of their virtual money and digital art.

But this snub of NFTs passed over crypto’s head. I read all of the almost 100 quoted tweets, and while one commenter got in a subtle dig — “Pickleball is the NFT/MLM of sports” — only one person actually said it outright.

Web culture newsletter writer Ryan Broderick wrote: “I think using the NFT as a shorthand for any bizarre rich people microtrend (which always materialized as a pyramid scheme for the rest of us) is very very good.”

With all of crypto’s talk about wider adoption happening already, it’s easy sometimes to forget that we’re all in an echo chamber. Because even NFTs — which are arguably the most mainstream part of the crypto ecosystem — are apparently regarded by the normie public we had thought was embracing them as just another rich people trend.

But I am actually not that surprised that everyone reading the comic pickleball text change gets the joke, that they already have an implicit understanding that NFTs are a “bad rich people” thing.

Because despite the many use cases and artists and actually cool stuff that I see in the NFT space, you have to consider what the rest of the world sees: a bunch of celebrities buying and selling million dollar monkeys. 

Read more from our opinion section: If you’re in crypto, you’re an Allan

Just look how easily “NFT” has slipped into the wider lexicon as being equivalent to “scam,” at least according to liberal media-readers, pickleball players and darts apologists on X. I’m not sure when that happened — and I’m supposed to be on top of exactly this type of thing in my role as Blockworks’ on call crypto skeptic!

Granted, postulating what the entire world thinks of NFTs by going off of comments on X is not an exact science. And maybe now that we’ve given a little bit of space to this one journalist’s NFT-pickleball joke, the crypto community will come at his tweet with a vengeance to prove everyone wrong. (But probably not, as the tweet is already eons old in internet time.)

Or maybe the real reason that Crypto Twitter kept silent in the face of this NFT faceslap is because the hype cycle is over: The real builders don’t want to spend time in a silly internet spat. They need to avoid all distractions in their quest to create a new way to interact with art.

But that’s probably giving them too much credit. The NFT community was probably all out playing pickleball and just missed this round of internet drama entirely.

I don’t care much about tech, I don’t care a whole lot about finance, either. I care about writing stories and watching weird things unfold. And that’s why I’ve ended up in crypto.

But because I’m missing that passion for what crypto and blockchain are all about — finance, tech, privacy, yadda yadda — I’m going to write instead about what I am actually interested in. Everything about crypto that has very little to do with crypto.

That’s what this column will be about. All the tangential stories that come out of the blockchain and crypto space, what I think about them, and how I navigate it all as a skeptical former Russian literature major.

It’s precisely my perch as an outsider that lets me do what I do: Opine on all sides of any crypto issue, no strings attached, no skin in the game.

If you want to talk crypto with me, let’s go off topic.

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