Authenticity is a concept that we generally do not consider during the course of our daily experience. When we purchase a piece of produce, use a pen to write a letter, or use soap to wash our hands, we rarely consider whether these products are authentic. While we may select a product that has a particular brand, it is not generally in most people’s nature to question whether the stated manufacturer in fact produced the contents.
Exceptional occasions do arise over the course of the day when authenticity becomes an important consideration. When we use our Bic Pen to sign a check or use our Apple iPhone to sign into our banking account, we are implicitly stating our allegiance to a specific system of authenticity and relying on this system to ensure that others do not write checks in our name or gain access to our private information online. Such systems are by no means finite. The set of things that they authenticate are equally vast and varied. In many ways, anything can be said to be authentic provided that its unique characteristics can be identified and conveyed to a community. Doing so attaches a specific value and relevance based on how that authenticity is conferred and later displayed. It is heavily dependent on gaining access to the object that is deemed authentic in a specific manner.
In the context of objects that can be reproduced based on an underlying “code” (e.g. a pharmaceutical, book, photograph, piece of furniture, jpeg, etc.), although anyone can ostensibly attain the code, the value of the authentic object is such that engaging the non-authentic object is less rewarding than the experience of the authentic object. Such an experience is largely contingent on the existence of some regime and technics of representation. Such a regime ensures that those who experience the object can read a number of its aspects in such a way so as to determine authenticity. In this sense, the object becomes a signal that determines its value and position within a broader network and hierarchy of objects.
In the context of hybrid digital-physical objects whose nature and power I un-packed in the essay “The Power of Hybrid Digital-Physical Objects as Supported by NFTs and Blockchain,” the authenticity lies in the architecture of the blockchain, the community / exchange on which it is created and exchanged, the community of those who validate transactions, and the cryptocurrency that is often used to reward the efforts to validate these transactions. Given the relative youth of this system of authentication, the extent to which the signal that conveys an object’s authenticity may not always be received beyond a small subset of the population who have been initiated into the community for whom the signal is legible. Such a situation is not all that dissimilar from the debate that arose around Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades.
In this context, the question becomes how does one decode and render the signal. This question becomes particularly important if the hybrid physical-digital object is defined as a set of assets that exist in different media. Doing so would involve coordinating across media and even sites and durations. Such a signal would call for a common “player“ that would allow for the various element’s temporality to be coordinated via blockchain. In this sense, blockchain would be understood as a clock that functions not so much to determine when something should happen, but to ensure that things are happening at the same time. Moreover, it would determine that the “right” things are happening at the same time and that those engaged in these events are aware of this fact. Doing so would essentially enable global navigation of a hybrid physical-digital object and, by extension, addressability. This addressability might begin within a digital sphere, but could quickly extend into physical space via how and who unpacks the NFT in what context and for what purpose. In many ways, this would become an opportunity to engage in a collective affirmation of a high-fidelity experience through choosing to acknowledge the digital token as valid and as providing access to a data and quality-rich experience.
This process of deciphering a signal and understanding it to be authentic via an agreed upon convention raises the question of content and what that event of deciphering and sharing access to an authentic object is understood to be. For whom and at what specific time does this occur? This unfolding should be connected to and derived from a broader logic of the event that has guided events, things, objects, and experiences that we have come to assign significance to. This signal that is deciphered is often connected to the narrative technique that has been used to convey and carry the meaning and value of those events over space and time. The most significant and epoch defining events often make use of a new method that helps carry this signal over greater distances and time. The event – as well as the objects that are associated with it – in the process, becomes tied to a new technics.
One of the most recent advancement of how a signal is used to encode and transmit the content of an event is cinema. In considering what the architecture of an NFT might look like in the future, it might be worth looking to the architecture of cinema, as well as how authenticity, event, and experience are understood. In the context of cinema, the technics was capable of encoding the event within a media that could then be distributed and eventually broadcast across a range of devices. The media inscribed a language capable of conveying meaning and a point of view that could be absorbed by a wide range of people who might form an allegiance or love of the content. This in turn might further inform their daily existence.
In the current context, the perspective of a director, lead actor, or ensemble cast operating within a technics defined by a camera operating within a regime of perspectival representation will give way to myriad points of view that can be encoded within the architecture of an NFT. With this in mind, the future architecture of an NFT might also draw on multiplayer digital games that rely less on an illusionary space that represents the world we inhabit day-to-day, and more on objects, interactions, exploration, navigation of non-Euclidean spaces, narrative, fighting, violence, and score-keeping. At the same time, dating apps that support a complex relational field and even archives of the Internet at a specific point in time, might provide inspiration for how to structure an NFT as a signal that can be conveyed to many over a vast distance. In many ways, this would be to argue for the NFT as a multi-perspective cinema that exists at the intersection of the physical and digital. For such a cinema to have value, it would have to be focused on an event or entity that has been assigned significance by a community whose members have influence outside of their immediate context. The benefit of an NFT in anchoring such a future cinema would lie in its capacity for this event to be both analyzed through community engagement and added to over time and in space. In the process, the cultural element would be given a truly temporal dimension.
If such an expanded cinema were to come about with the support of NFTs and perhaps as the ideal use of their technology, it would be important to consider what the content of such an event might be. On one hand, it should be a narrative that can stretch across diverse realms and whose scale and appeal merit such interest and investment. This would involve a clear relationship to and valuation of the subject of such an event. This subject would be who or what ultimately drives the value of the object through a reciprocal relationship. It would be driven by the biographical as well as the innovation that occurs in the process. In the most extreme cases, such innovations have had the capacity to change entire industries. In this sense, such content should begin with the noted biographies of the past, experiment with how such biographies are rendered within an expanded cinema that is present today in the world, and then ultimately open this evental structure to those celebrities living today and changing the course of history.
In the process, the NFT would become an aggregating force as an index that collects and annotates a large and diverse set of information with greater fidelity than any of the current tools are capable or doing. It would do so by creating and enhancing a new economy tied to the creative capacity of the subject and capacity of the exchangeability of the NFT to provide the subject with compensation – both monetary and otherwise – for their contribution. This would occur via how one’s overall brand or share of ownership of a particular NFT / event is valued within a narrative framework maintained by a community close to the event and appreciated by a much wider community.
The use of an NFT as an aggregating force would support a fight against the entropy through organizing and annotating digital and physical objects via an evolving and broadly accessible index supported by the value of the singular token – the NFT – that authenticates the record. It would support a common orientation relying on the power of hybrid objects that offers a special return on investment and whose power and influence will only grow exponentially via additional investment of time and attention. Such focus by the community amplifies the cumulative investment via the freedom that exists both in the translation between the physical and the digital as well as the representation of that event to a new and growing audience.
In this context, creative workers should be commissioned to test such a signal and design the appropriate architecture of encoding and re-presenting it across space and time. Doing so would subject the NFT to a much broader economy of information and to those who sustain interest beyond direct ownership. It would also provide an ability to profit in an ancillary way via brands, goods, experiences, installations, and related events. This transduction of value would set up a topology and chronology as the underlying engine driving the evolution and success of what we come to associate with NFTs.
In creating this signal, it will be important to be fully aware of what producing and maintaining the signal will cost. This cost will be directly tied to fighting entropy across all cultural spheres. The cost will be high and could be seen as similar to the leap that occurred between painting and cinema. Such a signal, however, will be one that not only can unite and re-integrate existing sectors, but that could create an entirely new sector around maintaining the hybrid physical-digital object. In the process, it would become possible to fully understand what a return on such investment might look like and who it might benefit. It would likely occur gradually at first through investing in the early objects associated with an event and then in a more sustained institutional manner as allegiance to the event – and the NFT that represents it – grows over time. Ideally, such a value system will adhere to the current decentralized ethos surrounding NFTs and cryptocurrency so that no one institution becomes the repository and owner of the most significant cultural events as well as their producers and the associated products. This process will ultimately anchor the long-term value of such a signal and what it is, as a result, able to convey.