Utilideez Nutz
April 14th, 2022

More and more people keep saying "utility." You wouldn't believe it. So many people saying it, you hear it, I’m telling you, it's the best thing going. Seriously, folks, it really is. It’s something else, really.

Utility is great, it's terrific. It's what customers want, isn't it? Why would someone (let's use this word carefully, now) invest in a crypto art project, for example, without also receiving something else in return for it? Aren't we supposed to be expanding on the user experience of people who purchase things? Are we repeating our web 2 mistakes? Does any of this matter? Who cares?

I'm starting to feel that being owed some alternate utility in return for purchasing a tokenized artwork, for example, is a near-sighted view of what the technology offers, and is uniquely a vintage hyper-capitalist way of looking at an economy. Everything in Web 2.5 is consumer facing; Uber, Spotify, et al make nearly frictionless experiences for the consumer, always at the expense of the provider, who is mostly fucked. In the case of Uber, it's their absolutely-not-able-to-unionize drivers, and in the case of Spotify, it's their hopeful-but-unionized-in-name-only musicians. Have we ever thought of them - what they need to survive, what stability they may need to create, or how they should be compensated for doing the things for us that nearly all of us quite literally need to survive?

Why aren't we thinking about utility working both ways? Let's come back to the idea of investment. This has a strict legal definition and tons of regulation that favors the ultra-wealthy and throws piss balloons from the top of Burj Khalifa at regular retail investors like many of us. Why not reframe this in a way that benefits our own economies that we are creating now? You can put some money into a pile for an artist or collective who makes work that moves you, and receive a work, as it's always been. That is actually an act that perpetuates the creation of the very work that you appreciate, be it music or film or whatever your medium of choice may be. You are quite literally making it possible for these entities to continue to make the things that enrich your life. Do we need more utility than the experience of the finished work? In Web 3, the ambient feeling I have is that the general consensus is a deafening "yes."

By focusing entirely on utility, are we focusing enough on the original work? Is Cantino's unwearied proselytizing about utility being made about tokenized items that aren't really works of art or music, but slowly rotating membership cards that could hypothetically get you access to a box at the Lakers game, or a Saturday table at Chateau Marmont, if only you held enough of your DAO's shitcoin (full disclosure, I'm a happy full member of $FWB) to be near the top of the waiting-list? He has commendably defended art-as-utility before, but the constant emphasis on the importance of utility by thought leaders still leaves creators with the larger burden of having to constantly deliver value to holders. This, to me, is not meaningfully different from a company being required to continuously deliver value for its shareholders, and as such I find it wan, disinteresting, and a rocky place wherein the seed of creativity will find little purchase.

This is an unsustainable path forward in Web 3 as it pertains to both art and music, in my opinion. Smart contract technology and Web 3 thinking in general have the potential to lift artists out of the Swamp of Sorrows, but only if we don’t expect anything more than for them to do the work they were born to do.

Atreyu, desperate to save Artax, his beloved steed, in The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Atreyu, desperate to save Artax, his beloved steed, in The NeverEnding Story (1984)
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