New Week Same Humans #49
CryptoPunks just did $100 million worth of business in a single day. New fronts are opening in the war between capital and labour. Plus more news and analysis from this week.
Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
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💡 In this week’s Sunday note I wrote how we can democratise the giant online social platforms. Go here to read The People’s Republic of Tech.💡
This week, Visa wade into the market for CryptoPunks; will they kill the status hit attached to these simple, eccentric NFT images?
Meanwhile, an on-demand delivery startup that targets US college students with the munchies is facing a backlash from its drivers.
And researchers at the University of Cambridge say Europe is dangerously divided between city dwellers and the rest.
Before we start: I’m pausing the newsletter this Sunday, so I’ll be back in your inbox next Wednesday.
🧷 Hello fellow punks
Financial services giant Visa bought a CryptoPunk this week. They paid 49.5 ETH, or around $150,000, for CryptoPunk 7610.
Then this happened:
A quick refresher: CryptoPunks are charming 8-bit-style avatars created by US-based digital agency Larva Labs.
They were minted as non-fungible tokens way back in 2017, meaning they were at the fountainhead of the NFT craze that exploded earlier this year. In March, CryptoPunk 3100 sold for around $7.5 million, briefly making it the most expensive NFT ever; just 24 hours later Beeple’s NFT artwork Everydays: The First 5000 Days sold for $69 million.
Only 10,000 CryptoPunks exist, and trading – $100 million worth of it on Monday alone! – takes place on a range of secondary marketplaces. The most popular among them, OpenSea, just became the first NFT trading platform to record over $1 billion in trades in a single month.
⚡ NWSH Take: When the NFT craze hit, some labelled it a passing fad. In fact, it’s a textbook case of new world, same humans. The Ethereum blockchain is new, but the NFT phenomenon it fuels is a market in status symbols that’s no different from the race to own a vintage Porsche, original Basquiat, or rare Pokémon card. When an emerging technology unlocks new ways to express a powerful human need such as status, lasting new behaviours are born. That means NFT art is here to stay. // The question raised by this week’s news: what happens to CryptoPunk’s fun and edgy brand of status now that Visa have waded in and yelled how do you do, fellow kids? Nothing says says punk less than a global financial services provider. CryptoPunk owners have nothing to worry about for now. But the NFT market, once the preserve of blockchain outlaws, is turning resolutely mainstream. That will shift the status calculus in new and interesting ways in the months ahead.
💪 We can work it out
Labour and capital exist, at the best of times, in a kind of uneasy truce. Amid the pandemic there are signs that the truce is starting to break down. This week, three glimpses.
Aggrieved staff at Apple are organising under the banner #AppleToo. They’re accusing the company of systemic racial and gender discrimination, and say attempts to speak out are met with ‘a pattern of isolation, degradation, and gaslighting.’
Unicorn on-demand delivery service GoPuff – which delivers snacks and over-the-counter medicines within 30 minutes across hundreds of US college towns – is facing a gig economy backlash. Delivery drivers say that GoPuff managers set their shifts, forbid them from refusing orders, and badger them via Slack.
And last, OnlyFans shocked the internet when they announced that they were set to ban explicit material. Today, they reversed the decision after an outcry led by the platform’s creators.
⚡ NWSH Take: Three seemingly disparate stories. But each one represents an important front in the coming war between labour and capital. // First, woke labour. #AppleToo comes after walk-outs at Google over alleged sexism and racism, and echoes the furore at Basecamp back in April. Elite, well-paid tech workers are at odds with their employers over identity politics; soon enough the rift will spread to less glamorous knowledge work sectors, too. // Second, gig labour. Gig economy labour disputes are old news. But the GoPuff story is a reminder that we’re nowhere near a settlement. Think GoPuff is a minor player? It was recently valued at $15 billion. // Last, creator labour. We’re amid a creator economy explosion, and even Facebook has joined the war for talent. One implication? Content creators are realising their power, and they’ll seek to leverage it. How long until the first Creator Union? // Pandemics tend to reorder the relationship between labour and capital. Expect the dispute on each of these fronts – woke, gig, and creator – to intensify in the coming year.
🏙️ Town and country
New research from the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge suggests a ‘deep geographical fracture’ is opening across Europe. On one side lie people who live in a city, and on the other those who live in rural areas.
Researchers analysed survey data from across the EU 27 plus Norway, Switzerland, and the UK, and found that ‘distrust and disenchantment’ with democracy rises as you move out of metropolitan centres, and peaks among those who live in the countryside. Those out in the country were more likely to view themselves as conservative, and to hold anti-immigration views.
Not a huge surprise. What is surprising: across Western Europe these rural disenchanted ones are on average 33.5% more likely to vote than their metropolitan peers.
If the trend continues, says co-author Dr Davide Luca, then not only may we see a return to the ‘stark urban-rural political divides of the 20th-century’, but we risk the erosion of our system via a rising class of committed voters who seek to destroy the fabric of democracy via adherence to populist, anti-system parties.
⚡ NWSH Take: The exhaustion of the old conservative vs progressive political dichotomy, which has structured our politics for so long, is familiar ground for regular NWSH readers. Back in The Cloud and the Land I argued that tech conservative vs tech progressive is now the primary political division. // This research makes a case for the idea that we should combine that with metropolitan democrat vs rural disenchanted. You might also add climate activist vs climate sceptic. In other words, in place of the admittedly always schematic straight line that was conservative vs progressive, we have the three-dimensional chess of tech, metro-rural, and climate. I feel a diagram coming on; more soon.
🗓️ Also this week
🙌 Airbnb say they will temporarily house 20,000 Afghan refugees for free worldwide. The platform says it will work in partnership with hosts and NGOs in destination countries, and will cover the costs itself.
🛰️ Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites are responsible for 1,600 near-misses in orbit every week. Back in Do We Need a World Government? I wrote on how Starlink’s plan to launch 40,000 satellites may irreparably damage our view of the night sky.
🚗 Chinese tech giant Xiaomi will buy autonomous driving startup Deepmotion for $77 million. In March the company announced it would spend $10 billion to create a new electric vehicle division.
🌳 Destruction of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is at its highest rate in a decade. According to research institute Imazon, between August 2020 and July 2021 the rainforest lost 10,476 square kilometres, an area 13 times the size of New York City.
🧑💻 Facebook launched a new virtual reality meeting space. Horizon Workrooms can be accessed via the Oculus 2 VR platform. The Zuck recently announced FB would become ‘a metaverse company’.
📱 The CCP says Chinese livestream stars should ‘speak Mandarin and dress well’. The edicts came in detailed guidelines issued to the livestreaming sector by the Ministry of Commerce this week.
🔍 The US army is using controversial facial recognition platform Clearview AI. Public documents reveal the army is using the software to investigate crimes involving soldiers and civilian employees.
🧪 The trial of disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is about to start. Holmes faces nine counts of fraud; prosecutors say she lied to investors about her startup’s blood testing technology.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,888,683,472
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7912309096
💉 Global population vaccinated: 24.8%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 65% complete
📖 On this day: On 15 August 1894 the Japanese physician Kitasato Shibasaburō identifies the pathogen responsible for bubonic plague. He later published his research in The Lancet.
Thanks for reading this week.
The status-fuelled NFT art revolution will race onwards, and New World Same Humans will be watching every step of the way.
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I’m hitting pause this Sunday, so I’ll be back with another New Week next Wednesday. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.