NFTs Aren’t About Clout: They’re Offering Us Greater Community

Michelle Drouin
5 min readFeb 8, 2022
World of Women Woman #8037, OpenSea

In a world where celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, Timbaland, and Gwyneth Paltrow are buying Bored Apes and making them their profile pictures, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that these blockchain contracts displayed as digital avatars are just a hyped-up craze that enables rich people to show their clout. With price tags in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, NFTs like Bored Apes and CryptoPunks are status symbols that are way beyond the reach of the average citizen, who makes just $31k per year. If you own an Ape on the blockchain, everyone in the world can see it with the click of a few buttons — and that is undeniable prestige.

Yet, focusing on this aspect of NFTs distracts us from the real purposes of the movement: a redefinition of ownership from tangible goods to digital assets, the empowerment of artists to create their own boundaries around their art and actually profit from their work, and perhaps, most importantly, the development of socially-supportive online communities around NFT projects. In short, by focusing on clout, we’re stripping NFTs of their power to create intimacy.

Why NFTs?

Thanks to Marie Kondo and other minimalist movements, we have already been on a wave of rejection of tangible goods. So much so that media headlines have been following GenXers’ and Millennials’ rejection of their parents’ stuff. From figurines to silver platters, we don’t want them. Yet, we do want to be part of something. Enter NFTs, those portable, digital assets that can be stored on a wallet accessible from any internet-connected device. And voila! Unencumbered ownership — an instant solution.

Consequently, online peer-to-peer marketplaces like Opensea are booming, drawing the attention of artists worldwide and offering them an opportunity to realize profits from their own work in ways they were never able to before. Consider, for example Mike Winkelmann, the artist known as Beeple. When Beeple sold his collage Everydays: The First 5000 Days for $69 million last March, he, according to quotes from Christie’s, joined the ranks of the most valuable living artists. And yet, less than a year before, $100 was reportedly the highest price he’d ever gotten for a print.

Musical artists are also taking note. In late January 2022, Toro Gato (music identity of Vampire Diaries actress and current UN Ambassador, Kat Graham) was the first to release an album entirely as an NFT. And in early February, Warner Music struck a deal with NFT platform OneOf to help create NFTs for their artists. Although the architecture for NFT music is still nascent, this space too is sure to explode, especially at a time when artists and music streaming services are clashing over the messages on their platforms.

Community building around NFTs

But the biggest advantage of the NFT movement that no one seems to be talking about is the way in which communities are built in and around these spaces. When Emily Ratajkowski sold an NFT photo of herself standing in front of an Instagram photo of herself, aptly titled “Buying Myself Back,” at Christies for $175k last May, she started a critical conversation about digital work and ownership and who profits from the images of individuals. Artists and entertainers, whose images are often sold without their permission, have been rallying around this movement, working to gain back some of their own rights to creative content.

And this community-building potential reaches every person who owns an NFT. In online spaces, mostly in Discord and Twitter, thousands of people join the town halls and chats of the projects in which they have bought in, creating tight-knit communities around specific projects. And it’s not just the Apes we’re talking about. It’s also the more reasonably-priced, but still expensive, Cool Cats (Mike Tyson owned one), World of Women (Reese Witherspoon is an avid supporter), and DeadFellaz (Elijah Wood bought in), along with all the other projects that generate a following. And those spaces host incredible conversations and opportunities to have socially intimate moments with people who are normally beyond our reach.

Discord talks and connections abound

When Toro Gato released her NFT album last week, TIMEPieces hosted a Discord Town Hall with Kat Graham and TIME’s artist in residence, 13-year-old Nyla Hayes (creator of the NylaCollection, supported on Twitter by Eva Longoria). More than 200 people attended, including Mondoir (one of the most renowned art collectors), other leaders in crypto, art, and industry, and just normal people like me, who were able to buy a TIME magazine TimePiece NFT for as little as a few hundred dollars.

Eva Longoria Baston’s Tweet re: Nyla Collection

But the best thing that happened in that town hall was not rubbing elbows with the NFT art elite. It was a far more intimate moment when Kat Graham invited members from one of her passion projects, MyHeartWater (an organization that aims to help communities get access to clean water) to the conversation. After hearing about what they do, Josh Katz from Yellow Heart (an NFT Life event ticketing and collectibles platform) donated his fees from the Toro Gato release to their mission. And everyone in the town hall left feeling the overwhelming and intimate power of community. The NFT world isn’t just a space for showcasing expensive digital art — real, intimate connections are built in these spaces.

TimePieces Tweet re: Yellow Heart donation

So even if we can’t afford to buy property in the Metaverse next to Snoop Dog, we can all join in movements and conversations to support art, creative justice, and human connection. In the words of Keith Grossman via Kat Graham — “Let’s use this technology for good. Let’s change the world.”

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Michelle Drouin

Behavioral scientist// Author of “Out of Touch: How to Survive an Intimacy Famine” @MIT Press// Daughter of 2 hippies// Writer of relationships, tech, and sex