Uniqueness

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The Devil’s Advocate

A unique fellow, yesterday. Actually, about 30 years ago. Jeez.


In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.

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The Blockchain’s unique selling point is uniqueness: a single entry on the ledger is there, it is fixed, it is unique for all time and uneditable. Any facsimile of it is non-fungible. By contrast, the regular internet not only allows lossless copying, but encourages it and, in fact, is predicated on it. That’s at the heart of its packet switching, end-to-end architecture.

In this regard, blockchain and the regular internet are completely incommensurable. This is the price you pay for entering the distributed ledger: you get your uniqueness, but in return you must leave the flawed peer-to-peer world, and anything on it, behind. You can recreate the regular internet on the blockchain, but it is — well, different.

Now bitcoin — say what you like about it, and we have plenty to say elsewhere — is “blockchain native” — it exists in, of and only within the blockchain. Bitcoins are therefore intrinsically, certifiably, unique. That is about their one true advantage.

Now if you create your artwork on the blockchain, you get that same native uniqueness: any facsimiles of the artwork that exist off blockchain — copies floating around on the internet and so on — are, certifiably, ontologically inferior to the one on the ledger. That one is the real deal.

But — and maybe walled social media platforms on the internet, structured as DAOs are different; the JC doesn’t yet really understand them — mostly, a blockchain is a really crappy place to create art - rather like trying to create a word document in excel. Really limiting. Look, it’s one thing for David Hockney to do all his painting on an iPad: quite another to realise your whole ouevre in an electronic cashbook. Maybe this will change, but the blockchain as it is, is a clunky, slow, costly thing. It has only one advantage: uniqueness.

For anyone making art the old-fashioned way — paint and paper, sand and glue, inverting urinals and signing them — or even more so writing music or literature — whose artwork “natively” lives outside a distributed ledger, or its value does not subsist in its substrate, but rather in the abstract information the substrate carries (such as a book or a score) — having your artwork encoded on a blockchain, in a unique substrate doesn’t really help you.

If you import a "canonical" “real world” artwork, then the blockchain representation is the one that is certifiably, ontologically inferior: it is uniquely, definitively not the original work.

Ironically, putting a real artwork on blockchain makes your non-fungible token worse than an straight digital copy.

Is uniqueness really, er, special?

The rampant copy-ability of anything everything in Web 2.0 no doubt prompted the stampede to non-fungibility. Authenticity is in deep demand: no-one trusts experts anymore. Everything is ripped off. Everything is fake. Indubitability — certainty — is some kind of holy grail.[1] But is uniqueness, in the abstract, of any value, in and of itself?

We say, “no,” all the above notwithstanding.

The JC has a small commonplace book of poems he composed, as a moleish adolescent.[2] It exists in single copy, in fountain pen ink on cartridge paper, rendered in his youthful, spidery left-handed scrawl. Make no mistake: these are some of the worst poems composed in the history of civilisation.[3] Not one has been committed to any other format and nor, if the JC has any say in the matter, will they ever be. They are, thus, utterly unique.

Do they have an iota of value? Outside their extortion potential, they do not. Does their uniqueness change this? It does not.

Why does he keep them? It is impossible to say.

See also

References

  1. But see our essay as to why doubt is no bad thing.
  2. Adrian Mole-ish, or Wind-in-the-Willows Mole-ish, it doesn’t really make a difference.
  3. They would give Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings a run for her money.