You can read the original post on Mirror!
Two days ago, Twitter released a new feature allowing users to connect their crypto wallet and choose an NFT to use as a profile picture. To show the authenticity, your profile picture will now display in the shape of a hexagon if ownership is verified by a blockchain.
As insignificant as this may or may not sound to you, this is yet another step in the world’s shift in digital presence - and the road ahead is more consequential than you may think.
Definitions and Terminology
The reality is that 90% of the world still doesn’t know much about crypto.
“pfp” stands for “profile picture.” It is the icon or image associated with your social media account (or eventually any service you use with your real or pseudonymous identity), which you can customize and set to pretty much whatever you want.
NFT’s are Non-Fungible Tokens - these are basically units of digital property that represent something truly unique - and is backed by a record on the blockchain, a really big, decentralized database of records of ownership and transactions, that cannot be changed after it’s been written.
A Little History
The internet used to be the wild west for identity. Nobody knew who you were, what kind of job you had, if you were a good person or not, and so on.
Do you remember IMVU (online world), or Club Penguin, or any of those social interaction platforms? You could go to someone’s igloo, hang out with a bunch of flightless birds who you’d never meet in real life, and say and pretend to be whoever you wanted.
This was a chance to recreate ourselves, or for a moment, live as somebody else. We could say what we thought without fear of repercussion or reputation. There was a raw honesty that came with the protection of anonymity.
If you were in college a few years ago, you might remember YikYak. It was an app that had a field day across college campuses because it allowed people to post thoughts completely anonymously, and you could view a feed of posts based on location. You can imagine the wreckage that ensued, along with a lot of laughs (brutal honesty can be really, really funny).
Like all human-driven things, I can’t leave out the negative impact this identity veil had. I certainly don’t want to minimize it either. People lied (and still do) about all kinds of things. People said terrible things to each other. All of us have said things online that we may not have said if it was tied to “us.” Online bullying is still a major issue, and we can’t deny the impacts on mental health we all experience because of the internet. We must all be better.
Eventually, social platforms began to emerge where it was actually a benefit to associate with your true self. For some, it was MySpace, for me, it was Facebook. It became your little corner of the internet to show off to your friends and portray yourself the way you wanted to be seen. Nowadays, most of the biggest social platforms are tied to a person’s physical identity.
Web3 brought a sense of anonymity back to the internet, if only for a while. For a few years, you had a string with a bunch of letters and numbers to represent your wallet, and that was pretty much it. You could interact in forums deep in the web that still exist and talk with others that dreamt of a different kind of world. In a sense, it was visionary, with the promise of actually changing the corrupt systems we all are part of.
Crypto gained momentum. The people who bet on wild-sounding ideas began to see the value of their wallet climb and climb. Technology advanced enough for crypto to actually start having interactive utility and the world of possibilities began to rapidly expand. With this wealth, the world started to take notice.
New millionaires and billionaires (crypto whales) emerged. As the value and capability of crypto grows, so does the desire to claim it for your own status. The .eth boom allowed users to associate a readable name with their wallets. Now the world could see (very publicly) how much value they had, what kind of NFTs they collected, and the history of all of their actions (Etherscan). Simply put, there has been a cultural shift in understanding our digital identities.
When CryptoPunks and BAYC exploded, a trend emerged of changing your profile picture to these images (popular on Twitter). It was a signal of “in-ness” - a show that you’re a member of a particular community - but more than anything it was a status symbol. Still, you could lie about it and post whatever image you wanted. It was still hard(ish) for people to catch you in a lie.
Capitalism Strikes Again
We’ve been lucky so far that so many of these large social gathering platforms have been free for the average user. Sure, you could pay to promote posts, but everyone understood it was kinda cringe to see “promoted” posts of an individual trying to pay for a following.
With this recent NFT pfp feature, Twitter has changed the game. To use this on your account, you have to have Twitter Blue. Twitter Blue is a PAID version of the platform that lets you use premium features. That means everyone who has a hexagon pfp on Twitter has shelled out money per year. People have noticed, and memes (of course) have emerged.
As funny as these memes are, they’re completely on point. To choose an NFT as a pfp, you have to connect your wallet, and then you can only choose from the assets you actually own in that wallet. People can’t hide behind a veil anymore.
This does seem great from a verification perspective. For the most part, you can trust that whoever is claiming they own some important NFT actually does, and so on. On the other hand, there is suddenly a huge pressure for people who want to be in the “in” crowd to pay, to own something (some of these big NFTs are 6-7 figures, btw), and to follow suit in some way - or be forgotten in irrelevance.
Another thing that’s bothered me is everyone’s immediate adoption of associating their identity, their wallets, and their social media with one another. By connecting your wallet with Twitter, or with your name in general, people know exactly what you own. It’s like walking through a questionable neighborhood with a Rolex on and AirPods in while scrolling through your emails. Have we all lost our minds?
The bottom line is that crypto security isn’t bulletproof. Especially Metamask, which we all absolutely know someone who has been scammed within 2 degrees of separation. By flaunting these high-value NFTs, you’re sounding an alarm and waving your arms in the air, potentially compromising your security.
I’m aware that the majority of hardcore crypto fans are a lot smarter than this and aren’t keeping their big ticket NFTs in a non-secure browser wallet, but there are still those that don’t realize how big their collections have become, and leave everything in plain sight.
What it Means
If the big brand buy-in to crypto is a sign for anything (Nike, Adidas, Gucci, and now, even Prada), it’s that NFT’s are past the event horizon of whether or not they’re here to stay. Blockchain and the Metaverse are a part of our world now, and we’re still very, very early.
With our assets and our histories (transactions, interactions, etc) visible in our wallets, or status and presence follows close behind. We’ve spent years curating our digital identities through our photos, our writing, and our other content. This Twitter feature is a loud step in tying money directly into the interactions themselves.
NFTs aren’t just jpegs. They have utility, access, meaning - they connect you to a world much greater - but at the end of the day, you buy and sell them with money. Your identity is no longer assessed by what kind of car you drive or how big your house is. It’s about the rarity of your monkey, the Discord channels you’re in, and all of our favorites: the blue check mark next to your name.
The path is becoming more and more clear: our digital identity represents our online worth. We are accumulating more and more stuff, and we are seeing this property become a part of a cultural shift in the understanding of our own identities and how we express ourselves.
This shift means that we need to understand how to protect our value, and to protect our legacy. I’ve been really excited to work on this problem: how our digital legacies become true and forever. You can learn more about my work at Webacy here.
As I’ve said, our lives are increasingly shifting online and with it our identities do too. With so much now visible to the world, I can only hope that we still value the things that can’t be seen.