The last party of NFT.NYC was on a boat. A big one. A 200-foot charter yacht parked in the Hudson harbor. We were not supposed to be there. We didn’t even know where there was. Once onboard, I asked a passing staff member, where am I? He looked at me, then at the door I was blocking. I don’t know, he said. They pay me. I show up.
I got into NYC near midnight the night before and would leave by dawn the next day. @3lpr0f and the rest of the cultr_h0r gang had staked out the conference for the whole week, but a loss in my family and an anaphylactic yellowjacket sting which landed me in an ER-bound ambulance foiled my plans of joining them for more than a couple evenings. I was intent on making what little time I did have count. But not by flexing my crypto hodlings, landing whitelist on the next blue chip, finding alpha, or anything else of tangible value, though. Of course not. No, I went with only one simple question in need of answering. What does community mean to web3, really?
It’s a top three crypto buzzword and any NFT Twitter thot leader worth their pinned GM tweet seems to have an opinion on it. I figured, even on my time crunch, answering it would be easy. It turned out to be anything but. Indeed, for an average, anonymous white dude in a white shirt, white shoes, blue jeans, I can’t remember the last time I found it so hard to fit in. It’s not that I wasn’t surrounded by average, anonymous white dudes in NYC — although racial diversity at the crypto conference wasn’t negligible, anonymous white dudes handily comprised the majority. Rather, it had to do with how average I was compared to them. By their metrics anyway. It’s one thing to see the status NFTs symbolize manifest in octagonal profile pictures and follower counts. Face-to-face it is another entirely.
At NFT.NYC people introduce themselves with the pieces of the internet they own. The market aggregator they founded, the Twitter space they organize, the NFTs in their wallet. Owning none myself, I found the social disadvantage crippling. I waited in line for hours while our resident Doodle hodlers vied for their chance to buy a Doodle2 and/or a $50 hat with a ._. face printed on it. During, we were approached by a number of web3 luminaries: whales, website founders, even the Banksy of Doodles, Bandit. They all seemed nice. It’s the highest compliment I can give considering — upon realizing I had neither a blue Doodle hodler lanyard, a pink Doodle hodler’s plus one lanyard, or really any web3 accomplishment to my name aside from an email newsletter no one (no offense) reads — they said all of two words to me. Despite playing out IRL instead of on Discord, it was unmistakably the DAO model. The more you buy in, the bigger your say. And, if not bought in at all, you’re nothing more than an anonymous username swimming in the private channels of a closed sea.
As we neared the entrance to the event, I realized I wasn’t even getting in. Staff members moved up and down the block-long line, trying to wrangle chaos into order with clipboards of all 10,000 Doodle numbers, checking in with every person in line to confirm they were a hodler or a plus one. For a movement all about democratizing access to finance and technology, I found them all suspiciously fond of gatekeeping. Nevertheless, I was happy to excuse myself out of line and into the bar next door to enjoy an $18 glass of whiskey and get a head start on forgetting the whole thing.
Getting into the club the Doodles team had rented out and rebranded as the Doodle Lounge turned out to be a lot easier. Half of it was an open-air pavilion, so I just lingered on the outskirts of the premises as I had all day until the rest of our party got in, at which point they passed me a pink lanyard over a flower box of fake foliage and I was in, too. The day got better. While the rebrand itself wasn’t much different from the rebrand of the whole city — stickers on walls, stickers on doors, stickers on bathroom mirrors, a projector and handful of TV screens tuned into Nickelodeon level animations for good measure — the open bar was a nice touch. We got very drunk and started to network. Well, tried, anyway.
After hovering for too long outside a small circle while a guy I only knew to call by his handle explained blockchain data indexing stacks, I broke for another beer and a new strategy. I looked for someone else with a pink lanyard and a lost look on their face. Common ground, not compromise, as @3lpr0f would say. Most clung to their Doodle hodling buddies like remoras. But, eventually, I found one alone, an almost-as-lanky individual looking almost as out-of-place as myself.
Not a Doodle hodler either? I asked.
No, he said. And then, as if this simple Q&A already had him on the back foot, he mounted a furious comeback. Goblintown hodler myself. Akumu Dragonz. Alien Soul. Knight Birds. Free-to-mint is the next big thing I think. You?
Me? Knocked off guard by his interest in my own perspective, I defaulted to honesty. I think it’s all a bunch of bullshit personally.
Oh. I see you. He nodded along for a few more seconds as if I was still talking, then excused himself abruptly.
Eventually we fell in with a dood NFT embroidered on the back of his denim jacket and all. He was at least a generation older than us with a much better haircut and sneakers from StockX I assumed because of the zip tie on the laces. He started talking to us after @MAD_IS_ON__fire asked for his Doodle number. His Doodle looked like a skeleton in a crown smoking a cigarette. She asked because that’s very much her vibe and she wanted to print it on a tee shirt. There was a machine in the Doodle Lounge that printed out tee shirts with a black and white stencil of your Doodle on them when you entered your Doodle number. Well not really. Whenever you entered any Doodle number regardless of whether you hodl one or not the machine printed a piece of paper with a picture of the Doodle signified by that number printed on it. Then one of the women staffed to stand behind the machine at all times held up the picture of the Doodle and asked, is this your Doodle? around the bar until someone spoke up and confirmed it was indeed their Doodle. Then the woman behind the machine put the picture of the Doodle into another machine which made it into a stencil. Then the woman behind the machine grabbed a tee shirt of the size you specified from a pile of tee shirts with NFT.NYC machine printed already in bubble letters on the front side and stenciled the Doodle signified by the number you entered into the machine so long ago now onto the top third of the back in an awkward angle emphasizing the slight hump I and most of the Doodle Lounge patrons and NFT.NYC attendees (having spent far less time in the meatspace than the metaverse) had. IRL POAPs. Automation at its finest. Why not? I got one myself.
Anyway when @MAD_IS_ON__fire asked skeleton-crown-cigarette Dood his Doodle number he seemed surprised she didn’t know it already and explained that Doodles who look like skeletons in crowns smoking cigarettes are very scarce. Only a handful of highly priced or off-the-market NFTs even possess the skeleton attribute. As such they had disabled the machines from accepting or printing any Doodle number signifying a Doodle who looks like a skeleton, wears a crown, is an alien, or any other such rare attributes. He couldn’t even print his own Doodle on his own free tee shirt! Luckily he could buy a custom denim jacket with his Doodle embroidered on it so everyone would know he had access to the anonymous wallet address associated with a scarce Doodle number. The implication being his Doodle number had given others hodling Doodles with their own numbers the impression he was someone. Someone, maybe, who, in a way, they weren’t. But, being as they, too, hodl Doodles, also, in a way, the same.
Dood turned out to be a crypto whale of some kind. One with significant investments in lots of projects and protocols I’d actually heard of. Amazingly, he also turned out to be a super nice guy. And after we got booted from the Doodle Lounge for sharing a joint with him at our table we finished it on the sidewalk while he called one of his high-powered connections about some mysterious party and generously asked, think I can swing a plus five?
And so we found ourselves boarding a mega yacht port side then along a deck crawling with future Instagram posts posed on gunwales and piles of nautical rope up a side stairwell a couple stories out onto the top deck of the party. Colored lights and thumping kicks shattered the darkness along with a series of digital screens scattered across the deck displaying naked bodies and pixel art vaginas and Bored Apes with long hair. To our right, a bar, top shelf and fully stocked. To our left, two chairs, fully reclined, couple lying, arms limp, staring at the ceiling wearing VR headsets.
I turned to @Kev_PureSpec.
You seen Atlanta?
Is this not totally fucking that?
We went down a flight into a mezzanine of tables adorned with bottle service overlooking a dance floor. A pink-haired DJ in an aloha shirt and crop top played to a crowd of mostly men in dark, forgettable fits. She performed before a bespoke seizure warning, a flatscreen digital mashup of blue chip NFTs, strobing and glitching violently. She played straight dubstep. The crowd danced with whatever they had in their hands. Drinks and phones mostly. @3lpr0f and I walked out behind another bar into another stairwell where a wraparound couch underlined a bay windshield with a clear view of the skyline and other introverts. I leaned over.
Weird fucking vibes. It’s like moving through holograms out there. Doesn’t feel like anyone is really here. Just projections sourced from mental constructs rendered in digital form. You know what I mean? Like. Avatars or something.
You drunk bro?
A couple influencer types cut through. I took their pictures. Are you taking pictures of the event? asked one. Yeah, I said, accurately if not truthfully. Are you one of those degens who will sue if you get doxxed? I’ll delete them if you want. No, they said. I want them. I want all the pictures of me.
I turned back to @3lpr0f. See what I mean? No one here is moving through life. Just screenshotting it. I don’t know, he said. All I see is a community coming together physically and fiscally for a common interest. Whether it’s a common good or not is up for debate. But community is community.
I wasn’t sure. Still, here we were on a mysterious yacht party out of my own surrealist techno dystopian nightmares, a real world simulation glitch if I’d ever seen one. If I couldn’t answer my question here, then where? So I did one more round, stole a half-drunk bottle of Moët from an abandoned ice bucket, returned to our party, downed it, and decided to take one last shot at testing the community hypothesis.
On the other end of the couch a man my shape and size with shoulder-length dreads sat playing Pokémon on his phone. I grabbed my ego and cup scooched over.
Can I ask you a question?
Where the fuck am I?
He laughed. You good?
No. I’m serious. I have no idea where I am. Why am I here? Why are you here?
Same reason as you I bet. Everyone else for sure.
To make some schmoney of course.
Lmao, I said out loud. Come on. I’m looking in your eyes here. You really believe in all this shit?
I believe it could make me some money.
Fake internet money maybe. But alright. You think this — I gestured — is this future of finance and technology and democracy? How old are you my guy?
Damn. You look young as fuck. But even better. You’re my elder. A grown ass man. So you tell me. Are we de generation?
I don’t know about all that. But I’d bet money on the metaverse.
The metaverse? I lol’d. And what will it look like?
What you mean lil bro? You’re looking at it.
He finished his encounter in the video game then went to smoke a blunt on the roof with his bros. At the top of the stairs he stopped and turned back.
Yo. Watch my phone?
I stood guard for what felt like another couple hours (but was probably a couple minutes) even as the cultr_h0r crowd reconvened and urged me to go. Something about the sight of the little screen — sunk deep between the couch cushions, recharging through a cracked cord sucking whatever energy it could from the boat keeping web3 afloat all evening — kept me tethered there. Too far gone to explain it any better.
But while I waited, I wondered. Does the blockchain enable true connection online? Seemed to me to be the opposite. Cash grabbing over utility. Scarcity over access. Meta over reality. If everyone was here for themselves, their Twitter networks, their crypto wallets, their hodlings, could it really be a collective experience? Or just a collection of digitized egos convening together, only now in a yacht cabin, not a chatroom? Still, here I was at the end of a wild night feeling… something. But what? How could I know? I didn’t even know where I was.
@3lpr0f passed me his phone. He’d found the event. It was called Women in Web3. I looked around the meatspace. Emphasis on the meat. Unreal, I said. Literally unreal.
We went to leave. On the stairwell I passed the Pokétrainer. He walked by without saying a word. He found his phone stored safe in the couch. Then, as if the smoke had overloaded his CPU, he turned on a two-second delay and smiled at me.
Yo. You watched my phone. You could’ve just left but you right here. You’re a real one lil bro.
And it hit me. There it was. In spite of it all, community.