The Gen Z Adoption of NFTs (I)
Ownership, identity, exclusivity and the *right-click*
Amidst all the hype around NFTs, there certainly exist those people skeptical of if and how these tokens are here to stay. I tend to agree on the surface that this NFT craze will end, but the question I want to address is where will it go from here, and what role will Gen Z play in that?
To do so, it's important we dive into the fundamental behaviors shaping this generation's adoption of this new technological advancement. Yes, there are big stats that Professor Galloway likes to tweet out about the rising number of NFT transactions.
But to truly understand if and how these non-fungible tokens may be here to stay, we need to look at how three critical factors have shaped the cognitive and psychosocial development of Generation Z.
What's important to understand is that for Gen Z, this whole ~ trend ~ right now with NFTs and the "metaverse" seems to be just a trend. Last week we asked 2k Gen Z'ers if they knew what the metaverse was, and 65% said no.
Eventually, the massive hype will die down around these crypto projects popping up so frequently. The question is, what will happen after that? What will the transition look like - or better yet, what will the transition be? In order to truly understand that, I believe we have to look deeper at the generation that will be positioned most directly to benefit or make use of these new developments.
Ownership: what ownership means to Gen Z, what does it mean to have proof of ownership, and what factors have influenced the changing meaning of ownership over time?
Identity: what is the importance of having a unique digital identity to Gen Z? what is the role of the PFP (profile picture) in creating or displaying that sense of identity?
Exclusivity: is exclusivity attractive to Gen Z? what factors have shaped our understanding and relationship with exclusivity over time?
We'll break these 3 factors apart, but for now, we'll start by looking at the idea of ownership within Gen Z, and what its changing meaning for Gen Z will determine about the mass adoption of NFTs.
One of my favorite newsletters recently wrote a piece called "Right-clickers vs the monkey JPG owners" diving into the polarizing opinions surrounding the value of NFTs.
What excites so many people about NFTs is the unique ownership element; there is cold, hard, indisputable proof that you are the owner of an NFT. And truly, that is very exciting. Maybe it will replace Duo Mobile, Gen Z's most hated app (make sure to see our screen time report).
But as you'll notice in that tweet above, much of the backlash against the movement comes from people who just save the image and make it their PFP or share it like it's their own, without truly "owning" it the ~NFT~ way. That article also references this Twitter thread from @nicodotgay, which is fascinating no matter what you believe:
As @nicodotgay goes on to say, "'digital scarcity' is an anti-human evolution ideology that imposes board game-like rules which serve no purpose than to preserve the game itself - to hide the internal contradictions of capitalism that become painfully obvious in an area of culture that has overcome scarcity."
Read that over one more time, it's worth fully grasping what it means.
Many label Generation Z as an anti-capitalist generation. And whether or not that is entirely true, it certainly is more true of this generation than of previous ones. So immediately off the bat, we see that a contradiction exists between the scarcification (is that a word?) of digital culture and the ethos and core principles of a generation. It would seem to make sense that beyond the environmental effects which are being addressed, there exists an immediate flag for this generation that has been demonstrative in its anti-capitalist rhetoric.
Here’s a fascinating nugget from this Vice article that dove into @nicodotgay's tweet:
“I think digital scarcity gives us broader insight into the ways in which class interests preserve themselves as conditions change,” they told Motherboard in a Twitter DM. “People in tech, particularly in the Elon Musk bubble, seem to have the impression that technological hypotheticals, such as asteroid mining or mars colonization, would inherently bring broad human prosperity, but NFTs show that as scarcity is alleviated, capital finds ways to create new forms of it, if it's necessary to preserve the existence of class differences."
The article goes on to share that Discord, a platform primarily composed of Gen Z gamers, had people canceling their subscriptions after the CEO hinted at an ethereum integration.
It's clear to me that the situation is not so clear - that NFTs, as they are currently viewed, are not outrightly "good" or “fit” for Gen Z.
The first question I had after diving through those articles was "what is Gen Z on TikTok saying?". First, I'd like to point out that NFT content is not super-rich on TikTok - in fact, it actually falls pretty low in both frequency and popularity of related content, two of the primary factors in measuring cultural relevance. But of the videos I found (that had some kind of traction), the responses were pretty abundant from Gen Z'ers sharing their direct opinions on videos that were trying to explain the utility of NFTs.
Why is this the reaction we're seeing from Gen Z to NFTs?
To understand this, we need to understand screenshotting and digital art within the context of "ownership" for Gen Z. All these comments just reference the idea of screenshotting or copying the image, seeing no problem with that. And there's a good reason why...
If I could rename or re-label Gen Z from iGen, I would highly consider the"Screenshot Generation". For us, the meaning of proof has always been a screenshot.
Your crush sent you a dm saying you were cute? Pics or it didn't happen.
You got a new high score in fruit ninja? Pics or it didn't happen.
Platforms like Snapchat with photos and messages that disappear after opening have both created the need and been used as a solution for photographic evidence. And this is not just an old or dying behavior. You'll see people posting screenshots of their text messages all the time, ranging from athletes to asking random celebrities to prom, to a Gen Z'er on TikTok making a video of something that happened.
Here is just one telling example of a girl that was questioned for bringing up abuse. Even in serious situations, screenshots are used as clear-cut evidence. The caption on the video says “here’s a screenshot, let’s just hope this is vague enough that tiktok doesn’t remove it”.
For Gen Z, screenshots are evidence.
So when "NFTs" are introduced as digital proof of ownership of an image, it makes sense why there's inherent skepticism in the generation that has grown up sharing these screenshots as evidence.
Why tf would we not just save/screenshot?? Who cares if they "own" it because now I do *right-click*.
Both of those are real comments I've heard and seen from Gen Z'ers.
The progression of ownership over time for Gen Z
What is abundantly clear to me about Gen Z's adoption of NFTs is that it’s not going to happen as is; there has to be something that propels interest and adoption of this new way of "owning" things. Because after all, that's all NFTs are anyway - just the next progression of "ownership" in culture.
We're in the process of a big report on Gen Z and ownership that asks and answers the question "How has the meaning of ownership changed with Gen Z?".
We dive deep into fast fashion vs luxury fashion, social media, travel and transportation (Airbnb vs house, Uber vs cars), music (iTunes vs Spotify and Apple Music), and, of course, cryptocurrency.
While we're still deep in the weeds of that report, it has provided the foundation for many of these thoughts and we're excited to keep diving in. And without spoiling all the fun, the meaning of ownership has certainly shifted for Generation Z - a generation that has grown up and been shaped by these major technological shifts in access and ownership.
If I were an adamant defender of the NFT movement as it is today, I would argue the next points in response to this article:
It will allow you to express identity in a completely individualized way; whether it's in your profile picture or on your avatar. And I know Gen Z loves showing off their individuality!
The technology can be used to create exclusive social clubs (like BAYC), exclusive access to drops, and demonstrate irrefutable evidence that you're "in" the group. Cool kid confirmed.
And I'd say both of those are valid - Gen Z does love expressing individuality, and exclusive access is certainly a model that's proven attractive in the past.
We'll address the shaping of identity and exclusivity for Gen Z next time.
For now, let’s talk about this. I’m expecting some disagreement, hesitation, and rejection from the crypto communities of the world. So let’s get the convo going!