Robin Sloan, in the conclusion to the first installment of his “media lab” community, explores the minting of NFTs to register art ownership on a blockchain. He loses cash, learns a new API and has fun. Ultimately, what makes it work for him is not the technology but the acts of language that make this a shared reality for the participants:

Again, I’ll remind you — this is so so crucial — when you buy CryptoPunk #2890, you are NOT buying an image of a little blue dude, as depicted above. Rather, you’re buying an entry in a ledger that associates your identity — yours alone — with CryptoPunk #2890, an image of a little blue dude. That’s it. That’s the deal.

This is really 100% social; it’s about conjuring a dream of ownership, of value. The CryptoPunks were, and are, a magic spell; I mean that in a basically literal sense.

What I still don't get – or perhaps I'm being purposefully obtuse, this is still young, unevolved technology with many possible futures – is how building startups, incompatible "standards" and competing art marketplaces around this really is different from what we have now. Wasn't this supposed to be a "protocols not platforms" party? I cannot help but agree with Sloan here:

It feels like the digital utopians (I have been one; I might be still) learn this lesson over and over: that accursed “centralization” often coincides with accessibility, usability, innovation, good design — the list goes on

Sloan's was the singular piece that made me see fun, value and yes, magic, in this area. The blockchain is a tool for telling stories. Only, the people those stories are for need the maths, the formulas, the networks and, ironically, the hefty real world price to believe in them.