Digital art social clubs

And the vagueness of "creators"

Hello! Two new columns I wrote for The New Yorker have been published recently, which I recap here. Other than that not much to report; summer seems to be entering its doldrums phase, AKA August.

What the “Creator Economy” Promises — and What It Actually Does — The New Yorker

If you’ve been anywhere online lately, you’ve probably heard the phrases “creator” and “creator economy.” If you’re posting on TikTok, making podcasts, or writing newslters you’re now a creator. It’s the newest buzzwords for internet businesses: every platform wants to court creators and, supposedly, help people make money by selling their content. Creator might be a step above the previous cliche, “influencer,” but it remains an exploitative model in which platforms hold more control than the users making them money:

In some ways, the creator economy does appear to give more agency to the user. Rather than trying to game social-media algorithms, creators can theoretically rely on more dependable income from supporters. They can choose which kinds of work they take on, whether it be newsletters, livestreams, or audio chats. “They don’t have to care about fighting against the current of the platform,” Sam Yam, the co-founder of Patreon, a pioneer of the creator economy, said. In Yam’s mind, earning a living as a creator is an evolution of the so-called gig economy facilitated by companies like Uber and TaskRabbit. Followers are paying for access to someone’s unique talent or voice. “You care about the individual more than just the task that needs to be done,” Yam said. “It’s value exchanged for creativity.” The model promises a more human and less automated interaction. What were once called followers—the anonymous numbers racking up on a profile page like so many fungible eyeballs—are now customers, supporters, and patrons.

Why Bored Ape Avatars Are Taking Over Twitter — The New Yorker

Sometimes you see a thing online and just can’t stop until you figure out just what it is and why it’s happening. That was the case with this story, which profiles something called Bored Ape Yacht Club: a batch of 10,000 NFT avatars (scarce digital images) that sold for $2 million total and have now created a market of more than $100 million. That’s way bigger than a bunch of cartoon primates inhabiting a rundown Everglades dive bar, as the project’s website shows. What’s so compelling to me about BAYC is that it’s somewhere between an art project, a sports team, a streetwear brand, a hedge fund, and a creative studio: owners of the NFTs can make their own projects in the ape universe, which expands infinitely. It’s a form of decentralized culture, like if fans owned the Marvel universe.

I hope you read this one, if nothing else it’s a tale of an extremely wacky niche in digital culture. “I’m paying my rent by trading jpeg pictures on the Internet. That’s what I tell my parents,” one participant told me:

Bored Ape Yacht Club has sold branded baseball caps, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to ape sanctuaries, and offered each collector a dog N.F.T., courtesy of the Bored Ape Kennel Club. But it was also one of the first clubs to offer individual buyers the commercial rights to the apes they own: each member is allowed to brand his own projects or products and sell them independently. In the three months since the club launched, Bored Ape owners have put the cartoon primates on lines of craft beer and created animated YouTube series, made painted replicas, and designed skateboard decks. Kyle Swenson, the clothing reseller, launched a publication called the Bored Ape Gazette, to cover the community. One owner named their ape “Jenkins the Valet,” gave him a backstory as the Yacht Club’s chief gossip, and is crowdfunding an ape-themed novel.