The NFT Singularity

Danielle Lee Tomson
5 min readApr 2, 2021


Crypto, Present Shock and NFTs — The 4th Turning Electric Boogaloo (No, not that one!)

Singularity, here we come!

I hadn’t heard of NFTs until I got on the invite-only chat app, Clubhouse, about two months ago. Honestly, why else would I have heard about them? As a scholar of right-wing social media, my algorithms on every social media platform have been hijacked by years of outrage porn from the right-wing media business and left-wing reactionary culture — with unhealthy doses of bots and anons. These are not places that typically talk about NFTs or bitcoin except as a political object to be discussed for tax or environmental degradation purposes. Maybe you’d hear someone talk about it as an insider get rich quick scheme, or saying they’d accept bitcoin if they had been “deplatformed.”

But once I did hear of NFTs, they suddenly became everything, taking on mythic metallurgical qualities. They were art. They were value. They were authenticity. They were objects. The technology could be anything you want it to be. They were the singularity, the present, the now. They just seemed like another meme, but one you could own. No wonder rich Silicon Valley types loved ’em.

An NFT offers the mere concept of authenticity to be bought and sold in a market, backed by electronics and trust. We have reached what Doug Rushkoff calls “Present Shock,” what Ray Kurzweil might call “The Singularity” and what I’ll simply call the “Great Flattening” or the collapse of concepts with objects, signifiers and signs — put that in your semiotics pipe and smoke it!

Hold up. What is an NFT? It is a non-fungible token. What does that mean? It is a digital certificate of ownership on the blockchain for a digital asset — like a certificate of authenticity and ownership. They can’t be duplicated. They are unique and therefore have variable values depending on the market for them. Art market enthusiasts are already cackling with glee as we have met the final frontier of the most essentialized form of authenticity and provenance — authenticity itself. It is the real deal, even if it is nothing more than digitally mediated “real.” The excitement is evidenced by Christies and Sotheby’s already auctioning off NFT art.

What is any currency after all? An agreed upon asset with trust — institutional or collective — in the value it represents. What is an NFT? A certificate of authentic existence, with trust that it represents something. For an era with no trust in institutions or experts, the rise of crypto feels like the ultimate expression of putting more value in strangers on the internet than governments, banks, or experts.

With any new dream of new financial or cultural frontiers, the NFT and crypto markets are wild with speculation. Day traders finding formerly-starving digital artists on twitter to buy their NFTs, selling them off quickly to ratchet up the value or value itself. Trust is being built by cultural figures like Tesla CEO and Meme Lord (yes that is his formal SEC title), Elon Musk. We are going to the moon! Both literally and figuratively!

The result is a kind of chaos, where simple acts of authentic digital creation are ripe with speculation and value, to be bought and sold, hyped and branded. The medium is the…. Everything.

More than anything, it might be the farthest away from human we can get (these pieces of art and coins would disappear should every server in the world shut down). They are immaterial. They are concepts. They feel so… reproducible (shout out to Walter Benjamin and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”). There is nothing physical about them. We cannot see them, only know them. Yet they are so uniquely human in that they are our creations, and ours alone. They exist in our minds, our machines, and most fundamentally, our sense of trust in each other. They are the apotheosis of human-ness.

Every kind of human thing though, brings human problems — no matter how detached. Yes, right now crypto, NFTs, and blockchain could promise to break the “Big Tech” platform stranglehold on our content, liberate us from regulated institutions, allow us to transfer value across borders and space, and empower anyone with a little bit of knowledge, capital, and capacity to create. This of course makes it feel like a libertarian field day, akin to the 1990s cyberpunk, cryptolibertarian psychedelic keyboard rock’n’warriors like John Perry Barlow. We can be anything and do anything on the next frontier. But still, you need the phone, the capital, and the knowledge. And considering humans are already augmenting their minds, bodies, and computing capacities if they have the money, the playing field for this “open frontier” reveals it isn’t as open as you’d think. We might be going to the moon, but the earth is burning.

Pop-history theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss had a theory of history, outlined in a book called The Fourth Turning, popularized by Steve Bannon’s belief in it. The theory goes that there are cycles of history, each cycle divided in quarters. In the “final” turn, the 4th Turning, society falls apart into a kind of chaos, where a new order and ethic will be determined by the fighting parties. Winner takes all.

The chaos is here, surely. The lack of trust in government, religious institutions, and corporations reveal themselves in conspiracy theories like QAnon, manifesting quite physically in the January 6th storming of the Capitol. We might have mistaken this physical civil war as the battleground. Yet, for every war, there are defectors and people who flee the scene to make a new utopia. In this 4th Turning, those who have resources are already setting up shop and dictating the new order in a chaotic creative frontier, while the rest of us duke it out.

This kind of chaos is not the 4th Turning you were looking for.

So let us celebrate the opportunity of this moment and the ingenuity of humans. Let the artists make money. Let the dissident resource herself. Let the stateless find freedom and capacity online. But let us also remember the baggage we bring with us, the inequality, the racism, the sexism, the greed, and as we flatten reality into fundamental digital precepts, let us not also flatten our humanity with it.



Danielle Lee Tomson

Personal Musings of a Scholar and Strategist Navigating Propaganda, Tech, and Power