We are entering the Age of the Creator. The confluence of the internet, the tools it has produced, and blockchain technology, is delivering us from the Industrial Age to the Creator Age at speed. And for anyone interested in the idea of Financial Autonomy and gaining choice, that’s a wonderful thing.
At the outset I want to acknowledge Packy McCormick and his piece Power to the Person which has had a big impact on me and was the seed for this piece.
I’ve written in the past noting how the current income generation model for most people in the developed world, being an employee, has not been the norm throughout history. Prior to the Industrial age, most people generated the income they required for food and shelter through self-employment, perhaps farming, or manufacturing items like leather goods, bread, clothing or metalware. The work involved their personal skill and effort, and they typically dealt directly with the end buyer. It’s important not to romanticise these times. Most of the land was owned by the crown, the church, or a wealthy elite, and the standard of living granted to the average citizen was poor by today’s standards.
Then 200 odd years ago, inventions like the steam engine and power loom shepherded us into factory’s, of which today’s offices are an evolutionary by-product. And for the most part we are better for it. Life expectancy has roughly doubled, perhaps the most basic measure of human advancement.
Much has been written about the Information Age, the proposition being that the arrival of the internet and affordable computing has fundamentally moved humanity to a new paradigm. Perhaps as AI develops that may prove to be the case, but so far at least it seems that these new tools haven’t greatly altered how most people sustain their basic needs. They still trade their skills and time for a reliable wage, with their employer retaining a portion of their value add to either reward the providers of capital or invest in growing the enterprise.
But is the world shifting?
This past year many of us have worked from home due to COVID. Some have found they prefer it, others hate it. Everyone is happy to skip the commute. Most people miss the human interaction that a workplace brings. But what we’ve all learned, employers and employees, is that we don’t need to be in an office to get stuff done. Indeed often we are getting more stuff done working from home, minus the distractions.
Tools like Zoom, Slack, Trello, and Teams enable us to co-operate in a way that removes physical proximity from the productivity equation. Yet that’s just the start. Platforms like Teachable, Substack, and Youtube enable creators, whether individually or co-operatively, to be paid for the work they produce (check out this recent Financial Autonomy podcast for an illustration: Making Serious Money on Youtube with Justin Baldori).
Where the internet alone has failed to significantly shift how we allocate the hours of our working week, perhaps the tools that have been developed on the internet are now primed to deliver the autonomy and freedom so often evangelised.
But most of these tools aren’t new. Where things have gotten interesting is the potential additional layer of NFT’s. NFT’s – non-fungible tokens, are the hot topic right now. Here’s an explainer if you want to get up to speed. Currently most of the chatter is around their application to collectables, especially NBA video clips (great post here by Michael Batnick on this), and digital artworks. This is all fun and interesting but the bubble will burst at some point and the world will move on. The blockchain technology that sits behind these NFT’s however will almost certainly not fade away.
NFT’s provide a template for how digital assets can be owned, and that ownership be tracked. They are an Intellectual Property tool for digital creations. And most of the things creators produce today are digital. From writers, to programmers, musicians, teachers, researchers, and entrepreneurs who can see opportunities to stick together different pieces to form something new, the output of their unique creative genius is either inherently digital or can typically take on a digital form.
Let’s imagine you’re a nurse who has worked in Intensive Care for a dozen years. You’ve observed the challenges faced when a new nurse is brought into the team, the onboarding ramp up and the need to keep the team functioning smoothly and efficiently in a high stress environment. You’ve found a few key processes and protocols that have helped your team to bring new nurses up to speed quickly and efficiently and you’d like to share that with others.
Perhaps you could approach your manager and run some training sessions at your hospital. Maybe you could pop a video on Youtube and hope that someone for whom it is relevant stumbles across it. You could create an online course on Teachable demonstrating your process, but chances are the reach would be minimal.
But what if instead you could create some content, perhaps a combination of video, text, and checklists, that universities around the world could insert into their courses. It could be distributed using NFT technology so that every time a teaching institution used your material, you received a royalty, in the same way an author does today whenever a book is sold. You could imagine someone putting together the equivalent of today’s textbooks, but comprising the best ideas and processes from 100’s, maybe 1,000’s of people with royalties split via NFT.
Now apply this model to software, music, graphic design. I have only a millimetre deep understanding of the opensource software universe, but from what I can glean, a) it a very valuable resource, and b) the people’s whose skills created this resource are poorly rewarded. Could NFT technology change that? Every time a piece of software is plugged into a new development, the creator picks up a small clip. Small enough not to be a barrier, and the process sufficiently frictionless so as not to dissuade use.
Such a model would certainly encourage creativity. And it’s here right now. NFT’s on the blockchain.
As AI gets smarter and smarter, the rewards for doing many of the task we earn a living from today will likely evaporate. But creativity, that’s something we humans can monopolies. The likes of Youtube, Teachable, and even Spotify are today enabling some creators to make a living producing their content. But the numbers successfully doing so are small. For those seeking Financial Autonomy and gaining the choices in life that we all desire, the conditions are ripe for that opportunity to broaden enormously, enabling more people to pursue their particular super powers and be rewarded for the value they add to the world.
We are entering the Creator Age.
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