Since the tech and social media boom over the last decade, our desire to present our best virtual selves at all times has grown increasingly important. During the pandemic, this reliance grew more integral than ever when virtual connections became the norm and physical interactions took a back seat. Subsequently, our digital identity merged with our physical one. Arguably, this was always going to happen, but the pandemic certainly accelerated this shift towards web 3.0 innovation. It forced us to cross paths with it, whether we liked it or not. As a result of the NFT boom earlier this year, digital identity has become more prevalent and important to those of us who interact daily in the NFT community. But why?
Appearance is paramount, especially in a materialistic world where companies and industries market everything on this basis. With every move we make, we consider how we will be perceived. As the world goes digital, the need to present ourselves as our best version takes precedence. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Linkedin, we take meticulous care to tailor our character and our personality; we shift our formality and the interactions that we have change.
Unbeknownst to many, digital identity has been a significant part of our lives for many years, even prior to web 3.0. Making sure we look good has become a social norm, with more people attaching status to NFTs. In some cases, this is why NFTs are selling for hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars. More importantly, NFTs allow us to change our identity; belonging to communities and owning collectibles help to shape this.
Online anonymity is a complex subject with many problems—a legacy of web 2.0; however, NFTs have a case to solve this. Blockchain-based platforms and services provide complete transparency. You can view transactions and trace assets. And most importantly, it is decentralized. Effectively, NFTs have the potential to give the power back to the community. They provide people with true ownership of their identity, something that web 2.0 failed to do. In a digitally native world, NFTs can help to solve the determining of provenance for good.
So how does this all come together? PFPs are intrinsically tied to value and identity. Your pfp represents who you are and your community. NFTs have enabled these communities to be forged in the thousands, and collectors have come together forming tight-knit relationships as they join these digital tribes. Just like individuals who chase the latest phone, or the latest fashion brand, NFTs have the same underlying motive, to build and attach an identity that others can resonate with.
On top of our avatars, we are building brands and making connections through identity as the driving factor. Our avatars are our faces in the digital world and it is how we recognize and respect one another. By owning a pfp NFT, you are given exclusive access to the community, and by simply being a part of the community, you may receive airdrops, invites to exclusive whitelists, tokens, and more. However, perhaps the most important benefit is the value of reputation.
Take Richerd, who holds an OG CryptoPunk, a collection of 10,000 digital NFTs that emerged in 2017. Since then, the collectibles have skyrocketed in value with bids ranging in the hundreds of thousands. They have even gone as far as to be sold at historical auction houses such as Chrisite’s and Sotheby’s with staggering final values in the millions.
Richerd is widely known for his 3D glasses, one of the rarest Cryptopunk traits. He often says that ‘I am my JPEG, my JPEG is me’. He has taken the 3D trait into his stride; it is everything that encapsulates Richerd. From an intern to a Richerd DAO, he has inspired many to take the trait seriously, with many other collections incorporating the idea. Even in the real world, Richerd represents himself through his CryptoPunk avatar, highlighting the personal value of his NFT.
They cannot be separated; not only is the NFT his avatar, but it is also his brand, status, and identity. He made this statement clear when he revealed to Twitter that “My punk is not for sale. Don’t care what anyone offers me.” However, this was soon tested when POAP made the offer of 2,500 ETH, the equivalent of $9.5 million.
Richerd was faced with one of the biggest decisions of his life, and for many, this would be an easy decision. If he accepted, this would have been the largest on-chain CryptoPunk sale in USD. Instead, Richerd made his own history, he stunned the world when he announced that he had refused the offer, detailing his thoughts in a thread on Twitter. Deep down, he knew that his NFT would be more valuable in the long term.
The news broke NFT Twitter. It left many confused, annoyed, but it also inspired. With this decline, he made a strong statement. It signaled to the wider world that NFTs are important; they are the future, and therefore there was no good reason to let it go. From here, he became widely known as diamond hands Richerd.
Above all else, the move demonstrated the extent to which NFT owners value their assets, and identity is taking on a whole new meaning. Simply, in web 3.0, status and reputation are invaluable.
To get a deeper insight into the meaning of identity to Richerd, I asked him a few questions about his journey thus far.
What does digital identity mean for you?
Digital identity is our representation of ourselves online. It comes down to our appearance, persona, and reputation. We have come to adopt our NFT avatars, usernames, and profiles as representations of ourselves online, and these have become just as recognizable as our IRL counterparts. You could make the case that our online identities are just as strong—if not more powerful—than our real-life personas. Online you can be anyone you want if you chose, the metaverse does not discriminate against age, gender, or race. So for a lot of people, you can actually be more free with your thoughts and ideas.
9.5 million is life-changing, why did you decide to decline the offer?
The only reason why I got the offer in the first place was that I said I wouldn’t sell. To accept the offer would have been going against what I had previously said. My integrity means a lot to me, and you can’t put a price on that. Also, I’ve put a lot of effort into building my identity around Punk 6046 and 3D glasses, and to me that has value more than money. I have a very strong conviction in Punks and NFTs, so it was quite easy for me to think long term and what the bigger picture is for the NFT space.
What do you think the future of NFTs means for digital identity?
The concepts of digital identity are just going to get strong as we move more of our work and lives online. We are already seeing this with the games we play. NFTs are just the next logical progression in digital goods and ownership. For the first time in history, the ideas behind digital ownership and digital identity are now front and center and theses ideals will just become more common place.
How big will the 3D movement get?
3D is a way of life. NFTs brought back the most underrated trait there is.
Our real-life identity is very much intertwined with our digital one. Factors such as status and community are both contributing to our personas and our representations in the NFT space. Web 3.0 is allowing us to be open; platforms are trusted and ownership is in the hands of the people. Subsequently, that leaves NFTs as the next evolutionary stage of digital identity.
Richerd sent shockwaves through the NFT community when he declined the monumental offer. Moves like this will continue to change the perceptions of digital identity for many inside—and outside—the NFT space.