What happens when the creative class makes their own currencies?

The featured image is an unauthorized remix of “Fake Internet Money #607” by Steve Pikelny. This essay is intended as a creative exploration of Jihad’s invitation to “describe a higher vision of the future,” and does not constitute investment advice.

The more it circulates, the more value it has.

One of the great benefits of NFTs entering popular discourse in 2021 was the number of art critics and theorists that pierced the bubble of pseudo-intellectualism that characterized the cultural discussion around digital media.

(Don’t get me wrong, the intellectuals that animated the first ETH Berlin hackathon I went to in 2018 saw a Remco Blemoe, who studied math under Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, and Logvinov Leon reverse-engineer an Estonian eResidency card so that they could sign Ethereum transactions with it).

What I’m actually describing is how people began to understand the paradox of digital scarcity while digital objects themselves can be spread far and wide through the web. Notions of NFTs as masters or intellectual property never quite satisfied the ways I was seeing them challenge old models of compensating creativity and while creating online tribes that furthered their virality.

One of my favorite theorists that attempted to answer this question in 2017 was McKenzie Wark in “My Collectible Ass.”

“Paradoxically, an object whose image is very widely spread is a rare object, in the sense that few objects have their images spread widely. This can be exploited to create value in art objects that are not in the traditional sense rare and singular. The future of collecting may be less in owning the thing that nobody else has, and more in owning the thing that everybody else has.”

Her brief art history survey describes the first era of art as objects that are rare in themselves -- either through the skills needed to paint or sculpt, or even the rarity of the inks, oils, and marble. In many cases, the master didn’t even need to make every work of art if they had enough esteem (and a workshop with students helped because “not every brushstroke in a Rembrandt is by Rembrandt.”). The second major era of art was art as a commodity. This is the Andy Warhol era, where the rarity and collectability of the art is less about the artist being a master craftsman by by them being an original personality. She argues that we are now in the third era of art, where value is defined by its spreadability.

“What establishes the value of the work is that people talk about it, write about it, circulate (unauthorized) pictures of it. The more it circulates, the more value it has. The actual work is a derivative of the value of its simulations.”

What never seemed to click with the “right click, save as” criticisms of NFTs is that their spreadability is what gives art its attention and that the more it circulates, the more value it has. As Mat Dryhurst described, “anyone can view/listen to the artwork but few can own/trade it.”

The Aspirational Economy

One idea that I think ties together a lot of the trends we are seeing in crypto today is the idea of the "aspirational economy," where consumer behavior is influenced by aspirations for a certain lifestyle, status, or identity. The gaudy examples in crypto are Dogecoin McLaren’s that parked outside of Art Basel in 2021 or even Twitter users with BAYC apes as their profile picture.


These cringe-inducing examples might distract us from the larger socio-economic phenomenon they are a part of. From fashion, music, furniture, food, and lifestyles, today’s creative class today is responsible for directing consumer’s attention and money toward aspirational things, places, and ideas.

Influencers might directing our attention to the supposed benefits of eating raw meat or even underground producers choosing one platform for distribution over another. No consumer makes decisions in isolation from its context. In other words, the stuff you do onchain is downstream of stuff you see online.

If the value of digital objects are characterized its spreadability, what are the machinations that make this possible in the aspirational economy?

A simple framework used by brands is the idea of creative class categories of connoisseurs, superfans, selective buyers, and skimmers. Consumers make creators, curators, and brands big, thanks to their social influence, taste and following. According to Ana Andjelic, “They do not invent new trends, but amplify the ones that are bubbling up through writing, commenting, remixing, posting and wearing them, thus lending the emerging trends wider attention and legitimacy.”

Source: https://andjelicaaa.substack.com/
Source: https://andjelicaaa.substack.com/

The best brands address all four of these audience groups; successful brands talk to at least two.

The higher model

One of the first things that struck me with the higher collective is that it both presents a vision of value in contemporary art, and functions within the machinations of the aspirational economy. It’s less about the individual art casted each hour to the /higher channel on Farcaster, and more about the derivative value of all its simulations. The value that higher represents as an idea is dependent on is its own ability to spread.

As LGHT describes it, “Higher is emergent, decentralized, and crypto coordinated. It has a memetic icon, a token, a channel, and a philosophy.”


What does higher looks like a brand split into the aspirational economy categories of connoisseurs, superfans, selective buyers, and skimmers? Previous onchain projects might have only focused on connoisseurs and superfans, but higher’s model shows (intentionally or not) that with a token, they’ve been able to attract all four segments, and in turn, create more superfans that creatively output more work to earn $higher, and thus further the virality of the concept.

Here’s one way of visualizing the aspirational economy of higher, where connoisseurs are the smallest but most influential group, and skimmers are the largest group with the least influence. I might not have bought the token $higher simply if I saw Joe Schmo buying it; but knowing the connoisseurs and superfans engaging with the concept perhaps pushed me initially into the skimmer category.

The the aspirational economy of /higher
The the aspirational economy of /higher
  • Connoisseurs: These are the creators, in the case of higher, folks like LGHT, six, and martin.

  • Superfans: This group is the first to play with the meme template, or even create Frame templates of their own for spreading the higher meme.

  • Selective buyers: This group sees the images on Farcaster and in some cases, mint images they like as NFTs on Zora.

  • Skimmers: Maybe this group sees $higher up 30% on the Farcaster Index or see that it is trading well as a pair in DexScreener. This segment, while large, is ultimately flakey and less connected to the project’s purpose.

The reason why higher is succeeding in spreading is because from the start, it attempted to provide something for all four types of aspirational consumers. For the superfans, it provided a Figma template to enable easy reproducibility. For the selective buyers, a collection on Zora. For the skimmers, a token that provided a way to buy in without needing to understand or care about the overall project -- just that the token is going up. But this token isn’t merely a speculative instrument. It is now used to buy art on Zora and can be tipped to other creators in the /higher channel.

Higher Figma template
Higher Figma template

Another thing contributing to higher’s virality is how it fits so neatly into a style that some could argue was popularized by Virgil Abloh: white text superimposed over an image to that changes how the viewer interprets the underlying image. It’s actually not too dissimilar from meme formats. Check out some of his relevant work below.

“Still Loading” (left) and “Wet Grass” (right) from Markerad. Credit: Ikea, Air Drake. Credit: @ModernNotoriety/Twitter
“Still Loading” (left) and “Wet Grass” (right) from Markerad. Credit: Ikea, Air Drake. Credit: @ModernNotoriety/Twitter
Fashion Our Future 2020 shirts. Credit: Fashion Our Future 2020, 17. “Life Itself.” Credit: Artist Plate Project
Fashion Our Future 2020 shirts. Credit: Fashion Our Future 2020, 17. “Life Itself.” Credit: Artist Plate Project

And a collection of my favorite higher entries that channel Abloh.


A higher vision of the future

So to again think about Jihad’s prompt, “describe a higher vision of the future,” my answer would be simply: we are witnessing it. Higher represents more than just a digital art project with a token; it symbolizes a paradigm shift in how we perceive and participate in the aspirational economy. Value in the contemporary art world is increasingly defined by spreadability rather than traditional notions of rarity or originality. Increasingly, crypto won’t just be about ownership, but about participation and circulation within a decentralized community.

What does this mean for other ideas, art or otherwise, that animate web3? The ones that provide the best templates for reproducibility may stick around longest in our collective imagination. The ones that target both superfans and skimmers may reach the greatest scale. And if a model can make a skimmer a connoisseur in their own right, we could see a flowering of new ideas gaining and losing value “at the volatile edge between information and noise.”

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