It is a rare marriage indeed when technology can help preserve history and promote culture but NFTs is such a technology.
For centuries, the print industry has held a monopoly on preserving culture and history. Books, newspapers, and magazines are all examples of traditional media which were largely used to pass along knowledge from generation to generation. What was written down in the history books was generally accepted as an unalterable fact. But worse, those who wrote this history often used it for influence, bulldozing other people's – often minorities – perspectives and opinions. This has led to many cultures losing their heritage and identity with no means of capturing it or passing it on to the next generation.
For a moment, there was the possibility computers and the internet would change this monolithic viewpoint. The rise of blogging and social media made it easier to communicate. People would find themselves free to express their culture and their heritage with people across the world. But then Facebook and Google took over, bringing with them the biggest killer of individualized expression – the algorithm. With these large algorithms, we are no longer exposed to new ideas, new cultures or heritages. Only people who look, think and act like us.
But, now we have NFT and blockchain technology where there isn't just one voice but many. With NFT and blockchain technology, we once again have the possibility to free ourselves from control, allowing us not only to express our culture and heritage but easily interact with those from different backgrounds.
A New Way to Showcase Culture
Now we have NFT and blockchain technology where there isn't just one voice but many. With this technology, we once again have the possibility to free ourselves from control, allowing us not only to express our culture and heritage but easily interact with those from different backgrounds.
Tencent, a Chinese tech company, recently unveiled a partnership with Dunhuang Academy to "digitalize" the prehistoric wall paintings of the Mogao Caves. The move is unprecedented, considering that the subject is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The company said that minting these ancient paintings into NFTs is meant to preserve cultural heritage in the digital age.
In a way, Tencent is one of the first organizations to make a legitimate attempt at showcasing cultural heritage with NFTs. The use of blockchain technology to preserve culture is an undervalued but pivotal development that'll help generate more interest, even from the traditionalists.
In British Columbia, where I live, there has been a tenuous relationship between aboriginals and Canadians, recently inflamed by the recent discovery of mass graves in the residential schools. The divide between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada goes back centuries and there is no easy solution to bring the two sides closer together as we all work towards creating a better future – yet uncertain about how to proceed.
NFTs could provide a voice for those who previously had none and highlight aboriginal culture and history, by putting it on the blockchain. This way, NFTs are not only useful for preserving history, but they can also help people take back ownership over their culture. They could tell stories that would otherwise be lost and moreover even record languages. Many Indigenous communities have lost their language and culture due to colonialism. Some of their languages were even declared extinct.
There is a prospect of saving these languages from extinction using the blockchain and NFTs. The idea is to use digital storage to preserve the language in its written form on the blockchain while simultaneously creating apps that translate it into English or any other modern language.
This means that NFTs can help preserve vernacular cultures in their natural state. But this doesn't have to be a static process either, as NFTs can also allow for language translation and learning. This opens up a whole new range of possibilities, especially when considering the sheer number of languages spoken in the world today.
Whether NFTs will ever become truly democratic or allow for everyone to have a voice has yet to be fully determined. There are still preventative hurdles that could stop people from minting their own NFTs, including access to the internet and gas costs, but the step towards more selection, variety and freedom is gaining traction. There is also still a power grab that might dominate the technology and prevent new players from entering the space. It’s possible we’ll have a few wealthy individuals who will end up controlling the space just like we do now with Google and Facebook.
However, it is irrefutable that NFT and blockchain technology have somewhat levelled the playing field to allow previously unheard-of artists to make a living and showcase their creativity. This is of course an excellent first start but NFTs have so much more potential. For example, they could be used to digitize artifacts and artwork. These are crucial to preserving them for the next generations, and blockchain technologies such as NFTs are becoming a better solution for this purpose. Hopefully one day we will be equally exposed to art from the Middle East, Africa, and aboriginal cultures from all over the world without any limitations.