Digital Rest: Blockchain Leisure Culture

Crate Digger is a series by Forefront editor Julia Pepper on how the blockchain is affecting and creating internet subcultures. You can follow her on Twitter at @julia_pepper23.

By Julia Pepper - Sep 15, 2022

Crate Digger is a series by Forefront editor Julia Pepper on how the blockchain is affecting and creating internet subcultures. You can follow her on Twitter at @julia_pepper23.

Amidst the hustle and grind of building on crypto Twitter -- both genuine and performative -- is an emerging counterculture focused on sunbathing and guilt-free relaxation. Given how normalized holding two or more jobs has become, the beat of stillness of this scene has become even more conspicuous.

Digital leisure cultures have existed since the inception of the internet. From gaming to gambling, there's no shortage of ways the digital world has been used to provide community, escapism, and -- hell -- just a break from the mundanity of the physical world. Just this past summer, in response to the acceleration of hustle culture in the wake of the pandemic, #slowgirlsummer created an emerging social media movement of entrepreneurs and content creators who rebelled against the norm of working until burnout by -- gasp -- actually making room for moments or even hours of relaxation in their daily schedules. The digital immersion of blockchain communities, though, has produced an interesting set of projects blending offline consumer products and online experience, usually mediated by a membership NFT. These communities have emerged with a vibe akin to Animal Crossing, the Cosmopolitan wellness section, Bedtime Stories on the Calm app, the experience of fishing in The Sims 4, and herbal tea with lavender and rose petals combining to have an on-chain baby. The question stands: are these experiences truly a liberating escape from hustle culture, or are they merely an extension of the creeping commodification of every part of our on and offline lives? Two different approaches to the aesthetics of rest have emerged to provide escape routes for weary internet travelers.

The first is based on nostalgia, traveling back to a time when one's worries were not as intense as they are now. This is perhaps best encapsulated by Poolsuite, the internet leisure corporation. Starting as an 80s-inspired web-based summer radio station, Poolsuite has expanded into a multimedia consumer blockchain project encapsulating a DAO aiming to buy a manor, an executive NFT membership collection, and a line of the world's best-smelling sunscreen.

What is the appeal of Poolsuite's laissez-faire, endless summer aesthetic? One review raves, "This app is the embodiment of a leisurely stroll on a European beach, an Enron party in the mid-'80s, vintage waverunners doing backflips on the water, and Sean Connery sipping a vesper martini on a sailboat all in one." Another: "Before Poolsuite FM, my life was dry, and lacking the sounds of soothing LoFi audio experiences. Now I'm in the pool, and also on the side, my teeth are perfect and my family came back to me." These responses were just based on the visceral reaction to the saccharine summer electro-pop tracks collected in each impeccably curated playlist on the project's radio app. Now, though, the team -- all of whom only work on the project part-time, as per Chief Poolboy Marty's "fun side hustle" building ethos -- is embracing web3 and metaverse tools that will extend the app far beyond a browser-based experience.

After releasing their membership NFT, which came with benefits such as access to ManorDAO, a project to buy a community-owned mansion, a deluxe keychain, and the launch of Vacation sunscreen, the group's first consumer product, the team's next step is doubling down on Poolsuite's digital leisure experience with GRAND LEISURE. This experience includes partners such as Everyrealm, a metaverse investor and incubator, already confirmed. The chapter begins with the introduction of Leisurists, customizable digital avatars minted as NFTs that are required to navigate the experience (the "LeisureVerse"). This is coupled with Expansion Packs, infrastructure similar to video game modding that will allow participants to continually modify and update their appearance and properties within the virtual world. The groundwork has been laid for said world to expand in the form of a headless brand, with a tiered proposal system where any member or partner community can submit project proposals.

While the details have not been solidified yet, based on what the team has teased so far, GRAND LEISURE could represent an expansion of digital leisure cultures previously achieved through gamification. It is an extension of the digital out-of-home entertainment trend previously spearheaded by AR games such as Pokemon Go, location based games, and hyperlocal social media. Digital storytelling is a key part of this new type of leisure activity: user-generated content and personalized interactivity are increasingly important to creating immersion, something that Poolsuite incorporates in spades with avatar customization and digital land options. According to media theorist Spencer Jordan, the ability to create and share on the fly as one moves through a city 'highlights the interplay between movement and materiality as people navigate themselves from one place to the next.' Beyond just being entertainment, phygital 'urban media' experiences are central to the creation of 'place' itself, a new urban form constituted through both the digital and physical worlds.

Similarly, blockchain-based digital experiences play into this phenomenon except in the opposite direction: our understanding of the physical is bleeding into the construction of the digital, and therefore storytelling and creator tools based on physical metaphors become ever more important. The result is not that Poolsuite fans need to be perpetually stuck behind VR goggles if they want to experience Grand Leisure to the fullest. Instead, the line between physical and virtual becomes incomprehensibly blurred, with the digital avatar following the human between two realms. The Leisurist becomes an extension of their sense of self as they navigate between physical Poolsuite parties, stays in the ManorDAO manor and digital experiences in the LeisureVerse. Because of the embrace of digital-first brand and world building, the sense of total vintage immersion in a '97 windows operating system doesn't go away when one ostensibly 'logs off' to go to a physical experience. The only way to truly log off is to leave the Poolsuite world completely, both by turning off the virtual world and walking through the manor door.

A second emerging approach to digital leisure recognizes the reality of modern work and seeks to break through the predominant narrative of hustle culture to introduce moments of rest. This iteration is more closely tied to the existing wellness and cannabis industries, with a slightly stronger ideological bent for the discerning consumer fed up with the goop-ification of self care. One of the most prominent champions of the latter approach is Michelle Lora's Siesta, a lifestyle brand with a web3-native approach that seeks to make the feeling of relaxation less taboo.

Siesta describes its mission as "inspiring moments of rest and relaxation through thoughtfully designed experiences and products that don't feel taboo, because it's important to take a break." Their inaugural use of blockchain tech is for a series of 1,974 generative "Do Not Disturb" signs distributed as NFTs intended to be used as profile pictures on social media sites and email when the owner needs a break or is out of office. Three other initiatives are also on the horizon for the brand: Nail DAO, which seeks to onboard women and non-binary folks into web3 through relaxing experiences; Casita Sieta, a site for relaxing retreats in the Dominican Republic; and Cannabis Home Goods, a line of consumer cannabis products that don't feel taboo.

Siesta's approach to rest is significant given its ties to Latinx culture and existence as a counterweight to marianismo, the sexist upholding of gendered values such as selflessness, inner strength, and diplomacy at the expense of womens' mental health and well-being. As Rachel Reiquard wrote as part of Refinery29's Hot Girl Somos series, "I, and so many other single and childless Latinas I know, are also our family's breadwinners, therapists, educators and administrative assistants." These duties are expected to be performed in the middle of breakneck days, and on top of barely-covered bills. Given the intense social pressures that accompany this work and the extent of the cultural conditioning which ingrains it in each passing generation, it's no wonder that the thought of taking a pause can cause intense guilt-- is taking a break akin to letting down the ones you love most?

Siesta's answer is no. It aims to dole out permission to relax to those who need an extra push, and provide a slower voice to counter the predominant narrative of glamor toil-- the presentation of intense cultural or cognitive work, often to the point of burnout, as attractive or exciting-- that is so normalized in modern culture. Rather than pure digital leisure, Siesta's focus is on rest: complete stillness. In a competitive attention economy, rest is at times reduced to a moment to moment resistance, an affirmation of one's dedication to self. Building up from brief moments of slowness to a lifestyle of intentionality takes work, something Siesta aims to give community members the tools to do with its products.

Brands will never be the sole harbingers of systemic change that would allow for the slow living movement to be accessible to all, regardless of economic or social condition. There is an element of pay to play that a consumer brand can never escape. However, to an extent, blockchain makes it possible for headless brands to be strong voices in cultural movements such as the shift towards rest in a way that isn't completely performative. The collective, the community that uses the project, has real decision making power and is actively a part of the development of emerging digital worlds, instead of being a passive mass being preached to by a centralized entity.

Blockchain is changing digital leisure culture in significant ways because it's providing the tools for physical and digital leisure cultures to be blended in ways that were not previously possible, including collectively governed consumer products, communally owned vacation homes, digital collectibles, and more. As more of these experiences crop up and create a form of immersion that bleeds into the physical, the extent to which they will use their power to be responsible stewards of attention remains to be seen.

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