You gabble about NFTs—non-fungible tokens—with your friends, but deep down, you have no idea what non-fungibility really means. You nod absently and your eyes glaze over when they start going on about augmented reality, blockchain and cryptocurrency. That’s completely understandable; after all, the digital revolution is happening so mind-bogglingly fast—thanks partly to the pandemic—that it has become extremely difficult for a layman to keep up with all the new developments and jargon.
Fret not—we at Vogue Singapore have you covered with this snappy, alphabetised cheat sheet of all the tech buzzwords from the worlds of art and fashion. Surprising you and me both, we’ve managed to come up with at least one entry for every letter of the alphabet, though some did make us work our brains harder. (If nothing else, you should read on to find out what we came up with for the letters Q, U, V, X, Y, and Z.)
These bite-sized facts—complete with relatable analogies and links to pop culture—will ensure you can speak the lingua franca of our digital age, and actually understand what you’re talking about, so remember to check back regularly for new additions.
A for Algorithm: A computation that processes data and solves some problem. How Tinder chooses which profiles to show you; the way your Instagram feed is laid out; a primary school student’s algebra problem sum—these are all forms of algorithms.
A for Artificial Intelligence: The simulation of human intelligence and thought processes in machines. Examples of AI include Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortona and Siri. There are fears that one day, AI might supersede humans in intelligence and start controlling us instead—we’ll let you decide how valid those concerns are.
A for Augmented Reality: A computer simulation that layers artificial elements over the real world. For instance, the infamous Snapchat ‘dog’ filter, which imposes a dog’s features over the user’s face. More and more brands are also enabling consumers to “try on” garments, accessories, and makeup using AR technology.
A for Avatar: We don’t mean the 2009 James Cameron movie, nor the animated TV series. “Avatar” in this case means a representation of yourself in a virtual space like chat rooms, games, and social media. It can come in any form, such as a stick figure, a selfie, or even non-human images such as a cartoon dog.
B for Blockchain: As its name suggests, essentially a chain of data blocks, with each block representing a transaction for a particular digital asset. The more transactions the asset is involved in, the more blocks are created through a process called mining. These blocks are arranged in chronological order to present the complete history of the asset.
B for Bitcoin: Considered by many investors to be the OG cryptocurrency, Bitcoin was created in 2009 as a reward for miners: successfully mining one block in the Bitcoin blockchain entitles the user to a certain amount of Bitcoin. Currently, it is one of the most popular cryptocurrencies in the world alongside Ether.
C for Cryptocurrency: A portmanteau of two words: currency (self-explanatory) and cryptography. Much like fiat currencies, cryptocurrencies are used to purchase goods and services online, but what makes them different is that they are secured with strong cryptography in a blockchain. Thus, cryptocurrency transactions generally offer higher security and fidelity. The most famous cryptocurrencies in circulation right now are Bitcoin and Ether.
C for Cryptography: Crypto-art; crypto-fashion; crypto-anything—“crypto” is the word to know these days, but it’s also one of the words that seemingly everyone has heard of but not many actually know what it means. Crypto comes from the word “cryptography”, which refers to a method of communication that protects information behind codes (a function known as encryption) so only the sender and intended recipient(s) can process it.
C for Cyberpunk: A social-political movement (or philosophy) grounded in dystopic science fiction and defined by the following features: scarce natural resources; heavy use of cybernetic augmentation like implants; the cyberspace and metaverse as the primary space where people interact; a world governed mostly by corporations instead of national sovereignties; and large inequalities between the poor and wealthy corporate executives. Cyberpunk has become a rather popular sub-genre in creative fields like literature and film, being the premise of works such as Neuromancer and Blade Runner 2049.
D for Decentralised/Distributed: Most databases, such as a Google Spreadsheet, might be accessible to multiple parties but are most likely controlled by one in particular. What sets blockchain apart is that it is a decentralised and distributed peer-to-peer network. Because it is governed by no central authority and every user (node) can access the data, any change made by one node is immediately cross-referenced against and synchronised with the data held in other nodes. Therefore, it is near impossible to tamper with or reverse data recorded in the blockchain.
D for Digital wallet: A place to store and transact cryptocurrencies that is accessible by electronic devices. It comes with a public key and private key. The public key can be shared with anyone, thus facilitating transactions—think of it like an email. However, the private key is essentially a password that controls access to your account.
E for Ethereum: Currently, Ethereum is one of the most actively used blockchains in the world, supporting a booming digital economy that sees over one million transactions every day using its native currency, Ether—second only to Bitcoin by volume.
E for Encryption: Do you remember seeing the following text in WhatsApp: “Messages and calls are end-to-end encrypted. No one outside of this chat, not even WhatsApp, can read or listen to them”? Encryption is the process of transforming a message via an algorithm into a form that can only be processed by authorised parties, thus protecting the information from hackers.
F for Fungibility: A good’s ability to be readily exchanged for another of like kind: for example, a $10 bill in your hand is worth as much as the $10 bill in my wallet. Even cryptocurrencies are fungible—a Bitcoin is worth the same anywhere. Meanwhile, a non-fungible asset is entirely one-of-a-kind and thus cannot be interchanged or duplicated. For instance, the Mona Lisa. And also people—thank god. It’d be awful if we were all clones of one another.
G for Games: Every year, video game users collectively spend billions of dollars on purchasing virtual goods for their in-game avatars—an exorbitant amount that has caught the eye of the fashion industry. Valentino, Prada, and Marc Jacobs are just some of the big houses who have designed outfits for video games such as Animal Crossing and Final Fantasy. In June 2021, Burberry became the first luxury brand to do so with NFTs for Mythical Games’s Blankos Block Party.
H for Hash: After a digital transaction is completed, it is then processed as a data block and added to the blockchain. Every data block is encrypted with a unique string of numbers and letters called the hash. Think of it like an artist’s signature. Regardless of the number of blocks in this chain, there will always be one ‘root’ hash—an algorithm-generated amalgamation of all the transaction hashes that came before it.
I for Immutable: Remember how I said the blockchain is made up of a chronological series of data blocks, connected one after another? That means any attempt to change the data of one block will be immediately rejected since that does not tally with information recorded in subsequent blocks. The decentralised and distributed nature of blockchain also means any modification made by one computer will be caught and overridden by the data blocks logged in other users’ blockchain. Therefore, the blockchain is immutable—that is, unchangeable and irreversible.
I for Initial Coin Offering: If you think ICO is similar to IPOs, you are right. ICO is: 1) A type of funding that uses cryptocurrencies to raise capital for start-ups; or 2) A type of funding to raise capital for new cryptocurrencies. Most ICOs are unregulated, thus posing a lot of risk for investors.
I for Internet of Things: IoT refers to the ubiquity of the Internet in society today, thanks to the billions of devices (a.k.a “things”) connected to the Internet. The rise of IoT has enabled people worldwide to obtain and share data much more easily.
J for Jewellery: Blockchain bling are now the latest must-have for fashionistas. Designer Simone Faurschou’s latest fine jewellery collection, ‘Blockchain’, was unveiled as NFT pieces before the physical launch, and the collection itself “is a play on the fact that NFTs are seen as a replacement for gold as a store of value, being literally comprised of a chain of golden blocks”, according to Faurschou’s website. Other high-end jewellers such as Berlin-based Juwelle are also entering the digital gems game.
K for Kilowatt: An average transaction on Ethereum, involving minting, bidding, and transferring the digital token, consumes as many kilowatts per hour (kWh) of energy as two American households daily. Another study found that the sale of two NFT artworks burned the equivalent of 49 years of electricity consumption. The greenhouse gas emissions produced from blockchain mining are becoming an increasingly larger concern as more and more people turn to the crypto world.
L for Ledger: You might have heard blockchain being called a digital and/or distributed ledger; ledger simply means a registry of financial accounts. And accordingly, a blockchain is where financial transactions of a digital asset are recorded as data blocks.
L for Luxury: The loftiest tier of fashion tends to favour time-honoured traditions, but when an NFT work became the third most expensive sale in art history, luxury houses couldn’t help but sit up and take notice. Gucci became the first major brand to hop on the NFT trend in May 2021; its debut NFT—a film of its Aria collection—sold for US$25,000 at a Christie’s auction.
M for Machine learning: A branch of artificial intelligence whereby a machine analyses its own performance data to automatically improve its future capabilities—the same way a human reflects on their past behaviour for self-improvement. Dating apps are a great example of machine learning: based on the profiles you swipe right on, the app makes deductions about the kind of partners you prefer and starts showing you profiles that are more tailored to your tastes.
M for Marketplace: As the digital fashion and art revolution takes off, a new crop of platforms have popped up, all aspiring to be the new Pret-a-Porter of the NFT world. New York-based OpenSea is one of the more successful ones, becoming the latest NFT unicorn in July 2021 with a valuation of US$1.5 billion. Closer to home, Brytehall is an upcoming local marketplace for premium NFT products that cater to customers with a taste for refined luxury.
M for Metaverse: Remember how the horror movie Us is centred on an alternate universe populated by evil doppelgangers? Metaverse is also a form of alternate universe—the world’s collective virtual space, made up of everyone’s social media accounts, the Internet, augmented realities, and so on. It’s filled with our online doppelgangers—whether those are more “evil” than your IRL selves… well, you’d know best.
M for Mining: The process whereby a digital asset transaction is validated, hashed, and then added as a data block to the blockchain. It is also the process whereby cryptocurrencies and NFTs are created. A successful mining effort becomes Proof of Work (POW), and the miner is then rewarded by the blockchain with an amount of cryptocurrency pegged to the amount of computational power used. Mining uses a lot of computational power, and the high energy consumption has led to concerns about its impact on the environment.
N for Node: Every electronic device that can access the blockchain forms a node. Therefore, a blockchain is immutable since its data can be accessed and cross-referenced by all nodes within the blockchain.
N for Non-fungible Token: A data block stored in a blockchain that comes with a hash, thus certifying it to be entirely unique and therefore, non-fungible! Almost anything can be turned into an NFT, including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, a video clip of Lebron James making a dunk, and an alien-baby GIF created by musician Grimes.
O for Open source: Open source is a philosophy that believes in the open sharing and transmission of information. The blockchain and cryptocurrency systems are based on open source software.
P for Phygital: A portmanteau of physical and digital. Increasingly, brands are choosing to release their products in both NFT and physical forms. Virtual shoe brand Rtfkt set an NFT fashion record in February when its NFT sneaker collaboration with digital artist Fewocious made over US$3 million in under seven minutes, with physical pairs also made available after the NFT drop.
Q for Quirk: There is something rather quirky about spending up to millions on digital artefacts with no physical presence—Beeple’s NFT artwork Everydays–The First 5000 Days sold for a jaw-dropping US$69 million in March this year. The multi-millionaire artist himself calls this craze an “irrational exuberance bubble”. Some people think that if not for the COVID-19 era of virtual interactions, we would never have started paying as much attention to—nor money for—our online personas. Whether this digital revolution represents just a quirk of the pandemic or a lasting shift in our design paradigm can only be seen with time.
R for Risk: Blockchain offers many benefits, especially the security and bypassed need for a middleman thanks to its decentralised, immutable nature. However, as with all technologies, it is not impervious to cybersecurity threats. One of the more well-known risks inherent to blockchain is the 51% attack: one miner or a group of miners gain majority control of the network’s blockchain, thus allowing them to modify and even reverse transactions recorded as data blocks. The Bitcoin blockchain reportedly suffered a 51% attack from a mining duo in May 2019.
S for Smart Contract: A computer program that will automatically distribute assets in a pre-agreed fashion once the execution conditions are fulfilled. Works the same way like a real-world paper contract, but doesn’t require a third party to arbitrate and ensure the terms are executed. For instance, if you enter into a smart contract to rent an apartment, a digital key to the apartment will be automatically deposited into your digital wallet once the renter has received your online payment.
S for Sustainability: Blockchain detractors point fingers at the large carbon footprint involved in every mining effort, but there are others who argue that digitising fashion can help to tackle the industry’s problems of thoughtless consumption and textile waste. Whether virtual fashion items are better or worse for the environment compared to their physical counterparts is a debate that seems to have no end in sight.
T for Token: Almost anything can be tokenised—the process whereby a physical or virtual item is converted into a digital unit that can be exchanged commercially. Experts have projected that the global token industry will reach US$4.8 billion by 2025.
U for Unique: In the upper echelons of the fashion and art industries where rarity is prized, it is no wonder people have taken so readily to NFTs. Even if the same garment or artwork is turned into multiple NFTs, each token is unique because of its distinct hash in the blockchain. This takes exclusivity to a whole new level.
V for Verification: Because blockchain can capture a full transaction history, it becomes a way for consumers to verify an asset’s authenticity and makes it much harder to re-sell stolen goods. LVMH, Prada, and Richemont joined forces in early 2021 to set up Aura Blockchain Consortium, a blockchain-based platform that tracks a high-end product’s history from sourcing to sales—even in the second-hand market. Luxury watch brand Breitling launched a similar programme in 2020, issuing digital certificates of ownership that are linked to their watches through blockchain technology.
V for Virtual reality: VR refers to a computer-simulated, artificial environment that aims to be completely immersive, responding to the user’s actions just like the world in real life; for instance, an item in VR would appear bigger as the user approaches it. It can be designed to resemble the contemporary world, but can also be made completely different: swimming alongside mermaids and enjoying a candlelit dinner with Harry Styles are just some of the impossibilities you can experience in VR. (Okay, the latter isn’t impossible, but come on.)
W for Wearable: You—or at least a photographed version of yourself—can be outfitted in a virtual item. When ‘Iridescence’ by The Fabricant, widely recognised as the first digital fashion house, sold at auction for US$9,500 in 2019, the dress was custom-fitted onto a portrait provided by the winning bidder. This virtual wearability opens up new doors for how we can shape our online image. Even if one can’t afford to wear haute couture in real life, at least the Instagram version of themselves can.
X for Xperimentation: In the metaverse, there are almost no limits to what can be created and what can be worn. Suits made out of dragon scales; shoes that shoot flames; and dresses woven from raindrops—all of these become possible in the digital world.
Y for Youth: The new digital frontier in fashion and art was largely spearheaded by Gen Zs and millennials. In the fashion world, for instance, most digital pieces fall under either hypebeast streetwear (such as Rtfkt’s funky sneakers) or in-game virtual goods. However, older generations are starting to cotton on to this tech revolution; NFTs have even broken into the rarefied tier of haute couture, with Paris Fashion Week gifting guests with NFT artwork.
Z for Zero: The global NFT market is booming, charting out US$2.5 billion in sales in the first half of 2021. However, industry insiders are warning that the market will inevitably crash. Fred Ersham, cofounder of cryptocurrency platform Coinbase, cautions: “90 percent of NFTs produced probably will have little to no value in three to five years.” Artist Beeple, who sold the world’s most expensive NFT, concurs in an interview with The New York Times: “”[Investing in crypto art] is for people who are looking to take some risks. This stuff will absolutely go to zero.” Whether NFTs and cryptocurrency are a transient trend or, indeed, as some experts postulate, become a new store of wealth and an integral part of the global economy, only time will tell.