The mainstream media has caught on to the latest huge crypto trend, which isn’t a new non-fungible token (NFT) line or a fresh dog token, but small desk tchotchkes made of one of the densest elements humans can safely touch – tungsten. Spearheaded by Neeraj Agrawal at CoinCenter and investor Nic Carter, the Cube Movement has surged through Crypto Twitter over the last month or so. Midwest Tungsten – the true Cube connoisseur’s American supplier of choice – has seen massive sales spikes. Twitter users have reported wait times of more than a month for new Cube orders.
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Yesterday, NBC did its take on the “Tungsten Cube Bull Market” and offered a few tentative insights into the big question: Why are people into these things?
It started off as another Crypto Twitter meme obliquely commenting on speculative manias, but has become A Thing for literally material reasons: The cubes are so weirdly heavy that holding one feels like a kind of tactile illusion. To my shame, I do not own a Cube, but I have experienced its inscrutable allure, the almost supernatural sense that something so dense must be in some unspeakable way alive, an aliveness beyond the horizon of our petty human concerns. As Tim Copeland at The Block perfectly phrased it, when you hold a Cube, you sense that “it yearns to be one again with the earth.”
Okay I am shocked at this cube.
Like honestly I read the reviews and saw the tweets but didn’t realise it was all true.
This cube is otherworldly dense. It yearns to be one again with the earth, with a power I can’t quite explain. It is the ultimate cube. pic.twitter.com/P3Afvc6aon
— timcopeland.eth (@Timccopeland) October 18, 2021
The Tungsten Cube is basically a Magic Eye poster for your hands, in other words. But, at the risk of taking all the fun out of it (which, OK, I guess is my job), the Cube phenomenon is deeply layered and has a bizarrely large amount to tell us about not just crypto, but where we are as a society.
The Cube is about Zoom and the coronavirus pandemic. The Cube is about market froth. The Cube is about the metaverse. The Cube is about income inequality.
One level up from the pure sensation of its weird density, the Cube is a digital-age reminder that we have bodies and that those bodies really, really, really matter. In purely hedonistic terms, holding The Cube is just an extreme version of the experiences that await you every minute of every day if you just get up from your desk for a little while and go take a walk or, better yet, head into the woods and take a hike.
Sure, the Cube is cool, but have you ever picked up a random good-looking rock from the side of a river? Have you ever overheard a really interesting conversation when walking to the corner store? The Cube’s weight is a memory and reminder of the rich reality that’s out there for the taking the second we log off. The Cube is a symptom of our Plague Years, embraced by a professional class that has been isolated behind screens and has had enough. (It should also, as a purely frivolous luxury good, be a reminder of all the GrubHub drivers and “essential workers” whose physical risk and discomfort the work-from-home cohort has been able to conveniently hide behind app screens.)
The Cube is also a righteous middle finger to the wave of metaverse pitches coming fast and furious from the likes of the former Facebook and now Microsoft. The Cube rebuts the absurd idea that virtual reality is going to replace playing ping-pong or fencing in real life. Both of those were featured in Facebook’s Meta presentation and (to return to Earth from the realm of poets) they are gobsmackingly stupid pitches. The kind of haptic feedback and low latency needed to have even a reasonable approximation of these visceral experiences in a virtual world are decades, if not centuries, away. Using them as examples is probably the clearest evidence that Mark Zuckerberg’s “Meta” is essentially a con meant to sell a bill of goods that will never truly arrive.
It might seem equally absurd to claim this rhetorical weight for a meme emerging from Crypto Twitter, which is almost as full of terminally online brain-poisoning victims as Politics Twitter. But as I’ve explored at length in my book “Bitcoin is Magic”, the deep purpose of crypto and blockchain is to imbue digital objects with the permanence of the physical world – to give them, if you’ll indulge me, digital density.
The Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan analyzed the history of media in terms of a tradeoff between enduring communication technology (e.g., the Pyramids) and high-speed communication technology (e.g., email). Bitcoin and crypto are a novel melding of the durable and the fast. The technology’s costs and inconveniences (I’m looking at you, gas fees) are not a bug, but a feature inextricable from this ambition.
Yes, OK, at the end of the day there’s no denying that Tungsten Cube Mania is mostly just another fad, fueled by the newly crypto-rich who can splash out two hundred bucks or more for a 21st century Hummel figurine. But as with any fad with real legs, if you look a bit deeper you’ll find a weighty truth within.