As 2022 winds down, the year in review and best of lists will predominate as the world (well, except me) gets ready for a two-week vacation. What will inevitably come up will be what we became enamored with and have already forgotten, as well as what has recently emerged that is now on the upswing of popularity. Fads have governed popular culture and economic rollercoasters since the days of the Hula Hoop and poodle skirts. Music has forever been determined by what’s hot at the moment with the knowledge it can fade tomorrow.
When the year began, you couldn’t get out of the way of the freight train that was cryptocurrency and NFTs. I really tried to get on the bandwagon. I even invested time and (when I had it) money to learn as much about the process as possible. Heck, I even devoted several entries here to conventions and learned how to convert dollars into Etherium. The Miami Heat’s oceanside playground became FTX Arena. The Lakers’ fabled Staples Center became the Crypto.com Arena. Friends of mine started companies. Several made a few bucks.
In order to learn the process, I dropped ten bucks into a Coinbase account just to see the fluctuations. As of this morning, it’s $4.44. Which is substantially more than I have in my actual bank account this morning. (See link below).
On the other hand, I did better than others did overall.
So I’m especially dubious about what has been emerging of late as the latest fad, a bandwagon called “magic avatars”. It’s now made Time Magazine, so I suppose even folks like me are now aware of what it is and isn’t. As Megan McCluskey wrote earlier this week, it’s actually emerged as an add-on from something that’s been around for a while, and that I actually did already have versions of on my devices.
If you’ve noticed an influx of illustrated selfies—depicting people as fairy princesses, astronauts, and anime characters—popping up across social media in recent weeks, you’re not alone. These AI-generated images are the product of digital editing app Lensa’s new “Magic Avatars” feature, a tool that uses machine learning to create stylized portraits based on photos provided by users.
Lensa has been around since 2018, but started skyrocketing in popularity when Magic Avatars launched in late November. The app saw around 13.5 million worldwide installs in the first 12 days of December, more than six times the 2 million it saw in November, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower. Consumers also spent approximately $29.3 million in the app during that 12-day period, Sensor Towers reports.
And the reason that much has been spent that is that, emboldened by the ubiquitous shares of images from online friends impressed by how the antithesis of “Be Real” (yet another 2022 fad that seems to have run its course) looks, you’re Pavlovianally convinced to invest a few bucks (or Etherium), as McCluskey explained:
When you download Lensa, you get a seven-day free trial and then have the option of paying a one-time fee for a specific number of unique avatars ($3.99 for 50 is the cheapest option) or shelling out $35.99 for an annual subscription and unlimited avatars. The app then uses an open-source neural network model called Stable Diffusion that’s “trained on a sizable set of internet data to generate images from…small pieces of text describing the desired scene in the output image,” according to Prisma Labs, the company behind Lensa.
Do the math–that means some of the 13.5 million downloads (myself included) are tire-kickers, but there’s clearly plenty willing to drop the $35.99 to play. I can personally think of some better places you can spend your money (see link below) , but who I am to judge?
So, naturally, if the masses will spend that much for artificial intelligence, leave it to the master of grift, our 45th President, to jump on the bandwagon.
The “major announcement” he made yesterday was the introduction of his way of capitalizing on both the old and new fads, as Mashable reported with its typical snark:
Smack dab in the middle of the biggest crypto downturn in years, Donald Trump has decided to enter into the NFT market.
The Trump card collection includes 45,000 NFT pieces consisting of badly photoshopped portrayals of the former president as a superhero and a professional football player, as well as riding an elephant, and much more. Priced at $99 each, the Trump NFT collection includes a chance to win prizes such as a dinner with Trump, a group Zoom call with Trump, or “autographed memorabilia.” If someone buys 45 NFTs — yes, $4,500 worth of NFTs — they receive a guaranteed ticket to a Trump gala event in Florida.
This is right up there with Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump casinos and Trump Card (Google those if you musy) and, of course, what one should expect from a “modern day Cyrus”. In a world of alternative realities, it is entirely possible he truly believes he looks like that, rather than what he really does. And he thinks his minions should be blindly loyal enough to flock to his site to give them as gifts.
For the record, especially for the former friends I’ve lost who believe my inability to embrace his rival party’s policies with anything but disdain, I do not respect the man one iota, and this latest attempt to profit from other’s stupidity is, incredibly, with not much better intent than Sam Bankman-Fried and his polycule.
If you truly want to have the imagery of Trump as an MCU character here’s a suggestion–upload his photoshopped mug into Magic Avatar, 50 if you must, and drop the damn $3.99 into Magic Avatar. You’ll effectively get the same NFT, albeit without the nomenclature of a “digital trading card”. (BTW, Mr. Trump, you’re showing your age by referencing baseball cards–we know damn well football cards, rookie ones in particular, are worth more these days. We mostly don’t insert cards in bicycle tire spokes anymore, either, nor do we flip them in the schoolyard).
If you go that route, you also won’t have the potential joy of a meal with him. But, then again, would you really be missing out on a gourmet experience?
Maybe if you really want to experience a quality avatar, go to a movie theater this weekend and see what got this whole mishagoss started 13 years ago. The much-awaited second installment of James Cameron’s franchise, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, is opening nationwide. There isn’t a lot else worth seeing this weekend, even on TV, and the reviews are generally good. And considering what it cost to produce and market, they could use the money more than Mr. Trump.
Moreover, you’ll be supporting movies. Something that’s anything but a fad, but are clearly endangered. If I had the money, that’s what I’d choose to spend it on.
And if you really want to alter your image, there’s something called a fun house mirror, that’s been around as long as movies have been. Find one. Heck, you could probably get it for a fraction of an Etherium.
Until next time…
Fundraiser by Steven Leblang : Steve Leblang (gofundme.com)