Around about the time that Grimes pulled in a cool $6 million or so from a set of digital art she sold as part of the NFT gold rush that’s captivated a certain subset of the digerati right now — that’s when I started asking myself, what in God’s name is going on here?
“What is an NFT” is one of those kinds of questions that offer an answer but will leave enough people even more befuddled than they were when they started. NFT, in short, is an acronym for non-fungible token, which by itself tells most people absolutely nothing of any substance or meaning. Basically, NFTs are a mechanism whereby digital goods like Grimes’ doodles are transformed into assets that are one-of-a-kind and tradeable on the blockchain. An explanation which, again, probably still leaves many of you with no idea what all this is about — a little like how perplexed we all were watching shares of GameStop, of all companies, turn into the sexiest thing on Wall Street several weeks ago.
At any rate, I myself think of NFTs a little like the way I think about the concept of time. Most people, if you asked them to explain what time is, will talk to you in terms of not what it actually is, but how it’s measured. In other words, time to some people is merely the accumulation of seconds, hours, days, weeks, and so on.
And right now, NFTs are a kind of Web-based alchemy, allowing people to turn ordinary digital ephemera into gold.
You don’t have to understand how NFTs work or even what they are to make sense of the fact that a New York Times writer, for example, recently turned one of his columns into an NFT that netted more than half a million dollars.
Along those same lines:
- Quartz, another news brand, likewise sold one of its articles as an NFT, for $1,800.
- The creator of the Nyan Cat meme, which turns 10 in April, retooled his creation as an NFT and sold it for six figures (the breathless New York Times headline about this sale read: “Why an Animated Flying Cat With a Pop-Tart Body Sold for Almost $600,000”)
- The Christie’s auction house sold a collection of images from digital artist Beeple for $69.3 million in recent days.
- Footage of a LeBron James slam dunk sold for more than $200,000.
- And Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold for $2.9 million.
Here’s something else that will really twist your brain into a knot trying to understand it. Somebody launched a site that lets you create Beeple-style artwork. The same artist, remember, whose art was just sold as an NFT by Christie’s. And that site, beeplegenerator.com? The current owner of the site bought it from an NFT site. I’m not sure what else to make of all that at this point, other than — what a time to be alive.