There’s a conspiracy afoot. A-list celebrities from Jimmy Fallon to Gwyneth Paltrow have all conspired to sell the consumers of the world … digital monkeys? The most influential figures in American media have been shilling shitty pictures of apes, lions, cats and giraffes with any number of random adjectives applied to them. Why have the world’s elites suddenly looked to JPEGs of “art” as their next professional ventures?
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are tokens that represent the ownership of a virtual asset that cannot be copied. It’s basically a receipt for a digital transaction. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this concept. If you buy physical property over the internet the deed to that purchase could be represented through an NFT. It gives the owner a singular document linked directly to them and them alone, all secured by the blockchain.
An interesting concept for sure, but what’s the problem with NFTs then? When you try to link this system to an abstract concept like “art” it doesn’t make sense. NFTs have taken the form of crudely drawn cookie-cutter designs that are slightly altered algorithmically. This ensures that these art pieces are easy to make and mass-producible.
One of the more popular NFT brands is “Bored Apes Yacht Club.” These dorky pictures of the same unamused primate are algorithmically generated with various accessories like hats, glasses, shirts and physical deformities. Each is only unique in terms of their receipt of ownership.
Ugly pictures for sure, but why all the fuss? Well, it turns out that if you create artificial digital scarcity, you can make a lot of money. These Bored Apes sell anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars. In the most amazingly stupid instance, one ape sold for $2.7 million, the most expensive purchase in the brand’s history. I repeat, a digital image of a monkey with rainbow fur and a royal crown sold for more money than the average American will make in their entire lifetime.
It’s no wonder then that celebrities of all types have suddenly become spokesmen for various NFT brands. Justin Bieber posts frequently about “inBetweeners,” a collection of wacky cartoon bears. Snoop Dog has launched his personal “A Journey with the Dogg” collection, selling pictures of important life events (and oddly enough a diamond joint). Even absurdist comedian Eric Andre joined in on the trend with his drop of “Non-Flushable Turn,” much to the disappointment of his normally receptive audience.
This scheme to give NFTs prevalence in the modern media landscape is all to turn worthless digital pictures into millions of dollars of capital. Like a live grenade, NFTs go from person to person until they finally explode in the face of one unlucky investor. Money down the drain if you’re the one stuck with the worthless JPEG.
After all, that’s all NFTs are: pictures. Sure the “owner” has a digital receipt, but if I screenshot the product I have the exact same art. It’s a digital asset. While you can physically hold the “Mona Lisa,” nothing distinguishes my saved image from the owners.
All transactions are conducted with Ethereum, a family of cryptocurrencies that exemplifies the desperate nature of late-stage capitalism. Speculative, unstable currency for a speculative and unstable asset. A match made in heaven.
Nowhere else does the plague of NFT art make itself known like Twitter. Day in and day out, people from all over the world go to this wonderful platform to sell their special brand of snake oil. Recent updates have allowed NFTs to be uploaded as profile pictures with unique hexagonal borders to prove their authenticity. Of course, browser extensions like Better Tweetdeck immediately added a mass block script for all NFT profiles to their platform. Conflict breeds innovation.
However, the truly destructive aspect of NFTs is their environmental impact. NFTs use Ethereum as a platform for transactions and to create tokens. This requires significant amounts of energy for their creation and sale.
When looking at Ethereum alone, the crypto consumes the same amount of electricity as the Netherlands and has a carbon footprint equal to Singapore. That “CryptoPunk” sure is neat, but to buy it requires the power consumption of the average U.S. house over nine days. Sign me up.
This is the creation and exchange of capital with no production and no benefit to humanity at large. Crypto and NFT enthusiasts will argue that this energy waste is insignificant compared to driving a car or owning a fridge. While a car can transport you and a fridge can preserve food, the creation of capital is simply the creation of capital – or, the equivalent of burning coal to fuel a money printer.
NFTs are the result of an economy that focuses more on creating profit rather than making anything of use. Instead of funding artists or technological progress, NFTs function as a wealth transfer with an added energy tax. The creation of useless consumer products that actively hurt the environment is not only pointless but also immoral.
A world where NFTs are seen as a legitimate economic venture is not one that should be taken seriously.
Blake McQuilkin believes that NFTs are a modern scam that wastes time, energy, money and, most importantly, my patience.