NFTs have temporarily taken the reins from cryptocurrency as the strangest online trend. Nonfungible tokens have become a sensation, or scandal, thanks to the headline-grabbing insanity of it all: Memes being sold for the cost of a Tesla, tweets fetching seven figure bids and digital art selling for $69 million.
A quick catchup: Nonfungible assets are those that aren’t interchangeable with one another. Every $100 bill holds the same value as any other $100 bill, therefore they are fungible. Houses, cars and collectables are nonfungible: Houses of the same size on the same street will sell for different prices, and the same model of the same car can similarly vary in cost.
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Which takes us to nonfungible tokens. They’re essentially certifications of ownership recorded on a blockchain. Nonfungible tokens put the ownership of a digital product — be it digital art, a video clip or even just a jpeg or gif — on that ledger. In the age of NFTs, downloading a picture is like owning a print. Having the NFT is like owning the original painting.
Real digital artists are making real money on NFTs. Take Beeple. He’s a digital artist with a huge fanbase, over 1.8 million followers on Instagram. Art he sold as an NFT recently fetched $69 million in a Christie’s auction. That’s insane to you or I, but not to people who frequent Christie’s auctions, who spend $60 million on abstract expressionist paintings.
But even if there are a small percentage of NFT sales you can make sense of, there are many more which are absolutely, positively nuts.
$85 for a fart
When COVID-19 lockdown began last March, Brooklyn filmmaker Alex Ramírez-Mallis and four friends did the obvious thing: Started sending audio recordings of their farts to one another through a WhatsApp group chat. One year later, Ramírez-Mallis is auctioning 52-minutes of audio flatulence as an NFT.
The auction’s starting price: $85. Would you pay $85 for farts? Would be a solid investment if you did, since someone out there was ultimately willing to pay 0.24 ethereum, or about $420, for the NFT. What’s more, in addition to selling the 52 minute recording, he’s also selling NFTs for individual farts. Only one has been sold: Fart #420, for about $90.
“If people are selling digital art and GIFs, why not sell farts?” Ramírez-Mallis told the New York Post. Truer words, never spoken.
Good Luck Brian
Remember Bad Luck Brian? It was a meme popularized in 2012, when a yearbook photo of high school student Kyle Craven, depicting him with braces and a plaid sweater, was posted to Reddit. Users would post the picture with macro captions of unfortunate events, like “Escapes burning building. Gets hit by firetruck.” (Most of the good ones are too NSFW for me to post here.)
Kyle Craven has had the last laugh though, selling the yearbook photo as an NFT for $36,000. It’s kind of a beautiful underdog story for the digital age. Kind of.
Homer as Pepe
This one is dumb, but also is an illustrative example of why people are buying NFTs: To sell them for more later on.
The above piece of art is like a Pokemon card for a hell-creature merge of Homer Simpson and Pepe the frog. Homer Simpson is, well, Homer Simpson, and Pepe is an internet frog that’s popular on 4chan and other areas of the internet. The NFT for this art recently sold for $320,000.
The crazy part? The person who sold it wasn’t its creator. He bought it back in 2018 for $38,000. So as preposterous as all of this NFT business is, it’s worth noting that some people are actually making a lot of money flipping them.
Now we get into the stupid money.
Nyan Cat was a YouTube sensation nearly 10 years ago. It was a video of a pixelated cat with a pop-tart for a toros, to the tune of a Japanese pop song. It has over 185 million views on YouTube, and has become a ubiquitous gif in the years since.
“The design of Nyan Cat was inspired by my cat Marty, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge but lives on in spirit,” wrote its creator on the sales page for the NFT of Nyan Cat. It would end up selling for 300 ethereum — $531,000.
Jack Dorsey’s first tweet
“Just setting up my twtter,” tweeted Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, back in 2006. Turns out that each of those words is worth over $625,000, as the NFT for that tweet is currently at auction, with the top bid sitting at $2.5 million.
Dorsey has said the proceeds will be turned to Bitcoin and donated to GiveDirectly, a charity that helps six African countries with COVID-19 relief.
The philanthropy is nice — not to be understated, since it’ll likely save thousands of lives — but there’s also some clever marketing at play here. NFTs are closely related to cryptocurrency, since both are based on the blockchain, to the point where NFTs are almost always bought with Ethereum, the second biggest currency after Bitcoin. So if you’re a big investor in cryptocurrency, like Dorsey is, inflating the NFT bubble isn’t a bad way to help appreciate your cryptoholdings.
Which is why it’s not surprising to see Elon Musk tweet about NFTs, and tease selling one in the future.
But despite the philanthropy, the guerilla marketing and the distinct possibility that the buyer will be able to flip the tweet for $10 million in a few years, dropping $2.5 million on a tweet is a sign we’ve entered a new era of internet insanity.