It’s been just a little under 3 weeks since Beeple’s 5000 Days sold for a mind-boggling (and highly controversial) sum of $69 million. While NFTs have been around for years, Beeple’s 5000 Days was probably a seminal moment in propelling NFTs to the fore of tech and popular (mainstream?) culture.
What’s interesting is that in just 3 short weeks, interest in NFTs seem to have gone from full-on excitement and exuberance to disillusionment and disregard.
That’s really fast!
The whole cycle of excitement + disillusionment seems to have played out at 10x speed compared to other tech interest cycles.
While I’m not really sure why the hype cycle played out that fast, what’s interesting is that many of the sobering minds are digging deeper and discovering a lot of the same concerns that I had previously highlighted at the peak of excitement.
The most interesting one is, of course, the inability to separate art and tech:
1/ Is this art or is this tech?
I think this is perhaps the most fascinating and important question to answer. I won’t bore you with infinite analysis about the art and whether this is crazy or a brave new world. The internet already has plenty of that.
But what I find very interesting is that the internet seems to be focused almost exclusively on EITHER the art OR the NFT / technology aspects of this. Either of those things are interesting in their own right, but the intersection of them is far more interesting.
What’s fascinating to me is that this is art AND technology.
Why is this distinction important?
This distinction is important because art can be timeless, but technology has often proven NOT to be timeless.
The Mona Lisa was created in the 16th Century, more than 500 years ago. Yet, despite how much the world has changed, the Mona Lisa is still something we can enjoy. The existence of the Mona Lisa is independent of technological progress.
I’m not sure the same can be said about digital art tied to NFTs. Will NFTs prove to be timeless? What happens if we move on to some new technology or some new blockchains in the future. What will happen to the NFTs tied to the old blockchains and old technology? Will you even be able to access these NFTs in the future?
Could buyers of this digital art be assuming the same technological risk that buyers of limited edition VHS videos or CDs ran in the past (which if you really think about…also had the same near-perfect replicability of content that digital art currently has…what was scarce was only made scarce by design…)?Source: NFTs, Art, and Tech (Part I)
A sharp-eyed whiz on Twitter named Jonty Wareing actually went through the effort of figuring out what you actually “own” when you buy NFT art, and it’s a fascinating and wild read. I only wish I were the one to piece all the details together:
Some of this gets a bit conspiratorial, but it seems pretty hard to deny that it sounds a lot like tech risk to me.
And just in case that didn’t make all the sense in the world to you, I think the following analogy would be easier to understand in laymen terms (coming from a fairly non-technical person, though! – for the more technical readers reading this post that can offer up a better analogy, please do reach out to me via email):
Imagine you’re trying to buy digital art from a digital art gallery. The digital art gallery basically kind of works like your web browser.
And it sells you an NFT, which is basically like a specific browser tab with the art you “own”. Technically anyone can view the art you own somewhere else (digital art is infinitely replicable after all), but owning this NFT means specifically that you own the art in this specific tab.
And the scary thing is that you own this specific tab running in this specific browser. If the browser company (i.e. the digital art gallery that is minting the NFT goes bust), you may lose access to your art entirely (because the “browser” stops working).
Wait…how does this have anything to do with actually “owning” the art?
Well, it doesn’t really!
You can’t really stop anyone from replicating the art you own. Or stop them from enjoying the art you now own. And you don’t really even control the access of the art you “own”.
The only thing that establishes that you own the “original” is that the artist (selling the piece) agrees that you own the original. And everyone involved agrees that you now “own” the “original”.
What I think would be fascinating to see in the coming years is what happens in the courts. Everyone can say you “own” something, but that could be entirely different from the legal definition of “ownership”.
For example, what happens if someone else decides to mint another NFT of the same art you “own”?
Remember, you own a specific version of the art. But what if the involved parties decide to just mint another one?
In the analogy above, you own the art in a specific tab. What if the browser company just decides to make another identical tab or another browser company decides to make an identical tab? It’s technically different from what they sold you, but otherwise it’s identical other than it being an entirely separate “tab”.
Can you sue and claim ownership in the courts? How will the court rule? You technically only own the specific version in the specific “tab” you own. While everyone verbally and socially agrees right now that you own the original, what if they decide later to make a few more? What if they make a few more without you knowing? They probably can’t make a few more 5000 Days without people knowing, but this could be an issue for much more obscure art.
It’s not as crazy as it seems because it’s already happened!
So some people could have bought some NFTs that not even the artist agrees is the original.
What do you “own” then? Can you go to court and sue? You technically did get a browser “tab” with whatever picture you wanted. But you just can’t brag that you own the “original”, whatever that means.
Anyway, there’s a lot of fascinating questions around all of this.
There’s a lot of potential, too. And if it works, it could allow artists and creators to more easily seek funding for what they do in the same way that businesses and start-ups can.
But for now, the current implementation seems to only make sense for the creators and sellers of the art and not so much for buyers and consumers, in my humble opinion…maybe it improves over time, but a lot of the issues seem to be philosophical and not technical in nature. Philosophical questions are always way tougher to resolve than people think.
Lastly, maybe you have been wondering about what happened to Beeple and what he thinks?
I’m sure @Metakovan (the guy that bought his artwork for $69 million likely with the intention to boost interest and valuation of NFTs – of which @Metakovan is the largest owner apparently) thought that sprinkling $69 million around would turn Beeple into the most die-hard crypto evangelist the world has ever seen, but…nope. Not sure @Metakovan got his money’s worth.