Perhaps unsurprisingly, it all started as an art project
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are big business now, at least for now. Everything from one of Creepy Chan’s first MySpace posts to a New York Times article went on sale. (The Times article cost the equivalent of $ 560,000 to Ether.) But it was not always a speculative and suspiciously fraudulent garden. In fact, according to Glitch CEO Anil Dash, in a new play at The Atlantic, the whole thing started out as a project set up for a hackathon that brought together artists and technologists.
It all started in May 2014, writes Dash, when he teamed up with digital artist Kevin McCoy. “This was around the peak of Tumblr culture, when a noisy and inspiring community of millions of artists and fans was sharing images and videos completely devoid of attribution, compensation or context,” writes Dash. A solution to this problem became the seed of his idea. “By the early hours of the night, McCoy and I had hacked together a first version of a blockchain-supported means of asserting ownership of an original digital work. Exhausted and a little crazy, we gave our creation an ironic name: monetized graphics. “
Neither Dash nor McCoy patented the idea, although McCoy spent a few subsequent years evangelizing it. But both envisioned his creation as a way to give artists more control over their work; that was always the thesis.
Technology should allow artists to exercise control over their work, sell it more easily, protect it more strongly against others taking over it without permission. In developing the technology specifically for artistic use, McCoy and I hoped to prevent it from becoming another method of exploiting creative professionals. But nothing went the way it should. Our dream of empowering artists has not yet come true, but it has generated a lot of commercially exploitable enthusiasm.
Dash’s writing is lucid and clear about the implications of technology and the NFTs as we know them today. He is also aware of the promises and limitations of blockchain technology. Dash and McCoy’s “proto-NFTs” – as Dash refers to them later in the play – are fascinating because they are explicitly geared towards artists and are not necessarily so preoccupied with profits, unlike the NFT market we have now.
The current NFT boom could be a fork in the road if enough people want it to be. We can use technology to benefit artists and reward them for their work – we can take the road less traveled. The only question is, shall we?