Every now and then, I try to educate myself on the latest tech hype. Non-fungible tokens have been around for a while, but (at least in my perception), they’ve been really exploding lately, with digital artists earning record sums, and Nike filing a patent for a ‘blockchain-based NFT-sneaker’ called ‘CryptoKicks’ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
So I’ve been skimming a couple of articles trying to figure out what’s what here, but I’m not sure if I’m really getting it. Best as I can tell, an NFT is sort of like a bitcoin, but unique, i. e. they’re not mutually interchangeable (hence the name). And… that seems to be it: you can create an NFT for a particular artwork, and purchasing this then makes you the sole proprietor of that particular piece of data (although I understand one can also share ownership of one and the same NFT). If it’s, say, an image, other people can still have that very same image, but you’re registered as the owner of a particular NFT created from that image.
I get that this creates a sort of scarcity, similar to, I don’t know, signed autographs, maybe? Or original prints of something also available in copy? I’ve always found this difficult enough to understand—why would I want the original painting when I can hang a virtually identical copy on my wall at a fraction of the price—but (if my understanding is correct) this seems all the more bizarre regarding NFTs: there’s no sense in which, for instance, ‘the master’s hand’ has touched the NFT anymore than just an ordinary .jpg-copy—it’s just that one of them is a data structure that has been entered into a blockchain, the other isn’t. Why does that create value?