The World’s Most Expensive JPG

How a digital artist named Beeple struck the jackpot.

“Everydays — The First 5000 Days” by Beeple

It was the sale heard around the world, or at least maybe the Internet. For the few who still haven’t heard, a digital artist named Beeple sold the art piece pictured above via Christie’s Auction, an auction house that has been around since before the Declaration of Independence, for almost $70 million. The auction ran for two weeks initially, with the starting price coming in at the now meager sum of $100. It was only in the final minutes of the auction that the price skyrocketed into the millions.

Many have already covered the significance of this sale, with Beeple himself commenting in an interview, “It is the beginning of a new chapter in art history. People are going to start going back and looking at the digital art that’s been made over the last 20 years, by hundreds of thousands of artists. There was no way to collect their work, there was no technology available to collect their work in a real digital way. People will realize that there was just as much craft, message, nuance and hard work put into this as any other medium, and now we can collect it.

The debate over whether NFTs are a fad or something more transformational rages on in the wake of this historic moment. Is Beeple’s good fortunes a sign of better things to come or a red herring that will distract us from the eventual bursting of the bubble? Are people suckers for trying to be the next Beeple, or is actual change on the horizon? Calibrating the right amount of meaning to take from this historic moment can be tricky.

Some people are heralding this sale as the peak, the beginning of the end. Those voices are misguided. Amidst all the hype, it’s best to remember why NFTs are so innovative in the first place.

  1. I can explain the basics of NFTs to just about anyone in five minutes, and they’ll generally get it.
  2. The immediate problem that NFTs are trying to solve is clear and affects a large number of people.
  3. The potential use cases beyond the art world are simple to understand and exciting to think about.

If we compare that to Bitcoin, I still have trouble explaining cryptocurrencies in a concise way to my friends and family, and, after I finish explaining to them what Bitcoin is, it’s even harder for me to tell them precisely what problem Bitcoin was created to solve without talking about trustless systems, hashes, and blocks.

When you think of the future of Bitcoin and Ethereum and others, that future is not that exciting for a lot of regular people. It’s filled with debates over Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake, EE2E encrpytion, technical jargon, and white papers that make people’s eyes start to glaze. Anyone who isn’t an expert or a nerd doesn’t care that much.

With NFTs, you can imagine things like being able to own cosmetics and even an avatar that you could take from video game to video game, personalizing them as you see fit. You think about all the other problems NFTs could solve like eliminating ticket scalping, and the prevention of bots buying up the supply of the latest console and reselling them at absurd rates. You consider the possibility of turning just about anything you can think of into a collectible from procedurally generated sounds to Oscar-nominated documentaries.

Who wouldn’t be excited by those possibilities?

While it’s reasonable to think that the NFT mania will come back down to earth at some point, consider that crpytocurrency, even without all of the built-in advantages that NFTs have, is still going strong to this day. I see no reason to doubt NFTs transformational capabilities in the years to come. The future is wide open.

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