I bought an NFT and all I got was this stupid NFT

Today I bought an NFT.

I realise that with this post I run the risk of coming off as Steve Buscemi with the skateboard. But — despite my being a reasonably tech-savvy person, even I struggled to really wrap my head around NFTs until I managed to scan, verify, and confirm my way through several phone and browser-based transactions. I’m still not sure I really get it, but here’s how it went down, for the Nifty-curious.

Note that this post is not about the IP, industrial, ethical, and environmental implications of NFT and blockchain technology, though I am working on a piece that takes all of these issues and more into account.

I’m presently working on an article about blockchain and the film industry — specifically the recent proliferation of directors selling NFTs, and Hollywood start-ups claiming to be democratising the production process (where have we heard this before?).

The meat of the article is done, but there was one part of the picture that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. It’s the part that is arguably the most important and — if the 2021-22 NFT press explosion is anything to go by — is pretty simple? Essentially it’s buying an NFT. The vague self-assurance that it’s probably tax-deductible (?) squared away, I set about looking for something that I might actually want.

So it was that I waded into OpenSea — so to speak — and then Rarible, hoping to find something that caught my eye. The same eye that immediately started to twitch at all the low-res, low-taste, mostly procedurally-generated tat that constitutes the majority of the NFT market. This was a few weeks ago, and I quickly gave up, hoping that my adopting the work of other researchers who had done this stuff would suffice.

Last week I was working on a section of the piece about the Australian NFT space, and came across a story about a filmmaker, Michael Beets, who was working with a digital artist to create an experience, access to which would be secured with an NFT. This actually sounded semi-interesting — part art project/exhibition, part immersive experience — so I looked into the HERE & NOW.

It all seemed pretty straightforward, even though it introduced yet another new cryptocurrency to the mix; most appealing, though, there wasn’t an obscene cost involved. So I jumped onto an exchange, traded in some fiat currency for the cloud dollars, and went back to the HERE & NOW.

The minting process was a little convoluted (for me, mostly) as it involved setting up a new wallet, transferring the funds from my exchange to this new wallet, then minting a token that would then update the HERE & NOW page and allow me to enter the creator experience. But once that was done I entered the browser-based virtual world and started moving through the space. In a slightly darkened room with headphones on, it was simple but effective, walking through hallways, then out into larger spaces, and through portals. Allegedly each person’s experience is slightly different, based on the code of their token; the result is a unique 3D planetoid that replaces the placeholder NFT token that you originally purchased. Users also get access to the next edition of the experience when it’s released.

My planetoid, in situ within the virtual experience. Source: HERE & NOW.

The constant verification, re-verification, scanning QR codes, confirming via text and email, is obviously the current state of the process for blockchain. This is the cost of decentralised transactions that take place ‘off the grid’, away from big institutions like banks and e-commerce systems. But even for those systems that do allow log-ins, it’s still clunky and tedious.

The experience of the creator software, though, was good fun, and there was a certain satisfaction in creating and receiving ones’ own custom artwork as an NFT.

What I do with it now? I suppose wait for the new edition of the HERE & NOW experience, but also look at my little NFT planet in my wallet? We wait and see. Maybe I’ll need one of those metaverse frames in my house soon.

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