“It’s a crazy amount, but it kind of makes sense,” said Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, on Wednesday, referring to the sixty-nine million dollars he received in March for some of his own work. If Winkelmann sounded like he was still processing the character, so was his audience: he spoke in the third episode of The New Yorker Live, an online series of events held exclusively for subscribers to the magazine.
In the clip above you can see the highlights of the evening discussion “How memes become money”, a look at the growing influence of internet culture on the economy and our values. Beeple on the virtual stage was joined by Neha Narula, director of the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT Media Lab, and technologist and essayist Anil Dash. Moderated by the New York employee Sheelah KolhatkarThe conversation focused on two innovations that have changed markets over the past decade: cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and non-fungible tokensor NFTs, the artistic medium that made Winkelmann headline news. (Viewers who were clear about the nature of NFTs needn’t worry. Winkelmann, who is thirty-nine, stated that although he has been doing digital art since graduating from college, this is his first time in NFTs heard about this October.)
As with many internet-based technologies that preceded these newest tools, proponents have touted their potential for democratizing society and spreading prosperity by expanding access and removing institutional barriers. But just like previous inventions, cryptocurrencies and NFTs have raised concerns about their potential for abuse – and paradoxically, sparked fears about the continued consolidation of wealth and power by those who already have enough. In this era of rapid climate change, the significant amount of energy both of them consume was an added concern.
The New Yorker subscribers can listen to this full conversationand all previous installments from The New Yorker Live, at newyorker.com/live. Check the page in the coming weeks for details on upcoming events and subscribe to Get access.