Your bids, please, for an NFT of this story
You saw it here first. Now’s your chance to buy the original!
Ever since those swindlers sold the Emperor his new clothes, the unscrupulous (or the imaginative and only-just-scrupulous) have been trying to think of ways to part us from our money without giving us anything tangible in return.
The only thing more important than their ability to deceive us is our own ability to deceive ourselves - a vital element in a sales process that can have us ending up like the Emperor himself: stitched-up without a stitch on, and being ridiculed by all around.
Those sales people were so convincing that the Emperor overcame his misgivings and deluded himself into believing he really was wearing the most beautiful invisible clothes - and due to his power over the populace, no-one dared point out that he was, in fact, totally naked.
It took a little boy, unaware of the protocols, the rules and the niceties, to reveal the truth - and, unpopular as it will undoubtedly make me, I’ve always identified with that little boy and will not be swayed from my mission to speak truth unto the unwittingly naked.
So forgive me, then, if I slip out of the crowd now, elbow my way to the front, and reveal that not only is the Emperor about to find himself embarrassingly unclothed in public again, but a lot of people around him are in serious danger of losing their shirts, too.
The purveyors of pardons and sellers of snake oil have come up with a new product: one so ethereal, so ectoplasmic, so impossible to grasp either physically or philosophically that the self-deluding with more millions than sense simply can’t get enough of it.
It’s called an NFT, or Non-Fungible-Token, and is nothing more than a digital ownership certificate saying that the buyer “owns” a picture or post or joke that everyone else can access for free online.
You, or I (and pay attention, please, because I could be saving you a billion or so here) might see an image we like online and want to keep it.
So we download it, or save it to our camera roll, and it’s there for as long as we have power in our iPads and breath in our bodies.
It’s also free of charge.
But that isn’t good enough for some people - or, at least, it isn’t now that the marketers of NFTs have infected them with a severe case of FOMO, the fear of missing-out.
No. They have to have the original. And while it’s understandable that someone with sufficient funds might prefer to own an original Van Gogh rather than a giclée print, it’s hard to appreciate the difference between a picture that someone posted online a year ago or the version that’s on your screen right now.
The difference, according to the NFT peddlers, is that the first occurrence of a popular image online is immensely valuable - almost valuable beyond belief - even though it is indistinguishable in any measurable way from every other occurrence of it online.
Note the words “beyond belief”.
For the NFT market depends entirely on people’s willingness to believe that one instance of a picture or Tweet or Facebook post is any more valuable than any of a million others.
That sort of belief, and the dangers inherent in it, was best demonstrated in those Hanna-Barbera cartoons in which a character would run right off the top of a cliff and continue walking on thin air until, looking down, the doubts set in - at which point, reality and gravity would kick in and the character would plunge to the ground and land with a thump in a cloud of dust.
Those familiar with Peter Pan will recall that Tinker Bell, too, was only viable as long as people believed in her - and if they stopped believing, as pantomime audiences know only too well, she would die.
It’s tempting to think that if we stopped believing in NFTs, or refused to believe in them in the first place, they would also wither, die and go away for eternity.
But not as long as there are Emperors prepared to pay a King’s ransom for them.
Someone (and I can understand them wishing to remain anonymous) paid $2.9 million to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey for an NFT of the first ever Tweet, even though the rest of us can see it online, should we be remotely interested, for free.
And an animated gif of Nyan Cat (don’t ask!) made more than half a million dollars - again, sold to somebody who could have had exactly the same thing for absolutely nothing at all.
Today, a 21-year-old woman who was pictured in front of a burning house when she was four has pocketed $473,000 for an NFT of the original photograph.
The picture became a meme - an irritating new word for something that Private Eye magazine here in the UK has been doing for years: adding a caption or a speech bubble to a photograph to give it a new and usually scurrilous meaning.
Good luck to the woman, and anyone else who can persuade a stranger to pay more than the price of a decent family home for nothing more than the bragging-rights to “ownership” of an image that everyone else on the planet who’s interested can have for literally nothing.
Let’s be clear about this. With an attitude like mine, and a healthy scepticism that’s likely to prove expensive, I’m never going to be a billionaire.
And yet... if anyone would like to give me half a billion dollars for the original file of this story - it’s being written right now in Apple Pages - just let me know and I’ll rustle up an NFT.
Believe me, I’d accept.
• This story was written in one hour and 22 minutes in response to a challenge by fellow Vocal creator Michael Pitre, who had to enlighten me as to what an NFT was.