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The World’s First Pancake Art NFT: What That Is, How I Made It, and Why I Think It Matters

It’s my 31st birthday today! Instead of meandering about the implications of being ‘in my thirties’, I decided to mint the world’s first Pancake Art NFT.  In this post I want to talk about NFTs – Non-Fungible Tokens – and I  want to explain what they are, how they work, why I minted one, and what  I think it all means.

Oh, lord. Where do I begin?

Y’all remember, like…less than a month ago, when every major news story was about GameStop’s stock price? Here’s a video that does a great job recapping that saga so that I don’t have to.

Now, when this all went down, my brain lit up like a Christmas tree.  I’ve been learning a lot about money, finance, and cryptocurrency over  the last few years (at least since the price of bitcoin spiked to almost  $20,000 in December 2017) and I think I’ve been subconsciously awaiting  a cultural catalyst. When I learned what was going on with GameStop, it  seemed like it had…catalytic potential. Like it might trigger a chain  reaction of a sort.

“You mean to tell me a decentralized network of retail traders  has figured out how to collectively use mimetics to transform their own  ability to access capital, while simultaneously rebuffing the legacy  elites who are largely responsible for our world being as twisted and  unfair as it is?”

My logic: People – like, a not insignificant amount of people, shit  was all over the news – found a glitch in the system that they can  exploit to simultaneously punish bad actors and potentially earn a  killing in the process. This on its own is enough to make people wake up  and realize that money – the economic hard line that has determined who  prospers and who suffers, seemingly arbitrarily, for our entire lives –  is just a big video game. But beyond that, once the pieces started to  fall into place that all these organizations, trading apps, and  investment firms were on the same team (thrown in our faces when  Robinhood suspended the buying of $GME to ‘mitigate volatility’), not  only has the curtain been thrown back, but it’s revealed an unfair  racket where the folks with all the power will change the rules mid-game  if it seems like they might lose one time. You know, like assholes.  They’re unfairly gambling billions upon billions of dollars of imaginary  money, actively attempting to destroy businesses, all while that same  money could be used to help people who desperately need the help, as a  pandemic continues to ravage the population and wealth inequality drives  the world to madness.

These themes have been present throughout my self-gathered  cryptocurrency education. Cryptocurrencies – of which Bitcoin is the  most prominent, though there are hundreds if not thousands of others –  flip the incentive structures of traditional finance on their head.  Rather than deriving their value from state-enforced violence, as all traditional monetary systems do (your money is worthless if the government that issues it isn’t good at  killing people), cryptocurrency gathers value by cleverly exploiting  human belief. These computer networks incentivize their own creation by  rewarding early participants with tokens that can be verified thanks to  the nature of the network. If people think the token will be worth  something, then they have a reason to get in early, which causes the  network that secures the value of those tokens to come into existence  and fulfill its own prophecy. It’s a bit circular, but once you start  the machinery it becomes very, very hard to stop it, evidenced by the  fact that bitcoin is over a decade old, has yet to fail, and is now  inching close to a value of $50,000 per unit.

If you want me to explain this cryptocurrency stuff in-depth, I’m  working on a video essay which you’ll be able to watch by following Anthromancer.  For now, all I really want to point out is that cryptocurrency – as a  technology – offers regular people a non-violent weapon to wield against  entrenched legacy systems of greed and domination. It’s a new game with  new rules that the old money vampires don’t know how to co-opt. They  might never figure it out – the game is fundamentally different, from  the bottom up, and the opportunities for regular people without access  to legacy capital are through the freaking roof.

Which brings me to NFTs.

NFT stands for ‘Non-Fungible Token’. The word ‘Fungible’ is used to  describe any valuable asset which can be easily replaced with another  identical asset. A dollar bill is fungible because you don’t  particularly care about the dollar that you have. If I have a dollar,  and you have a dollar, and we swap those dollars, it’s kind of like  nothing happened. The tokens themselves have nothing unique about them. A  house, on the other hand, would be considered ‘Non-Fungible’ because it  isn’t a valuable asset that you can easily switch with another one.  That house is unique, it has unique issues and charm, and besides  they’re kind of hard to move around. A painting would also be  ‘non-fungible’ – it is something unique, with a story, and it isn’t  nearly as easy to simply ‘exchange it’ with another painting even if  they have similar or identical monetary values. They’re different  things. They make you feel different.

Cryptocurrencies are generally seen as fungible assets. People don’t  really care which Bitcoin you have; they all have essentially the same  value. There may be some odd ‘collectors’ who find value in getting a  bitcoin from block 1 or something (don’t worry about it) but for the  most part 1 BTC is 1 BTC and 1 satoshi (the smallest unit of bitcoin,  approximately 0.00000001 BTC) is 1 satoshi. It’s fungible, see?

This changes when you bring art into the mix.

The fastest way to summarize NFTs is that they are digital media –  such as a .png, a .gif, or even video or audio – with a hard-coded  ownership certificate. An NFT is a picture with its owner encoded on a  blockchain ledger, very similar to how the bitcoin network tracks who  owns bitcoin and how much they have.

Now if you’re like me, you’ll read that last paragraph and think,  ‘What? Who cares?’ My immediate reaction to learning about these NFTs  was that they didn’t make any sense. The ownership certificate does  nothing to prevent piracy; it’s still a digital image that just about  anybody can look at, right-click, and save to their hard drive. It can  still be infinitely reproduced if someone wants to steal your art and  slap it on a t-shirt. And on top of all that, since these Ethereum smart  contracts (I’ll tell you when you’re older) use the ‘proof-of-work’  hashing protocol – ‘minting’ an NFT literally gives a substantial carbon  footprint to a piece of art that otherwise would’ve been lighter than  air in the digital realm.

So like…What? This has to be a fad, right? Just some goofy, flashy  new way to overcomplicate the process of creating and selling art,  right?

Nevertheless, one of the first lessons I’ve learned in crypto is that  this game rewards the fastest movers. “Fortune favors the bold.” So  when my friend Cory messaged me about the idea of making pancake art  NFTs, I decided to set my fear, uncertainty and doubt to the side for a  bit, do some googling, and figure out what was really going on here. I’d  just seen this cultural catalyst in the form of the $GME stock market  madness, I’d been following the crypto markets and watching as Elon Musk  caused Dogecoin to skyrocket in value overnight, and I was just…in this  world enough to overcome my usual anxiety and actually learn  something. Maybe I could pioneer some shit? Maybe I could accidentally  stumble into a $100 investment that changes my life and helps me pull  all my friends out of debt? Maybe I can just have some fun and learn,  instead of letting my anxiety dictate my future all the time? I’m 31  now. I want to like who I’m becoming.

So I googled it.

I found a website called Rarible that enables users to mint NFTs.  This process was not extremely easy for me to figure out. As a  blockchain platform, the ‘username/password’ stuff is a bit unintuitive  and requires new considerations that my brain isn’t used to thinking of.  I had to own Ethereum (fortunately I’d bought some through Coinbase  recently). I had to have a special cryptocurrency wallet that interfaced  with the Rarible website and my own browser (my first attempt had some  kind of a glitch and I accidentally vaporized $25 worth of ETH, and  almost gave up). I had to have a file I’d like to turn into an NFT –  fortunately I still had files from our pancake art sticker packs, and I  decided to go with my Joker pancake (because of the class warfare I  guess). The minting process was way more expensive than I expected, too!  Maybe it was because traffic on the Ethereum network was spiking, but I  ended up having to pay something like $70 worth of ETH to mint the damn  thing, not including the $25 that was lost forever (never mind the fact  that in 5 years the ETH I burned might be worth like $50k). The whole  process took me all morning to figure out – posting to deviantART this  was NOT.

But then, I refreshed my browser, and…there it was.

The world’s first pancake art NFT – embedded into the Ethereum blockchain, with me listed as its creator and first owner.

I set the price at 1 ETH – approximately $1800 at time of minting –  because I guess I didn’t really care if it sold or not. Looking at it  now I think that it might. Going through this process gave me somewhat  of a different perspective. Sometimes understanding something is just a  matter of immersing yourself in it, in the language and the communities  around it, until things start to click. And last night, they did! It  dawned on me: Someone is going to buy this NFT because in so doing they  will become the first person on earth to have purchased the first  pancake art NFT in existence, and that fact will be embedded onto the  Ethereum blockchain for so long as that network maintains its integrity.  Something about that calculus makes sense to me – because the value  isn’t the ownership of the token, it’s the ownership of the story.

Who is your favorite artist, in the whole wide world? Who is an  artist who you truly respect, whose work makes your heart sing, whose  presence on earth now or in the past has given a sublime and  incalculable value to your experience of living? Gustav Klimt? Vincent  Van Gogh? Georgia O’Keefe? Frida Kahlo?

What if you could’ve bought an NFT from them? What if you could’ve  been THE FIRST PERSON to ever patronize their work, and have that  purchase – that story – hard-coded into an immutable historical document that proves exactly who made the purchase, when, and how much they paid?

The status doesn’t come from owning the thing – it comes from being bonded to the artist.

Beyond that, part of these NFT smart contracts makes it so that the  original artist can be guaranteed a % royalty if and when the new owner  decides to sell the piece again. If someone buys this Joker NFT from me,  I’ll get 1 ETH. If, somehow, the piece becomes more valuable (as things  like this tend to do) and someone sells it again, the smart contract  will kick in and I’ll be guaranteed 10% of whatever the next sale goes  for. Maybe I’ll get another 1 ETH! Who knows? And the chain of owners of  this digital ‘un-thing’ extends, building out the story of this piece  of media, and the story of the artist that created it. Giving more  energy and power to me to create more beautiful art and explore more  strange and revolutionary ideas in this strange and revolutionary space.

Like…it clicks for me now. I don’t feel like I’m flying blind without understanding what’s going to happen in this space.

NFTs are not a fad. They are here to stay. And I’m glad they’re so  expensive to mint – hopefully, that’ll keep people from abusing them. I  am not in a rush to mint a ton of these things – I’m incentivized by  their very cost to make them meaningful; to come up with ways to make  these stories (the thing people are actually buying when they buy NFTs)  interesting. With this knowledge going forward, I feel pretty good that  the next NFT I mint is going to be every bit as interesting as this one,  if not more so.

I gotta tell ya: overcoming my lifetime of anxiety to figure out how  this weird, new, complicated thing works, and having enough of an  understanding to share it all here and feel like I’m able to make  something weird and complicated make sense to other people?

I think 31 is gonna be my year.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’m grateful to be here and looking  forward to the future. I hope you’ll cultivate your curiosity with me.

One Reply to “The World’s First Pancake Art NFT: What That Is, How I Made It, and Why I Think It Matters”

  1. Kathie Drake says:

    I’m a bit confused. If I want one of your joker NFT’s it’s $1800 ? Or
    Is this explaining how artists make their own NFT’s ? Either way, I’m excited for you year 31!!

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