I am going to do my best to explain the hot initialism of the week—trust me, I’m just as baffled as most non-rich, non-tech people—but first I’m going to tell you what it doesn’t stand for.
It doesn’t stand for “Not For Tourists,” the series of city guides first published in 2000.
The circled sans-serif letters originally suggested the distinctive font of New York subway lines, an iconography that is Not Fully Transferable to other cities, although the San Francisco Municipal Railway does in fact operate N, F, and T lines.
Which is a shame, because I definitely understand Not For Tourists. I bought a San Francisco NFT guide in 2006 or 2007 and found it well designed and helpful in my pre-smartphone phase.
This year’s NFT stands for non-fungible token, and the reason you’ve been hearing about it (or maybe not hearing about it, if you live mostly in the Real World, lucky you) is because what was once —say, in January—a niche internet hobby is now mainstream, or perhaps just “mainstream.” Also because Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, is attempting to sell the first tweet—his own, from March 6, 2006—as an NFT. Bidding reached $2.5 million on the evening of March 6, 2021.
Yes, anyone can view, retweet, and reproduce this tweet for free. Like this:
just setting up my twttr— jack (@jack) March 21, 2006
But that’s not an NFT. An NFT gives you ownership rights to a piece of code in a blockchain. Not copyright or trademark rights, you understand. But still: rights.
Here’s an explanation by game developer Everest Pipkin, who’s concerned about the environmental impact of NFTs (something I won’t get into here, so read the full article if you’re interested):
An individual piece of cryptoart is called an NFT. You can think of each NFT as a trading card or a collectible with an individual value that is also affected by the general market value of NFTs as a concept, the Ethereum network and cryptocurrency in general. Like beanie babies without the beans.
Cryptoart is bought and sold with- and has its value calculated in- Ethereum, a 6-year-old cryptocurrency that was (at the time of writing, 2 pm March 2nd 2021) trading at 1 ETH = $1476.21 USD.
Is your head hurting? My head is hurting.
This would be a good time to take a break and read about the Tinkerbell effect, which is germane. I’ll wait.