“It’s a crazy amount, but it also does kind of make sense,” Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, said on Wednesday, referring to the sixty-nine million dollars that he received, in March, for some of his own work. If Winkelmann sounded like he was still processing the figure, so was his audience: he was speaking at the third installment of The New Yorker Live, an online event series held exclusively for subscribers to the magazine.
In the clip above, you can view highlights of the evening’s discussion, “How Memes Become Money,” a consideration of the growing influence of Internet culture on the economy and our notions of value. Joining Beeple on the virtual stage were Neha Narula, the director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the M.I.T. Media Lab, and the technologist and essayist Anil Dash. Moderated by the New Yorker staff writer Sheelah Kolhatkar, the conversation focussed on two innovations that have changed markets in the past decade: cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and non-fungible tokens, or N.F.T.s, the artistic medium that earned Winkelmann his headline-making windfall. (Audience members who were hazy about the nature of N.F.T.s need not have worried; Winkelmann, who is thirty-nine, explained that, although he has been making digital art since he was in college, he heard about N.F.T.s for the first time only in October.)
As with many Internet-based technologies that preceded these latest tools, proponents have touted their potential to democratize society and spread prosperity by widening access and lowering institutional barriers. But, just as with earlier inventions, cryptocurrencies and N.F.T.s have raised concerns about their potential for misuse―and, paradoxically, sparked fears about the further consolidation of wealth and power by those who already have plenty. Raising additional worry, during this period of rapid climate change, has been the significant amount of energy that both consume.
Subscribers to The New Yorker can listen to the full conversation, and all previous installments of The New Yorker Live, at newyorker.com/live. Check the page in the weeks ahead for details about upcoming events, and subscribe to gain access.