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Tell me, friend, what does the word value mean to you?
What do you like to do once your survival is all but guaranteed for another day? Do you enjoy human interaction or rather time spent online? Perhaps you find value in sports, politics, and pop culture, and therefore find value in this very website. Conversely, lovers of anime, K-pop, and fantasy role playing may not find any value here, and yet their lives are colored with the same basic needs and instincts as mine and yours.
Isn’t it interesting how two organisms with so much in common can lead such entirely different existences? It’s as if we’re a completely different species, and yet couldn’t be more alike in the eyes of the universe. The mystery lies in our sense of value: man’s eternal search for meaning in an experience that offers little tangible purpose besides mere existence. The march toward value can make a man ill with insanity or alive with vibrancy; to understand it in thyself will open the door to the everlasting soul, but to understand it in others will open the floodgates of riches. Neither are a bad place to begin.
As internet culture slowly grows from diapers to its first real steps of its own evolution, one thing is for certain: the concept of value has been completely and radically transformed. To a medieval farmer struggling to survive from week to week, the concept of finding value in non-physical connectivity wouldn’t even register in his reality. And yet, ironically, it’s that very connectivity that has revolutionized every single industry that man has dreamt up and executed in the years since survival was paramount.
In other words, the very thing we once scoffed at for its implausibility now literally defines our existence, and thus, even though no tangible or nutritional value exists from code in an electric box, all value is ostensibly derived from it now in one way or another. Not only did the internet create value through connectivity, it literally redefined the notion of value altogether, and now it quite literally demands your attention is some form or fashion if you are to ‘mine’ anything of value, yourself.
Therefore, given its unfettered ubiquity beyond all logical historical comprehension, is it any surprise that more typical, abstract forms of value are now beginning to go digital as well? The starving farmer may not have understood modern technology in his own head, like international produce shipping logistics based in the cloud, but he would’ve intrinsically understood art, even if he never could have afforded it.
He would have been able to feel the value in the art as his tired eyes surveyed the piece, and his life would have been in some small way better because of it. The value would not have lied in its flavor or digestibility, which would have been his number one priority as a man trying to simply survive, but he would have enjoyed it all the same. All of this suggests that value has a way of taking on a life of its own, even if it isn’t fully sought after by everyone.
So perhaps we should say that connectivity has always reigned supreme when it comes to value, for the farmer would have felt connectivity to the human experience of beauty. And now, because the internet promises nothing if not constant, inescapable connectivity, the concept of value has been expanded to mean, quite literally, anything that a connected group of individuals covet.
Lately, the connected world of online personas has found tremendous value in digital art, and the market values are quickly outpacing the perceived values of the pieces themselves for no other reason than the feelings that they create. Whereas the farmer may have been touched by the beauty of the contemporary art, the feeling of being in the presence of value is ultimately what we find so valuable. No matter how that feeling gets transmitted, be it through excitement, investment potential, demand, appreciation, or something in-between, the end result is the same: the assigned value of the object of our affection goes through the roof once it becomes important to us.
That’s exactly where we find ourselves right now with CryptoPunks—in that wild and beautiful feeling of value that excites some of us, disgusts others, but connects all of us. If you have never heard of CryptoPunks, then brace yourself, because you’ll likely find absolutely no value in them yourself. As we said, though, the march towards understanding value in other peoples’ lives will provide serious monetary value in your own.
A few years ago, two software developers wondered if internet fanatics would ever be interested in ‘owning’ a line of code. The tandem now calls themselves Larva Labs, and their experimental foray into selling basic code has become a full-blown frenzy in the digital art space.
The program they wrote was simple: exactly 10,000 8-bit-style pixel art images were randomly generated with ‘London punk’ aesthetics. Each Punk was different, and yet each Punk shared traits with other Punks (gender, hats, facial hair, etc.). There are 6,039 male Punks and 3,840 female Punks. A total of 696 wear hot lipstick, while 303 have muttonchops. There are 286 Punks with 3-D glasses, 128 rosy-cheeked Punks, 94 Punks with pigtails, 78 Punks with buck teeth and 44 beanie-wearing Punks. Et cetera, et cetera.
There are also eight Punks with no distinctive features at all — sometimes referred to as Genesis Punks — and only one with seven attributes: CryptoPunk 8348, a big bearded, bucktoothed, cigarette-smoking Punk with an earring and a mole, wearing classic shades and a top hat.
You can search for any of them, even print out a picture if you want to. But only one person can officially own the status-symbol avatar. To parade around the internet acting as if you owned a Punk without actually owning it would be treachery in the eyes of Punk enthusiasts, akin to falsely claiming to own a Picasso, or more recently, a Banksy.
And if you’re thinking the comparisons to real commercial artists are silly given their ‘priceless’ prices, then I hope you’re sitting down. These blockchain-based Punks are routinely selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. As of last week, 1400 Punks had sold for a total of $180 million. And that super rare Punk with all seven attributes? It’s currently on sale for 60,000 Ethereum, or around $185 million, all by itself.
The value of the Punks derives from mostly non-tangible factors, but the one tangible quality that they possess is their adherence to the Ethereum blockchain. Blockchain is essentially an incorruptible system of record that guarantees all information to be pristine and un-editable; a third party holder of information like an escrow company. In this sense, anything on the blockchain, while it can be ‘owned,’ also can never really leave the blockchain. So owning a Punk is really akin to owning that Picasso, but lending it to the museum of modern art forever.
Again, though, the value isn’t tied to any physical ownership like real art, but rather the concept of ownership as defined by the internet, where everything is virtual. Funny enough, Punks had so little real world value at first that they were initially given away for free (except for ten percent of them, which Larva Labs kept for themselves and are now auctioning), and yet here we are, using digital currency and a digital middleman to trade digital collectibles with digital personas. If you were able to buy into cryptocurrencies early when they, too, had no real intrinsic value, then you could theoretically be buying extremely high-value art for pennies, and then flipping them for more cryptocurrency with little actual value besides the possibility of selling it for real US dollars.
The whole situation is enough to make your head spin, but it certainly shouldn’t be ignored. As anonymous human connectivity reaches untold of heights in the coming eras, things that evoke the feeling of transcendent, real connectivity will continue to rise in absolute value as well. The value we place on our lives differs from person to person, but the value of life itself remains, like the blockchain, highly incorruptible.