April 28, 2021
EP. 102 — What is Crypto Art, and Why? with Everest Pipkin
It had to happen eventually: We’re doing an episode about crypto. This week artist and technologist Everest Pipkin joins Adam to discuss Bitcoin, the blockchain, and the dire costs of crypto art, not only on our environment, but on the art community itself. Find Everest Pipkin’s art at https://everest-pipkin.com.
102 — What is Crypto Art, and Why? with Everest Pipkin
Speaker 1 [00:00:02] Hello everyone welcome to Factually, I’m Adam Conover and there’s an old saying on Wall Street that when even your shoeshine boy is giving you stock tips it might be time to get out of the market. Things might be getting a little overheated and weird. Well I think we might be in another one of those stages of capitalism right now because I don’t know if you’ve noticed (I certainly have) that over the last couple of months seemingly everyone in my life has started talking about crypto. People can’t get enough of it. I got friends buying, selling and trading crypto and they don’t even know what the hell it is. The ones who aren’t getting into it have crypto FOMO and my grandma just called me to ask how she could buy dogecoin. OK, I admit I made that up. She’s dead. But the point stands and people have been asking me what my take is. So let’s get into it. Let’s talk about crypto. I guarantee if you are sick of the topic we are going to talk about it in ways that you will not expect. But first we must get through the contractually obligated beginning of our crypto episode, in which I must try to explain what crypto is. So here we go. I’m going to give it a shot. Cryptocurrencies are digital money or digital assets (supposedly) that are secured by cryptography. Cryptography means that they can’t be copied like most digital files, instead only one person can own them at a time. And the record of that ownership is kept on a special type of distributed ledger called a block chain that stores information about transactions across many computers. And finally, the block chain is decentralized so that no single user or group can have control. Now I hope you followed all that, but if you didn’t don’t worry about it because in my opinion people get way too hung up on the technical details of crypto currencies instead of asking other questions. Questions like ‘why is this something that we would want?’ Like, literally, what is the usefulness of having tradable digital assets that are decentralized that only one person can own at a time? What are they actually good for? And the thing is, I’m not sure there’s a good answer to that question right now. The most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, you can’t use it to buy much. There’s a couple companies that accept it as a publicity stunt but almost nobody is actually using Bitcoins to buy anything from these companies because the price of Bitcoin fluctuates so wildly that most people are just inclined to hold on. In fact, if people were to sell their bitcoins to buy stuff, the value of Bitcoin would plummet. So everyone who holds Bitcoin is currently incentivized just to keep holding on to it. And while there’s a lot of people who are spilling a lot of ink writing about all the super futuristic, awesome things we’ll be able to do with all of our distributed cryptocurrencies once they’re all fully up and running, nobody seems to actually be doing those things with them yet. All of these uses seem to be entirely theoretical at this point and it seems pretty certain that at least some of the people who are writing about how amazing cryptocurrencies are, are doing that just in order to get other people to buy cryptocurrency to make the price go up. Either way, the meteoric rise in the price of Bitcoin and other crypto doesn’t seem to have much to do with its utility because so far you can’t use these cryptocurrencies to do much of anything. But look, maybe that’s OK, right? Hey, why not let people make a little money? The value goes up, they buy and sell. People get rich. Why not, right? Well, here’s the problem. Crypto is not just a harmless or even relatively harmless speculative bubble because crypto currencies have a massive and massively negative environmental impact. See, crypto currencies need computer power to function. To be a part of a crypto network, your computer has to solve complex mathematical cryptographic puzzles. These puzzles are how the cryptocurrency network prevents other people from editing the block chain fraudulently. That’s the entire point of the block chain. But over time the puzzles are designed to get more and more complex. And that means that computers have to burn more and more energy to solve them: they have to stay plugged in for longer, they have to run hotter at higher speeds and they require more computers in order to get the work done. And since the puzzles are designed to get more complex over time, in the words of one writer, ‘The system is designed to literally be anti efficient. It is in fact designed to waste energy.’ But just how bad is the impact of all that wasted energy? Oh, very bad. A single Bitcoin transaction takes the same energy as 680,000 visa transactions or 51,000 hours of YouTube. And right now if Bitcoin were a country, it would consume more energy than all of Argentina. It would literally be in the top 30 of energy consumption for any country on earth. So what all this means, is that at the very moment in human history that we need to reduce our emissions as a species as much as possible in order to preserve life on earth and stop catastrophic climate collapse, we have simultaneously invented a magical new way to produce emissions that serves seemingly no purpose. I mean, the value of Bitcoin has gone up. Sure, a lot of people have gotten rich, but we already have other things that go up, you know what I mean? Like the stock market. We didn’t need to invent a new way to have rich people get richer. We already had things that do that. Now, here’s the thing. I feel bad. I really do for poo-pooing crypto this much because it is an exciting new technology that is very, very cool. It is designed in an ingenious way. But if we are going to burn this much energy we need to find a better use for it than rich people just getting richer using super magical digital books. Does that make sense? Well, recently a new use for crypto has popped up and it has taken the world by storm. It is called the NFT or the non fungible token. These are tokens that can be bought and sold on the block chain that represent other digital assets. Most commonly artworks, and proponents claim that this is a way that artists can sell their digital art in the same way they would sell physical art, and that this will support artists and usher in a new age of art on the Internet. And let me just say that this concept has been extremely controversial (to say the least) and to help me get into it and talk about cryptocurrency, NFTs, digital art and what this entire new frontier means for the future of the planet and the way we consume art itself: my guest today is Everest Pipkin. They’re a digital artist and technologist and they’re writing about NFTs has been incredibly influential and passed around more than almost any other (and it certainly informed the way I think about this topic). So, I’m so excited for you to hear this interview. Please welcome Everest Pipkin. Everest thank you so much for being here.
Speaker 2 [00:07:04] Thank you so much for having me. It’s a real pleasure.
Speaker 1 [00:07:07] So, tell me a little bit (just so we get a sense) of all the different kinds of work you do. Tell me a little bit about yourself and the kind of work that you do.
Speaker 2 [00:07:16] I work in a lot of mediums but I call myself an artist. I think that’s a fair approximation of what I produce.
Speaker 1 [00:07:26] Already you’re having to defend yourself. ‘No but I really do think I can say I’m an artist. I feel justified.’ You’ve exhibited many places. You’re an artist, I think I’m comfortable in saying that.
Speaker 2 [00:07:36] Thank you. Yeah, I am an artist. I work in software and games and I make drawings and books and I write. So when I’m like, ‘I’ve kind of sunk all this stuff into studio practice.’ It isn’t entirely my humility speaking as much as it is, just like, ‘Oh, that’s a good enough banner as any.’ But in general, I would say the unifying structure for a lot of my work is that I’m interested in large data on the Internet, as well as the ways in which data is always just people; always just the echoes and memories and information of people which has been processed and repackaged in ways that can both be extremely beautiful. When you look at histories of the Creative Commons or the public domain and all of this capacity of human knowledge and the ways that it surfaces through the Internet, as well as deeply damaging in the way that personal data gets recycled into harmful technologies and the ways it gets used for capitalist gain and all of the other problems with being alive in the 21st century. So that is probably the unifying structure for my work even though it exists in many mediums, it tends to be centered in or around that practice.
Speaker 1 [00:09:07] Yeah, so let’s talk about the the piece that first brought you to my attention that I found really fascinating. You wrote a really wonderful (and I have to say influential) essay on this. Would you summarize it for us?
Speaker 2 [00:09:23] Yeah, I might even make an attempt at summarizing Bitcoin although we’ll see how that goes.
Speaker 1 [00:09:28] Let’s do it. I wanna hear you do it.
Speaker 2 [00:09:29] It is maybe important to know that the history of cryptocurrency, while dense, is not very long. To understand how we’ve arrived here within NFTs and what this means for the art market. You said in our last conversation that so many of the problems with Internet spaces are problems of abundance and I actually disagree. Although it’s a useful segue, I feel like very rarely are there problems with abundance. What there are problems with are wealth. Sometimes abundance gets turned into capital, where you have a large scale possibility. Right? That then gets weaponized, sometimes by people who desperately need it. Sometimes it does work in the favor of gaining capital for people who don’t have it. But generally it is that abundance gets turned into wealth by large tech companies, which is maybe the problem of the Internet. Less so than material being widely available, but rather a material being widely available to those who can pay. Or that people are paying to access that material in other ways, whether that is with their private information, whether that is with their viewing habits, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. NFTs and Bitcoin probably fall into that camp in some ways. So, Bitcoin –
Speaker 1 [00:10:58] Here’s yet another piece of media attempting to explain Bitcoin.
Speaker 2 [00:11:02] I’ll try to keep it brief. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that started in 2009. It unifies two existing technological proofs (basically sort of two white papers) an idea of a block chain and the idea of proof of work. Proof of work is probably the really important thing to understand here because it is not unique to cryptocurrency but it is something that is fundamentally underpinning a lot of them (Bitcoin, Etherium, other proof of work coins) which is what most NFTs are traded with. Proof of work is this idea that- Hm. Originally proof of work was invented (more or less) to disincentivize spam. The idea behind a proof of work system is if I am sending an email (or something) like I’m typing, typing, typing; I hit send. My computer needs to do just a tiny little bit of work to prove to the recipient of that email that I am a human being sending that email. There are not very many proof of work email services left, but this is the thing that was proposed in the 90’s because spam was a problem. You would have these spam networks that would send not one email, but millions of emails to all sorts of inboxes. And so to disincentivize automatically having a bot or a piece of code that’s just running spam applications, you have your computer solve a problem every time you send an email or every time you do whatever task, sort of like a captcha for your computer. But it happens so quietly in the background and this original idea of proof of work that you, the human, wouldn’t even notice it was happening. It was just solving a little tiny puzzle. But if you send a million emails, which your computer could do without very much problem, right? You just write a program and it sends a million emails off, no big deal. Every time it sends an email, it has to solve that little puzzle. Because each of those puzzles costs a tiny bit of electricity, it’s a little bit of computational power, it might actually break your computer if you tried to send a million emails into a proof of work email server.
Speaker 1 [00:13:27] At the very least it would be costly. You’d maybe be spending more money in electricity, which would make you want to send less of those emails.
Speaker 2 [00:13:34] Yeah. It disincentivizes spam. ‘The stick rather than the carrot’ is the kind of way that proof of work was originally proposed. Nobody did much with this idea for a better part of two decades. Until 2009, when this idea of proof of work was married with this other idea, the block chain, which is a piece of technology that basically is a ‘immutable ledger’ that lets you write histories of transactions into it. It’s a little more complicated than that, people have to get together and decide what is and isn’t the truth in the ledger and blah, blah, blah, blah. But basically, it’s a long receipt that keeps track of everything that’s ever been on it. It is a way to verify that a transaction actually happened in the past because it’s on this ledger, it’s anonymous, it doesn’t say who did what and who verified it, unlike a bank. But it is public, it is there and theoretically it’s very, very hard to tamper with. So you have these two technologies. They merge into this thing called Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a currency. At first it is almost a mathematical proof, it’s a theoretical currency. It is technically worth value but it’s only worth value on a market that doesn’t exist yet. The way you make Bitcoin is by solving those little proof of work puzzles, that thing that was originally made to disincentivize spambots. Every time you correctly solve one of those puzzles, you write that you solved it into the block chain ledger and you get the reward of a Bitcoin, which is essentially the reward for the block that you’ve just put to the block chain. I think at first mining bitcoin (which is what that process is called), solving a little puzzle and writing it to the block chain, wouldn’t even make your laptop hot. It was that type of very low level captcha puzzle. But because Bitcoin, its worth is tied to the difficulty in constructing it and the more of the coins there are in the system and the more people use bitcoins, the more competitors you have who are competing for those individual blocks in the block chain. So the more computers you have that are trying to solve the problems in that proof of work system, the harder it gets to solve those problems and then the price goes up and then more people join the network and then the problems get harder to solve and then more people join the network and then the price just keeps going up. So now you have this wild, wild, wild situation where – I don’t even know what the price of Bitcoin is today – let’s find out. I haven’t looked in a while. One bitcoin, which again in 2009 was not even real money, I think by 2010 it might have been a tenth of a cent somewhere in there, maybe even a cent by the end of 2010. Now one Bitcoin is worth $63,537.44.
Speaker 1 [00:17:03] And this is down a bit from where it’s been in the past.
Speaker 2 [00:17:07] So this is a meteoric rise in price.
Speaker 1 [00:17:10] Yes. Those original bitcoins that were minted, the value has gone up astronomically.
Speaker 2 [00:17:15] Yes. If you still have access to your Bitcoin. Yes, there are many, many stories of people putting a hard drive into recycling and then being like, ‘Oh, no, my bitcoin wallet. No, my only key to my Bitcoin based account.’
Speaker 1 [00:17:33] My understanding though, if I can ask, is that part of the point is that by design, these problems that need to be solved got more difficult and more difficult and part of the point of that was to have the value increase over time. Or to put it a more basic way, to have scarcity of the bitcoins increase over time to make it harder and harder to mint new ones in order to drive the value up. To create the original engine by which these would become more valuable. But as a result, it necessarily means that it takes more and more processing power in order to create them. So it’s like inherently trading energy use for value in a way.
Speaker 2 [00:18:28] Yes and no. The rate of new bitcoin is stable. However, the value is tied to the energy use. The difficulty of the puzzles is tied to the value the bitcoin. So even though you’re making them (I think it’s a new Bitcoin every 10 minutes) at the rate at which the printing press operates, every Bitcoin miner is competing to get that bitcoin. Because it is now incredibly valuable and those proof of work puzzles are difficult, and you have thousands, millions of Bitcoin miners trying to compete for the next block which is worth, again, $63,000, you have all of those CPU’s just running at full speed trying to solve that puzzle first. So what you have is an entire network of Bitcoin mining machines competing with electrical energy, with the very computationally expensive and therefore electrically expensive devices who are competing to get that next Bitcoin out of the blockchain which is why this is a problem. It’s very possible if the price crashed (for example) you could see a slight reduction in that energy usage. However generally, when there is a dip in prices with something like Bitcoin or Etherium (historically both of them have only gone up) what that actually means more people join the network because all of a sudden it is even more competitive, it’s a little bit cheaper to compete for these things. So more people go online and try to compete for the next block because it might go back up. Part of the reason that there’s so much competition about this type of thing is that most cryptocurrency is actually do operate on – I want to be careful with this language because I think people get a little confused about the difference between a Ponzi scheme and a pyramid scheme – but almost all cryptocurrency is like a classical pyramid scheme in that the value of the Bitcoin or the Etherium that you are holding today is partly because more people are joining the network all the time and competing for these coins and driving up their cost. So that assumption of, ‘It is fine to jump into this network, when it takes a little dip I’ll compete for the coin, it’ll go back up” is because people are constantly joining on and those people are having to compete for Bitcoin or Etherium at an ever more costly rate (both computationally and financially) but also the underpinning of all of this is ecologically costly. It’s not a Ponzi scheme by design, there’s nothing in the center of this so let’s push that onto whatever new members of an organization but it is a pyramid scheme because the people who join first benefit when new people join on. That rise of a currency depends on new people joining it. All of this is a problem because, of course, energy usage. And a proof of work, system they are so wasteful. I really can’t over exaggerate. I think you can say, ‘Well yeah, computers running at full speed,’ but like the level of energy usage of the Bitcoin mining network, the Etherium mining network is wild, comparable to a country. When new computers are joining this network, when you have something that is exactly tied into energy and into energy being turned into value just for the act of burning it, what you end up with is a system that basically says that sunk ecological cost, this ecological cost tomorrow (which is basically all of that burning carbon emissions for no other reason than to generate coins is doing) creates value today is a really dire financial system to end up in and that’s kind of where we are right now.
Speaker 1 [00:23:17] There’s the extent to which you can look at a lot of human activities as turning energy, stored fossil fuel, into something else for economic value. Not all things work this way, but a lot of things do. We take energy and we burn it and we create something. But usually that’s a useful thing. It’s a physical object that you can use to do something with or someone can maybe eat or something along those lines. In the case of crypto currencies, it’s simply to create a store of value when we have other stores of value, we already have fiat currency, other forms of currency, diamonds. We have many things that people value. This one happens to be decentralized and digital. But I think it’s at the very least debatable whether that massive energy cost is worth creating. OK, here’s here’s a decentralized digital currency. Certainly there has not been an immensely valuable use case for this technology other than making a small number of people very rich. I’ve read about a couple of cases where people in countries with very insecure currencies, very highly fluctuating currencies, will use Bitcoin as an exchange medium. That’s useful, but it’s not an incredible manna from heaven that’s changing the world on a commensurate level with its environmental cost. So I would agree with you that this is wasteful generally.
Speaker 2 [00:24:53] It’s sort of existentially dreadful, to be honest. I think about too hard and I just fall into a little bit of despair. Yeah, to your point, it’s not all human cultures but certainly mine exists in a pretty wasteful consumerist like, ‘You know, tomorrow’s the problem for tomorrow’, state of mind but again, things like this generally do have actionable use case. It’s like, ‘OK, I need to go visit my family. I’m going to drive my car.’ Yes, this is a problem but it’s going to get me from here to there. Which is still troubled, those are systems that we absolutely need to address and breakdown; this country needs public transit in a tangible way and we need alternate energy programs. All of this is true. But to see that same impulse sunk into just propping up wealth gain is really a bummer. The only analog that is even comparable is probably the stock market or future speculation. I think you can think about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general as future speculation on the proof. Because Etherium or Bitcoin are operating on this proof of work idea, it’s basically future speculation on energy scarcity in the future and because energy scarcity is tied to ecological devastation, also the future of stability of humanity, it’s really a bummer. There are other proofs which we’ll talk about but almost all NFTs operate on Etherium which is not Bitcoin. It’s a similar proof of work currency that’s a little younger and has a slightly different algorithm and block chain at its core but operates on the same principle more or less.
Speaker 1 [00:27:01] OK, well before we get into NFTs, because that was a wonderful primer on cryptocurrency, we gotta take a really quick break while I read some ads that also contribute to the gradual warming of the planet and future ecological devastation. Probably, I don’t know, maybe some of them do. Some of the products probably do, some of them maybe don’t. I don’t know listen and decide for yourself which ones are contributing to future ecological collapse. We’ll be right back with more Everest Pipkin. OK, we’re back with Everest Pipkin, you so succinctly and wonderfully explained why crypto currencies are basically trading off the promise of future ecological calamity in order to create value today. Tell me about NFTs, non fungible tokens, and art and how these things connect.
Speaker 2 [00:27:58] NFTs are a sort of new development. There have been versions of this idea almost as long as cryptocurrencies have been around, but the first time they really made their way to a ‘market’ was probably with crypto kitties in 2017. An NFT is in idea, a nonrefundable token, basically attaches a piece of art to the receipt in the block chain that says, ‘You own this thing.’ So as opposed to Bitcoin, that’s like ‘You’ve solved this captcha, you now get this reward.’ It’s storing this other piece of information in this block chain. A Bitcoin or a piece of Etherium, a piece of cryptocurrency; a coin, is fungible in the same way a dollar is fungible. You can divide up your Bitcoin, you can divide up your dollar. A dollar turns into cents. You can have .0001 Bitcoin and spend that. That is the way most people spend bitcoins because again, they are worth roughly $63,000. You are probably not going to drop a single Bitcoin on anything anytime soon, instead you’re going to operate at these kind of percentages. An NFT, a non fungible token, is something that can’t be split up. That is really the only difference between it and a dollar figure is that it is kind of stuck at as one thing and it has the value that’s ascribed to it and you can’t cut it in half and send half that value here and half that value somewhere else. The way that NFTs work in block chain space is really not that different than how they work in an art market in general and how art sales work in an art market. If you are somebody who’s new to the idea of the auction house and the contemporary art market or blue chip galleries or even the way that art fairs operate, there are artists who are working today (as well as historical artists who have big names you might recognize from the history of painting or whatever) whose work are traded as aesthetic objects, but as well as wealth stores. This is because they have different tax laws, because you can store them offshore, because you can put them in a warehouse and they’ll appreciate
Speaker 1 [00:30:46] You can create your own foundation that’s a 5013C and then donate them and get a tax write off.
Speaker 2 [00:30:50] Exactly. So there is, and there has been for a long time, a relationship between the hyper wealthy and art investment. This is not news, but it certainly exists. The way that this works, in its most predatory sense, is that for young or up and coming artists there is a capacity for their work to get bought at very cheap prices, stored for 5 or 10 years, flipped at auction at Christie’s or something and then that investor who bought that work out of an art fair or out of a studio sale has made (theoretically) a large sum of money on this work trading on an artist’s name. And that artist hasn’t seen that work for 10 years. If their work doesn’t appreciate in value that work might just disappear. If it becomes worthless to sell or store it just might kind of go away. That is a way in which physical artwork has been used historically. This is not the way all artwork gets used, right? Obviously, lots of people buy work because they like it. Lots of people buy work because it looks good in their house or a friend made it or they just think it’s beautiful. And this is also true of people who work in that Blue-Chip world, who have names that are sellable in that kind of capacity, sometimes their work just goes to someone’s home because it is a beautiful painting. But when you are working with galleries who are trying to sell you as an investment, there is always a little bit of that, ‘Yeah, well, there’s the money value here first and also isn’t a nice picture.’
Speaker 1 [00:32:37] Yeah and that’s driven by the priorities of the wealthy themselves. I’ve covered this on my show, ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’ We did a whole episode about art and the art market. At its worst this is the wealthy engaging in a sophisticated form of money laundering. ‘Oh, OK. Well, I’ve got ten million dollars, but oh, if I buy these paintings I can-‘ A very simple example of this is you buy a bunch of paintings, they increase in value and then you donate them to a museum with your own name on it and then you get a write off for the value that they were valued at ten years later, at the value that you have pumped up because you’ve bought so much of this artist. So you get a tax write off much, much greater than the original value. There’s a lot of other different versions of that but that at its core this is wealthy folks manipulating money, using these objects that they are able to portray and sort of turn into large value stores. Once you have a lot of money sitting around, you just kind of start doing this because it makes sense. And it’s very quickly divorced from what any artist, or I would say most artists, and most art enjoyers (patrons, customers or I don’t know, art appreciators, the public, the art going public) thinks of these things. It really distorts the art world in a in a really strange way. It makes it sort of revolve around the the investment choices of very wealthy people who are mostly just trying to make and save money. It’s very weird.
Speaker 2 [00:34:29] Yeah, it’s very weird. It is not exactly a new problem, but it is sort of a – let me back up. Art has always had a relationship with power, right? Art has always worked as a soft power, generally for the wealthy or powerful, not universally, there are certainly artists that have not aligned themselves with those powers. But it is something that has existed for a very long time. Whether or not art markets that look like art markets we have now have existed historically, you see this with patronage systems, it goes way back.
Speaker 1 [00:35:17] You see the fucking pyramids, you know.
Speaker 2 [00:35:21] Yeah, I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, this is a problem of capitalism’ because artists who are often coming from situations (some artists come from great wealth, but many don’t), many artists are coming from positions of poverty or are at least living frugal lifestyles, regardless, employ a lot of social capital; a lot of soft power themselves. And I think part of the way in which artists have survived is selling that social capital to a high bidder. And sometimes that results in relationships of power and coolness between the wealthy and practicing artists. Sometimes it results in straight up relationships of like monetary gain for both of those participants, but often more so for the wealthy investor than the person selling stuff out of their studio. But I don’t want to be like ‘This is a new problem.’ It’s certainly not a new problem to NFTs. It’s not even a new problem to blue chip galleries. It’s something that I am very much hoping, culturally, we get to begin to deconstruct as we move into spaces with universal basic income and with actual social services where you’re not put in these impossible situations of being able to exist – in comfort or at all – under the wing of wealthy people who are generally using their money in all sorts of miserable ways. So I do want to preface all that because, I think it can be quite hard to be an artist and it can be quite hard to be an artist who’s looking at all of your available options and being like ‘There isn’t a single one of these that guarantees me health insurance and my principles.’
Speaker 1 [00:37:47] Yeah, there’s no ‘opt out’ of the system.
Speaker 2 [00:37:47] Yeah, I do recognize that’s the system we’re all trapped in and it’s a bad one. However, NFTs have brought that system into digital space. Historically, all of this has operated on the idea of the original. This painting, this print, this material object at the auction house is useful to the auction house, is useful to the patron and useful to the artist. Partly because of its aesthetic qualities, maybe because it’s a masterpiece but mostly because it is the ‘original.’ It is something that was touched by this artist. It is has the aura of being created out of the ephemera of the studio. That has cultural capital and capital capital attached to it. Digital art, digital files historically had a weird relationship to the idea of the original. I’d still say they have a weird relationship. It’s hard to attach an original to a file and this is because files are cheap to copy. Unlike a factory object even, you can make a duplication but it still requires almost as much material infrastructure as the first one to make itself. And certainly unlike a painting which takes an incredible amount of human effort to copy and even then it’s going to be different. A digital file you just hit CTRL + C, CTRL + V, and you’ve got two. That thing, that duplicatability of digital space, is one of its fundamentally unique features. An NFT is trying to solve that ‘problem.’ I feel like that is so profoundly not a problem, it is the it’s the best thing we’ve got in digital space. It’s all we have going for us
Speaker 1 [00:39:59] Is the is the infinite replicability?
Speaker 2 [00:40:02] Yeah. There are lots of ways to try to restrict the copying of files, lots of people have tried this. Copyright, DCMA, region blocking and regional restriction all try to do this thing, tying into particular platforms. If you’ve ever bought a video game for your PlayStation and then had to buy it again on your PC, that is a restriction on where the file can live, how it can move around, how you can copy it. This type of thing exists. Streaming services do this a lot, where you can’t get the files – they’re just streaming it to you. It’s on their server somewhere. So there’s lots of people who’ve tried to ‘solve’ the best part of the Internet. Generally because it is going to generate wealth for the person who’s trying to solve it or they have incentive to keep it from being copied over; disincentivizing piracy or just keeping you from having Photoshop on two computers or whatever it is. NFTs are not exactly that, they are not actually restricting the file. They’re instead positing that the file is not the original unless you are the owner, which is a weird kind of backwards way of looking at this. An NFT can be anything, a non fungible token is just a line in the block chain that says – it’s like a receipt. So it says, ‘I am the owner of this thing,’ and that is all NFT is, ‘It was bought for this much money and I can’t split it up into various other bits of money. I own this thing.’ An NFT can be attached to anything. It can be attached to a car, it can be attached to a plant. It could be attached to this podcast
Speaker 1 [00:42:02] Jack Dorsey’s first tweet is is a famous example from a couple of weeks ago
Speaker 2 [00:42:07] Yup, yup. But the primary way these things are being used, is being attached to pieces of artwork. You can’t restrict the way a file moves with an NFT. So even though an NFT might be attached to a GIF, for instance, and say like, ‘I have purchased this GIF for one Etherium, an expensive GIF, and it is mine now. Someone else can just go to the website download that GIF, they have it on their computer. They have it on their hard drive. It’s theirs too. However, what an NFT says is that any copy of this file that’s owned by anyone but me, the person whose name is stored in the block chain attached to this receipt doesn’t actually have an original of this thing. Those things? Yeah, they’ve got them, they’ve got pictures, but they aren’t the real thing even though the file is functionally identical to this thing. It’s sort of like aura squashing, like, ‘OK, I have the one that was signed by the artist,’ even though it’s very goofy idea in digital space. However, the reason that this is functional or useful is that you can resell this receipt. If I own the receipt that says I own the picture, I can go back to an NFT marketplace and I can list that for sale in the same way that an art investor might have gone to a studio sale and picked up an artwork at discount and then 10 years later taken it to a Christie’s auction. I can do the same thing with with NFT that is attached to this GIF, even though hundreds of other people might have this image. Doesn’t matter. Not the original. They can’t sell it. I have the receipt and what I’m actually selling is not the GIF. I’m selling the receipt that says I paid money for this GIF
Speaker 1 [00:43:50] You’re selling the token
Speaker 2 [00:43:51] Selling a token, yeah. Then that can get resold into the market and it enters these things into those spaces because most of NFTs are traded on Etherium, every time one of these things sells (both when it’s created in the first place when it stored to the block chain the first time and then every time it changes hands), it also has an outsize ecological cost, a pretty large one. That’s somewhere between days and years of average electrical cost for the average US citizen. It’s pretty massive. There are NFT markets that use other proofs than proof of work which don’t have that same ecological footprint attached. But they still do have all of problems of resale, of originality, of the token, of artwork being abstracted into wealth
Speaker 1 [00:44:45] Yeah, there’s so much to talk about here, we’re already deep into this interview and there’s so much I want to ask you about this. How do you feel? OK, so the environmental piece we’ve talked about quite a bit that the way these networks are currently structured (specifically the way the most popular networks for trading NFTs are currently structured) has baked in massive ecological costs. That’s almost like part of the premise of how these things work. Etherium I know says, they keep saying they’re going to move to a different model that doesn’t have such a large ecological cost. But we’re in a ‘We’ll believe it when we see it’ kind of state with that, because they’ve been saying that for a little while
Speaker 2 [00:45:29] They’ve been saying that almost for the whole time that Etherium has been a currency and it is yet to happen. So we will see.
Speaker 1 [00:45:37] I just went on the Etherium Reddit the other day and they were like, ‘We’re going to do it. We’re going to move to proof of – .’ And I hope they do, it seems like it would be a good move. But as it is currently, we are not in that place. And it’s a little bit like saying ‘Well, why don’t I just keep burning oil? Someone will figure out how to suck that carbon out of the atmosphere eventually. People are working on it.’ It’s wishful thinking. It’s positive thinking at best and wishful thinking at worst.
Speaker 2 [00:46:05] I think at worst it’s actually willful manipulation. I have moved from a place of being like, ‘Oh, well, Etherium. I don’t know if they’re ever going to do it but wouldn’t it be good,’ to a place of, like, ‘People know exactly what they’re doing,’ which is if they move to proof of stake or to a different proof, probably there’s a huge market crash. I could be wrong. But at this point, I pretty much believe that a lot of these currencies are actually held up by energy scarcity. That is part of the reason they’re good investments in the first place. And if you move off of your energy intensive platform, suddenly what you’re left with is a platform that has to build value on the pre-existing buy in. And I think Etherium is very scared to do that. It’s scared. It’s the second largest cryptocurrency block chain – Bitcoin is never going to move to proof of state. They don’t even talk about it. They don’t even pretend. At this point, it has been so many years of Etherium being like ‘We’re going to do it. We’re going to move.’ And these little technical steps and I’m not certain if they will, or if they believe that the currency will survive the transition in the same way it is now, even if they eventually do it,
Speaker 1 [00:47:36] Because part of the point (I don’t want to get back too much into the cryptocurrency piece of it) is that if it’s very expensive to mine these things, then that pegs their value to (at the very least) the cost of mining them. And if they perpetually get harder to mine, i.e. more energy intensive, i.e. more wasteful, then the value goes up. So it’s sort of in everyone’s interest to keep that cost very high because then if you if you are already sitting on a whole bunch of Etherium, Bitcoin, whatever you want it to be expensive for other people to get more of these because that’s what keeps the value of yours quite high.
Speaker 2 [00:48:15] Yeah, exactly. And right now at the very least what you have embedded in every Bitcoin or every Etherium is that the price of the electricity that went into it, which is not the full price of the ecological devastation it’s going to have on and is currently having on environments and on people who don’t have access to the wealth gained by cryptocurrency. Those outside costs are placed on individuals and that doesn’t even go into the cost of electricity usually. But that cost of electricity that was burned to create that coin is kind of embedded in that coin. So I think, at worst it’s not wishful thinking. At worst it is willful manipulation of people’s best intentions.
Speaker 1 [00:49:09] This is the BP ad where they make the pretty green flower and say ‘We’re working on clean coal’ or whatever it is, when in reality they’re continuing to emit. They’re trying to gain social license to continue operating by saying that they’re moving in this direction while in reality they know very well that the current system is what keeps them valuable. And I think there’s a range of actors who have different beliefs. I know there are people with the good faith belief that “OK, we’re going to move over’ and maybe those people are right. Hopefully they are. But also there’s a lot of people who are advancing this argument in bad faith, it seems. But let’s talk about the ownership piece of it just a little bit more. About what the concept of ownership is, with a very traditional art object, a painting. If I own it, if it’s in my house (we have an original in our current house). My partner is an artist. One of her friends, they traded a piece of art. It’s in our house. Unless someone breaks into our house, they can’t get it. It’s under glass. So in that sense, we own it. Right? We also have a couple of prints which other people have copies of. But ours, we’ve got a little ‘one out of one hundred’ thing on the bottom and there’s a signature. And so we own that, in that sense. Maybe the artist has an original back in their flat file in their studio. But we’ve got – they made us a promise that they’re only going issue 100 of these and we have one of those physically as well. So that I think everybody understands. When I own an NFT, the thing that I actually have control over, the thing that I can say ‘No one else can get at this thing’ is the ability to sell a token that’s on the block chain, not the original piece, as you said. The token points to a piece of digital art. And I know that one of the ways it does this is literally just a U.R.L. It’s like ‘I own a little token on the block chain that says the piece of art that exists at http://www.nftart.com/EverestPipkin’ or whatever it is.
Speaker 2 [00:51:16] Never.
Speaker 1 [00:51:19] Never, OK. EverestPipkin’spolaropposites/art.html. I own that. And that means I can resell it. OK, if other people believe that that means I own the piece of art then maybe I can resell it. But there’s still a lot of problems with that. What if that website goes down? I’ve been on the internet long enough to know that websites do not last. If I published a piece of digital art when I was twenty, it would not still be on the web today. It’s a very odd thing to frame as ownership of the artwork. You can say you own the token but it’s a tenuous connection between the token and the art even under the best of circumstances.
Speaker 2 [00:52:07] Yeah, yeah. So there’s a couple of things there. One of those things is ownership is always a social contract, even ownership of like ‘I own this print.’ It’s like, ‘OK, yeah, you own this because it’s in your house, but why do you own your house?’ You’re like, ‘Oh, well, I live in the state of California and we have laws in the book’ but you go down far enough and ownership is a tenuous idea that is held up by social contracts, which are put upon like government regulation, which is really just a social contract.
Speaker 1 [00:52:38] Absolutely. Granted. And you could use that argument. I could imagine someone making that argument saying, ‘Well, how are NFTs any different then?’ It’s a different form of social contract. It’s a digital social contract. Where were you going?
Speaker 2 [00:52:49] I think this is in some ways true. The idea of owning an NFT, it really only works because other people think that owning an NFT is a thing that’s real. They are functional only within the social contract of the NFT marketplace. Or other places that validate their existence, which includes Christi’s. They are only functional insofar as other people agree that in fact, writing your name on a block chain letter saying that ‘I own this thing’ is in fact you owning that thing, which is tenuous. But fine, I’ll grant it. But yes, in fact, what you have written down is really not the object itself so much as the receipt of ownership; the token that’s stored in that space. A lot of those websites – a lot of links to have already gone down – an NFT just had a popular explosion. I mean, it’s probably been less than a year of these things are actually in the news, although they’ve probably been around digital art spaces for years now. Those links, that type of like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m going to sell an NFT to this website, that’s of a rapper to this url’ those are already disappearing. So that’s happening
Speaker 1 [00:54:21] There are people who have already bought NFTs and the art that they bought is nowhere to be found.
Speaker 2 [00:54:24] Yes, absolutely. However, the thing that remains to be seen is whether that token is still valuable. And my guess would be the URL that’s attached having disappeared might not affect the price of the NFT or might not totally make it useless, which is kind of a bummer. Because the thing that is being sold on the marketplace is not the artwork, sometimes they are attached to like – the artwork shows up as a pretty picture when you buy the thing and you can download a link or download the file and or you get access to whatever and maybe you have a file on your hard drive now. It can be uploaded, whatever that is. However, the thing that you’re selling is not the file. The thing that you’re selling is your name in the block chain. And I am not convinced that the file being offline or that link being dead or the art being irrecoverable means that you can’t still sell your token, which is pretty dire. Maybe this is good news. If somebody listening is an NFT investor: get out, don’t do it. They are already so distanced from the work that they are theoretically trying to represent or being attached to.
Speaker 1 [00:55:56] Yeah
Speaker 2 [00:55:58] And they already have the value of payment in them. Payment in Etherium, a currency which is rapidly appreciating that it’s possible that with or without the artwork, that is still a valuable receipt, which kind of sucks.
Speaker 1 [00:56:17] Why do you feel that it sucks? I could see someone casting that positively, but it also is like a zombie
Speaker 2 [00:56:24] It’s maybe positive if you’re a market investor. As an artist, I think it’s kind of a bummer. I think there are legitimately artists who are making NFTs because they need the money and there are artists who are making NFTs because they are interested in entering a social space where they have collectors and where there are other people making art and where that material finds homes. Where they feel like their work is being appreciated. I personally think they’re being taken advantage of, sometimes financially but more just socially, in the same way that artists who sell work out of their studios to financial investors are also kind of being taken advantage of. But willfully so, often for short term gain. And to see that so immediately illustrated that, in fact, it has less to do with the work that you thought found a collector or a home and everything to do with the trials of market is potentially a real bummer.
Speaker 1 [00:57:48] Yeah, the nice form of art buying that we all want to support is the kind where an artist creates a work that’s an expression of their self and their heart and is that pure artistic expression. And then I as the appreciator, as the fan purchased it in order to support the person and because I get something out of it. I buy records on vinyl currently because I listen to them on Apple Music first, and I really love the record. I’m like, ‘I want this in my fucking house. I want it big. I want to listen to it in that special environment.’ And then I have it in my house. I also buy old video game cartridges because I can play them on an on an emulator, but no, I want the I want the silicone from the 80s and it’s in my house and I can put it in a machine and I can do a thing with it. So I can understand why people are thinking, ‘Oh, well, if there’s a digital artist who works that way, I can buy their GIF and then I’ll have it.’ But what is the advantage of the NFT to the artist or to the buyer? Say I find that artist on the NFT version of Bandcamp and I buy the NFT of the art and I get a GIF and I get the NFT token. Well, I’m happy to get the GIF. I’ve now got a file on my hard drive. I can put it in my folder collection the same way I used to collect MP3s. I can put it in my little digital art collection. But all the NFT is, is the ability to resell it later. That’s literally all it is. And I don’t collect the records because I want to resell them later. I can, if I don’t like the record, I’ll take it down to Amoeba and I’ll get half what I paid for it and I’ll buy some more records. But that’s not my main reason but as far as I can tell that’s the only reason to buy an NFT, because you might be able to resell it later. And so all it appears to be doing is turning the art into an instrument to finance, a financialized token, a way to create a speculative bubble market. Am I wrong?
Speaker 2 [01:00:05] I don’t think you’re wrong. As far as I can tell that that is the advantage. Unfortunately, I think it is complicated. And when I say advantage, I do mean ‘advantage.’ Advantage to some, advantage to those who want to make market speculative purchases. I do think this is partly because the art world has already operated in this way where it is a little bit obsessed with the idea of the original of the auction house. Most NFT markets are operating partly on guest fees, partly on artist fees, but also partly on actually having stake in cryptocurrency. And so it is a system that is kind of self-perpetuating because, of course, NFTs lend value to cryptocurrencies as well, they go back and forth. A thriving NFT market pushes cryptocurrency prices up, which pushes NFT market prices up. Because everything is trading in this current and extralegal currency, investment and auction and resale is kind of happening on both fronts, which is quite different than something like Bandcamp which takes a percentage of every sale to go back into their operating costs and keep the website up, which is a very different proposition. I think it’s really important to remember that commerce is not capitalism, right? The commerce is something that people have had for a long time, well before capitalism. It will probably outlive capitalism, our capacity to make things, say I want to trade this to you for something of value to me, whether that is currency which I can trade for other goods or whether that is simply the goods itself, is probably something that we’ll keep as a society for a while. My guess would be, we’ll see. But capitalism, extracts commerce into this set of investment and auction protocols, to extract value out of labor in a myriad of invisible ways. It is something that the art market doesn’t need more of. We have so much.
Speaker 1 [01:02:33] Your describing – This is helping me a lot because what you’re describing is that NFTs are (and the NFT market that we’ve seen blow up in the last couple of months) reproducing the worst characteristics of the ‘old fashioned art market.’ A headline in The New York Times, when a Beeple piece sold for $69 million dollars in cryptocurrency or whatever and then found out a couple of days later it was actually purchased by a big NFT fund that has a vested interest in getting a headline in The New York Times that says that NFTs are selling for a lot because the fund that purchased it is an investment vehicle for more NFTs. So it’s that kind of same self dealing that we were talking about in the classical art market. It entirely makes sense that this would happen because you’ve got all these cryptocurrency billionaires who are sitting around on their one thousand bitcoins (or whatever) that are worth tons and tons of money. And they can’t really do anything with it, they don’t want to cash out or maybe they can’t cash out. So, ‘Oh, let’s create a crypto asset that we can buy, that’s like right next to money but it’s not quite money,’ it’s a different store of value, which is very, very similar to a billionaire buying a hundred paintings and keeping them in a warehouse and reselling them 10 years later. It’s this effort to ‘solve the problem of abundance.’ I’m not an art historian. My time in the philosophy of art was very short, studying a little bit in college. But I understand that ‘what is art in the age of reproduction?’ has been a big question. What the fuck is this – now that you can photocopy Da Vinci what is art now? And to me, it sounds like what you’re saying is that we should just keep trying to prop up the original. It’s an opportunity to create a way of thinking about/around art that is more sustainable and better: reproduction could be embraced. As you said a lot earlier, the infinite reproducibility of digital art could be its greatest asset, not a problem that you want to solve by creating or tying it to a cryptocurrency. Is that making any sense?
Speaker 2 [01:05:04] I think you pretty much summed it up. The thing that’s different about a photocopy and a digital file, of course, is when you photocopy an original there is still an original and then there’s a copy. When you copy a digital file, you just have two of the file. When I talk about abundance in the digital space, that’s what I’m talking about. You have the capacity to share the same thing, the unoriginal, you get to share the original with millions of people if you want to. They all have first hand access to the thing. They’re not seeing a poor copy in a book or seeing a picture of a picture and it doesn’t capture it right. They’re having a first hand experience because that is all the digital space has going for it in some ways
Speaker 1 [01:05:47] We all have the original. Yeah, that’s wonderful.
Speaker 2 [01:05:50] It’s wonderful. There are so many problems with digital files; storage, with energy cost, with cost of hardware, with access to digital space. There are so many problems about the Internet we need to solve. But one of them that we really don’t need to solve is that you can copy files cheaply and freely and that they still work on multiple computers and multiple people can have a first hand experience of a thing that you’ve made. It rules, it is the thing that as a digital artist, it’s your strongest asset. And to see that traded away or reduced or willfully sold simply for a shot at auction it’s really heartbreaking. And I hope that as a community, as a scene, digital artwork can take a look at itself and recognize that it doesn’t have to be this way, that we can still walk it back.
Speaker 1 [01:07:02] That’s a really wonderful vision. If you were able to put yourself 10 years into the future, let’s say we use this as a moment to change our ways, and we’re able to create a world in which artists working in digital spaces are able to survive. What do you think that looks like? What is a healthy relationship between artists and art appreciators, art enjoyers, that results in artists being able to live and doesn’t empower the worst actors in our society?
Speaker 2 [01:07:46] Per usual, I think the answer for this type of thing is not a technological solution. What this looks like is long, boring work in regulatory structure, in government and social systems where technology becomes more embedded in the public sphere and social programs writ large. I think about the movements towards universal basic income, actual health care; universal health care for people in the US, divestment of government funds from policing and violence and warfare and putting that towards public infrastructure. Personally, I think that proof of work currency should be illegal, like straight up. I don’t think that this is something that legally should be functional. I feel like some anarchists could probably get on my case about this. I certainly spent a lot of my time in these centralized web communities that would be like, ‘What are you talking about?’
Speaker 1 [01:09:04] Yeah, like ‘You want the state to ban it?’ Yeah, I get it.
Speaker 2 [01:09:09] But on the other hand, government as its best self is a centralized social program that has enough power. Power that is theoretically granted by the people who live in the country, that have put that government into a position of power. That it can, in fact, regulate things like currencies, which do incredible amounts of health and economic damage to people who don’t have access to a Bitcoin mining rigs. As well as fun things like Internet infrastructure projects; actually letting people access those communities in the first place, which much of this country still isn’t online. There are so many ways in which basically unregulated tech industry/tech giants have taken advantage of this space, and there’s no reason that there shouldn’t be any laws around ways in which value is gained from personal data, ways in which your personal biometric data is aggregated and sold, ways in which non governmental currencies can be created and traded. All of this, as well as things like universal basic income, rent coverage programs, actual functioning income taxes, all of this stuff is stuff that we can achieve through social work, through governmental work, through regulatory work. And very, very little of it is a shiny tech futurist solution. But that is because, of course, none of this asks for a shiny tech futurist solution. The only reason we’ve ended up in this space is because tech is thoroughly unregulated and has no governmental eyes on it in the US (for the most part) around doing human harm. We can fix that. That’s a thing that you can do. I hope, when I think about a future that might let us still use Internet spaces and not be constantly surveilled and not be living in scarcity and having to enter parasitic markets to make rent is one where we have a better marriage of social programs and the technology through which we live our social lives.
Speaker 1 [01:12:11] Yeah, I mean, that’s a very good answer. I’m like, ‘Hey, so how do we make sure that artists can live lives where they don’t starve to death?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, what if we create a world where nobody can starve to death and then we don’t have to worry about artists so much?’
Speaker 2 [01:12:26] I mean, it’s the only it’s the only answer.
Speaker 1 [01:12:30] When it comes to – I love talking to you because you’re an artist who is doing work that is trying as best as you can to not exist within this incredibly predatory system, or at least that’s not your focus when you’re doing the work. And it reminds me that, my God, there’s so many artists out there who are doing the same thing. That so much press has been spent on Beeple and the other folks who are – or just the market piece of it. Talking to you reminds me: that’s not what it’s about. That’s not what’s fundamental. That’s not what I enjoy about it. That’s not why artists do it. In the extent that I am an artist in my own right, that’s not why I do it. Yet I exist within that system as well. And I know what I want. If someone were to say to me, ‘Hey, I just want to see some fucking comedy and I don’t want to get involved in entertainment history bullshit too much,’ I could tell them what to do and I could tell them where to go. I could say, ‘Go to this show in Los Angeles once the show starts again. And this is a really cool place and it’s like the real shit. And there is not a lot of all this. There’s not a lot of capitalism happening at this particular location. Go go to this. You’ll enjoy it.’ If for me, looking to have that same experience with art, what do you recommend and what sort of mindset do you try to encourage in folks to to have that kind of experience?
Speaker 2 [01:13:51] Yeah. So there are so many people making things that are at the fringes of an art world or who are trying to push back against walled garden software ecosystems or trying to make or use non proprietary software or trying to make or use non tech giant social spaces. I spend a lot of my life over on Mastadon, on specifically on a fork of Mastodon called Hometown, which is maintained by Daris Kazemi, which is like basically all centered around running a tiny little social media network for your friends, spaces like that on the Internet, of which there are so many where people manage to make communities both in opposition to tech giants like Twitter or just sort of within the shells of tech giants, which is also often the case where people manage to use the system to build a community of value and care purely through their own effort, through moderation, through community guidelines, even within the auspices of a miserable capitalistic system in which we are often trapped. Those bring me a lot of hope. I spend a lot of time looking for work on itch.io if you are somebody who’s interested in small independent games. There is stuff on there that you could get on your Switch or on Steam. But there’s a lot of stuff on that platform that is absolutely not available in other spaces, that it’s been uploaded slapdash. It has real punk rock esthetic, lots of small games, lots of tabletop games, lots of experimental poetry, lots of small digital artworks which may or may not be interactive (talk about alternatives to an NFT art market, it’s not a bad one). I also am very fond of NeoCities which is a community of small homepages on the Internet as well as just like really cheap or sometimes free, depending on how many files you need hosting. It’s looking to emulate GeoCities, old school, like home page vibes from the late 90s, early 2000s. But NeoCities is a sort of a modern version of that. If you’re somebody who’s never made a website but kind of wants to learn how to write something down in HTML, you can just go make a website for free and put a homepage on the Internet and write some stuff and blog and you can blog on your own website instead of having to use a big external – you don’t have to send a newsletter out, just make a blog and hand code it. And there are lots and lots of people who are doing this kind of thing, who are just hand making websites with HTML, with CSS just being like, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to write it by hand.’ And the whole the Internet was set up to do this in the first place. It still works. And all of those spaces host a lot of that type of places where individuals can gather and build community outside of the auspices of algorithm, as well as, a myriad of small software projects a myriad of game creation tools and all sorts of resources and neat shit that exists for the act of joyful digital creation, of which there is still plenty despite how miserable it can feel to be online. Most of the time
Speaker 1 [01:17:55] And it does feel miserable on the Internet most of the time. But then when I engage with that kind of work, again the reason I wanted to have you on the show is after reading your piece and clicking around your work, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this world exists.’ People doing original, intimate, independent work on the Internet on this scale, on a community scale, is really wonderful. God, it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s like opening a window on the Internet. I think that stuff is going to continue to exist no matter how bad capitalism gets, no matter how much capitalism tries to take over, there’s always a couple of green shoots poking through. And I think it kind of shows the way forward for us, hopefully.
Speaker 2 [01:18:44] Yeah, it’s all there. I think we start at the very beginning of this call talking about nostalgia and YouTube and I said something like it ‘It’s all just under the surface, but it’s kind of buried by algorithmic browsing.’ And I would say that’s true of the Internet writ large. It is still made by people for the most part. It is still made by individuals who are putting up websites and editing Wikipedia and putting together weird little projects like maintaining repos. But it is hard to remember that because our attention is so thoroughly cycled back to large tech companies who have a pretty good stranglehold on it. But it is all still there. It is why the Internet functions. It’s why it’s a fascinating space. It’s why it feels so valuable to me often is because you only have to dig a little bit farther until you stumble on a whole world constructed out of community or an individual that is just under the surface. And it brings me hope when I fall into this trap to be like, ‘Oh, God, why did we invent NFT? What are we doing?’ To remember that you really only have to look a little bit under to find that thing that felt meaningful about it in the first place.
Speaker 1 [01:20:15] Well, I can’t thank you enough for coming on to talk to us about it, Everest. It’s been wonderful.
Speaker 2 [01:20:19] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure. I really appreciate it.
Speaker 1 [01:20:26] Well, thank you once again to Everest Pipkin for coming on the show, if you want to check out their incredible digital art go to Everest-Pipkin.com, that’s Everest-Pipkin.com. If you want to buy the books written by any of our incredible guests, head to Factuallypod.com/books. You’ll be supporting both the show and your local bookstore when you do so. I want to thank our producers Chelsea Jacobson and Sam Roadman, our engineer Andrew Carson, Andrew W.K. for our theme song, The Fine Folks of Falcon Northwest for building me the incredible custom gaming PC that I record this very episode on. You can find me online at AdamConover.net or at @AdamConover where ever you get your social media. If you have a comment or a question about the show, please email me at Factually@AdamConover.net I’d love to hear from you. Until next week. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week on Factually.
July 26, 2022
How can we best help animals, when it’s we humans who cause their suffering? Animal Crisis authors Alice Crary and Lori Gruen join Adam to explain how the same systems that hurt and kill animals also harm humans. They discuss the human rights abuses that happen in industrial slaughterhouses and how palm oil monocrops are devastating the world’s rainforests. They also share how we can have solidarity with animals in our daily lives. You can purchase their book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 19, 2022
In times of turmoil, it can be useful to take a longer view of history. Like, a LOT longer. Paleontologist and author of “The Rise and Reign of the Mammals” Stephen Brusatte joins Adam to explain how mammals took over the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and why we survived and achieve sentience when dinosaurs died out. Stephen goes on to discuss why taking a deep look at our history can help prepare us for the crises of the near future. You can purchase Stephen’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 13, 2022
Trans people have existed as long as, you know, people have. But the barriers to legal inclusion and equality are still higher than most people realize. “Sex is as Sex Does” author Paisley Currah joins Adam to discuss why institutions have been slow to give legal recognition to trans identities, why Republicans have shifted their attacks from bathroom policies to trans youth in sports, and why the struggle for trans equality is tied to feminism and women’s liberation. You can purchase Paisley’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books