About NFT Infrastructure
What’s the underlying mechanism of NFT? What’s its infrastructure in modern society? Is it environmental-friendly?
"NFTs are currently taking the digital art and collectibles world by storm. Digital artists are seeing their lives change thanks to huge sales to a new crypto-audience. And celebrities are joining in as they spot a new opportunity to connect with fans. But digital art is only one way to use NFTs. Really they can be used to represent ownership of any unique asset, like a deed for an item in the digital or physical realm.
If Andy Warhol had been born in the late 90s, he probably would have minted Campbell's Soup as an NFT. It's only a matter of time before Nike puts a run of Jordans on Ethereum. And one day owning your car might be proved with an NFT."
—— ethereum.org, “What’s an NFT?”
The Blockchain Technology
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are digital assets that represent ownership of unique items such as art, collectibles, and real estate. They are secured by the technology of blockchain, which ensures that the record of ownership cannot be modified or duplicated.
Non-fungible is an economic term that you could use to describe things like your furniture, a song file, or your computer. These things are not interchangeable for other items because they have unique properties.
Fungible items, such as ETH or USD, can be exchanged because their value is the same. NFTs are created through smart contracts that assign ownership and manage the transferability of the token. When an NFT is minted, code stored in smart contracts that conform to standards such as ERC-721 is executed, and the information is added to the blockchain where the NFT is managed.
The minting process, from a high level, has the following steps that it goes through:
Creating a new block
Recording information into the blockchain
Thus, NFT has the following special properties:
Each token minted has a unique identifier that is directly linked to one Ethereum address.
They're not directly interchangeable with other tokens 1:1. For example 1 ETH is exactly the same as another ETH. This isn't the case with NFTs.
Each token has an owner and this information is easily verifiable.
NFT, Cryptocurrency, and Mining Industry
There are three key concepts related to NFT that often lead to misunderstanding - coin, token, and cryptocurrency (crypto, virtual currency). Cryptocurrency, or the virtual currency, is a general term which includes various digital coins designed and used to work as a medium of exchange through a computer network that is not reliant on any central authority, e.g., bitcoin, Ethereum, etc. While coins refer to a large categorization of cryptocurrency that uses its own blockchain to keep track of all the data transactions, tokens refer to the digital identifiers of certain cryptocurrency run and recorded on the blockchain built by others but representing its own meaning and developing its own product. With blockchain technology as the supporting technology, the utilization of both coins and tokens are based on virtual currency mining as their social infrastructure.
The virtual currency mining industry has been introduced to the general public since the hype of crypto. The process of obtaining crypto through the calculation power from computers is known as "mining", and the place where the mining machines (the calculating computers) gather is called "mine". Among various kinds of crypto, while the mining of bitcoin nowadays is powered mainly by machines, the current Ethereum mining industry, which the whole NFT mechanism is based on, is still powered manually by people from low-income countries and areas as the early stage of bitcoin. These workers are always gathered together in rural areas and taught with repetitive calculating operations on computers to finish their tasks and get paid day by day.
The decentralization and equality of effort as the origin of crypto's design seems to be a beautiful conception. However, in reality, the crypto market in turn fosters centralized and large-scale mining labor and activities, especially in the rural areas of China under the contemporary context.
The mining industry broke the organic countryside ecosystem, and also broke the balance between agriculture and animal husbandry as basic means of livelihood for most Chinese rural people. Local people are compelled to join them, always for a much higher salary. The primitive environment and people collide head-on with the most modern virtual currency industry, forming a postmodern picture of hyperreality. Eventually, in the year of 2021, bitcoin mines were completely banned in China, ending the short-lived bitcoin boom in rural China. These images seem to have become relics.
Here, I would like to introduce you to a relevant artwork called BitLand, created by Sihan Liu - a young artist who just graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
This work is made up of interactive images and short films. Focusing on the rise of bitcoin mining in rural China, the artist attempts to deeply explore the conflicts and entanglements between emerging technologies and traditional environment behind the rural mining industry through news collection, field study and other methods. The work deconstructs and collages virtual digital scenes and real news pictures, attempts to reproduce the reality of “the Society of Spectacle”, with several surreal digital landscapes to show the postmodern scenes of people and technology hidden in the remote mountain areas, exploring a novel narrative between reality and hyperreality.