NFTs offer digitized artforms, create virtual community


Ashley Mandel

NFTs are unique, digital authenticators. They can range from art to music to GIFs, and their diversity and value have rallied online communities.

Anne Zhu, news staff

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have taken the world by storm. Experts explain that they are akin to digital authenticators. NFTs are commonly associated with graphics of rainbow kittens and images that could be used as profile pictures, like the bored apes collection on Twitter, but many contend that they play a greater role than mere digital works of art. 

Whether it be music, videos or most commonly, digital art, NFTs are valuable because they represent a unique, one-of-a-kind existence with a digital certificate. NFTs are traded on cryptocurrency platforms, such as, Coinbase and Binance, to name a few, each  boasting millions of users who are able to purchase NFTs using their debit or credit card.

Despite their worldwide popularity, opinions on NFTs vary. For some, they add a crucial advancement to the digital exchange world, but for others, they seem like a waste of time and money.

“It’s really hard to put [NFTs] all into one bucket. You have the art side where you have artists that are able to leverage their digital work and prove ownership, and there’s the endless different types of content that can be assigned to NFTs,” said Ryan Heffes, a fourth-year business administration major who has been involved in the NFT community since August 2021. “At the base of NFTs is community building. And for me, NFTs are a way to mobilize communities around the art that’s being created.”

As the pandemic continues to foster social isolation, some have turned to NFTs to gain a feeling of belonging through this emerging virtual community. But whether NFTs are just a convenient trend or a long-lasting addition to the crypto currency world is still up for debate.

NFTs were first created in 2014, but they didn’t cement themselves into popular culture until 2021. Now, talk of NFTs flood social media platforms, with the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection that consists of over 10,000 NFTs selling out on the OpenSea marketplace in a single day. First-year engineering major and hobby investor Samuel Lee said he can’t envision a world without these digital certificates.

“Judging from how volatile the market is right now and the sheer volume and value at which NFTs are being traded, I honestly think there’s no way they’re exiting the market anytime soon,” Lee said.

Community-building and technology are core aspects of the NFT market, so it’s no wonder they are growing in popularity among young people. NFTs have consumed the digital currency conversation, and Northeastern students are no exception. The token’s value as both an art form and piece of technology has spurred debate about what truly classifies as art.

“If you think about buying Banksy, or any real art piece, for example, you receive the piece physically, you hang that up in your wall, on your house, and it just ends there. With NFTs …  you’re now ingrained in this community with fellow art owners who share tastes and passions. Whether the NFT is part of a profile picture collection or a one-on-one art piece, you’re ingrained in this community and it allows people to leverage that and spark conversations about the art that’s being exchanged,” Heffes said.

It’s common to see NFTs listed for thousands, or even millions of dollars, and waitlists and preorders fill up in moments. Lee explained how public interest plays a huge role in determining how high of a price an NFT can earn.

“It’s all about the project and the attention it garners. If the project itself isn’t alluring, then that whole stream is essentially worthless, but there are projects in the NFT world that aren’t dying out anytime soon. They’re going to maintain that high demand, and with it, high value, for at least another five years or so,” Lee said.

The NFT community itself is a major determining factor in the value of an NFT. Allowing the value of NFTs to rely on the whims of the general public can be risky, with popular collections becoming even more popular based on how many people own NFTs from a collection. The more popular a collection is, the more people want a piece of it for themselves, jacking up the price exponentially as projects receive more and more hype. 

In other words, trends are often fleeting, and first-year business administration and data science combined major Cecilia Chepkoech said she is skeptical that NFTs are a wise long-term financial investment.  

“I definitely think it’s just a fad, it’s not something that can continue to be of substance in the long run,” Chepkoech said. “It’s basically allowing people to take something seemingly random and be able to sell it for whatever insane monetary value they want. At the end of the day people are going to realize that this is just a waste of money.” 

Whether they’re truly worth their monetary value, or are nearing the end of their 15 minutes of fame, NFTs represent more than what meets the eye. It’s not only a software system used for making money, it’s a complex web of interactions that connect people from around the world. 

“People are making bank off of NFTs and I think it’s a cool way for art to be published, especially in the digital sphere. Everything’s getting digitized now. There’s so many different factors that go into NFTs, I just think that’s so interesting,” Lee said. “And I do think it is risky, but if you know your stuff, and you play the markets well, you’ll make tons of money.”

Besides the get-rich-quick gamble NFTs offer, many buyers stick around for the unexpectedly close-knit community.

“The coolest thing is just how broad of a user base this is and how it can be used moving forward. I’ve had conversations with people in NFT-centric discord channels from Japan, the Philippines, Nigeria, South America, everywhere across the U.S.,” Heffes said. “It’s the easiest way to meet people across the world, and not only that, but have amazing discussions.” 

In a world that’s becoming increasingly interconnected through the internet, NFTs offer a unique way to join cross-border communities.

“In terms of trying to learn about the world in a fun way that also helps you make money, there’s nothing out there right now that’s even close to this,” Heffes said.