When Chris Washburn ’08 was made aware of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in summer 2021, he was skeptical and critical. He wondered at first why any intelligent person would spend so much money on some pixel art or a cartoon character. Despite the speculation, Washburn decided to take the risk and purchase his first NFT from the “Shiboshi” NFT collection. Now, he’s deeply involved with the growing NFT community and is working on creating a collection of his own.
Washburn, better known by his stage name DJ Washburn, is a DJ at Moonies Bar & Nightclub on The Commons and founder of Washburn Entertainment. Washburn was first exposed to cryptocurrency and NFTs through his favorite pastime: poker. The high-risk–high-reward nature of cryptocurrency made it a popular phenomenon in the poker community, their similarities being what drove Washburn to roll the dice and invest in crypto.
“I had a friend who was playing poker professionally, going around the world and playing online,” Washburn said. “He was big into Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and in 2016, he told me, ‘Hey, I made a lot of money through this, you should check it out.’”
Cryptocurrency has a long and complicated history dating back to the 1980s, though the phenomena truly gained recognition after the launch of Bitcoin in 2009. From there, hundreds of different coins have entered the market with varying levels of success and recognition, and the price of Bitcoin has gone from $1 in 2011 to $36,850.10 in 2022.
NFTs are the latest trend in the cryptocurrency world and have gained massive attention in the last year. NFTs use the blockchain, a system used to record the transaction and authenticity of cryptocurrency, to authenticate the ownership of unique digital media. Mark Volkov, a senior computer science major at Ithaca College, explained the range of what can be made into an NFT.
“NFTs are not considered a currency but are non-fungible tokenized digital assets that can be minted, bought, sold and transferred,” Volkov said. “The scope of NFTs, as defined by the Ethereum Foundation, is anything that is unique that needs provable ownership.”
NFTs have received mainstream popularity outside the realm of crypto. Celebrities are showing off their NFTs as profile photos and news programs and late–night talk shows are discussing NFTs. Some artists like A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Lil Durk and Meek Mill have mentioned creating mixtapes only people with NFTs will have access to.
Moonies posted an image to Instagram on Jan. 20 of two potential designs for a DJ Washburn NFT. Both depict DJ Washburn in an “Ithaca is Moonies” T-shirt and have since seen more new variations on Washburn’s personal Instagram. While the NFTs were originally created as a joke, Washburn has been considering selling them alongside exclusive benefits at the club.
“There’s no utility or functionality of them yet, however, I have thought about how they could be applicable to Moonies,” Washburn said. “Maybe whoever buys a 10- or 20-dollar NFT could skip the line or get a special discount on something.”
Junior Kristen Stefanick is one of countless college students who has developed an interest in NFTs.
“I first heard about NFTs through my brother who invested in them over the summer,” Stefanick said. “I was very skeptical, and I thought he would lose all of his money. Since then, he’s made 10 times his initial investment.”
Washburn’s interest in NFTs stems not from where they stand currently but rather where they are headed. Washburn believes NFTs will play a larger role in the metaverse and our digital society and will serve a different purpose.
“You know, it isn’t just about the artwork — it’s about what they come with,” Washburn said. “It could be a membership or special access to an event or collection of media … Let’s say you want to buy my NFT, maybe you’ll get a T-shirt in the mail too or an exclusive DJ mix.”
Stefanick agrees that the potential of NFTs has yet to reach its climax, explaining what she believes is to come of the tokens in the near future.
“There’s so much potential it’s ridiculous,” Stefanick said. “Maybe we’ll all receive an NFT for graduating Ithaca. There’s just so much that goes beyond the NFTs themselves.”
While NFTs specifically are still being experimented on in terms of everyday application, cryptocurrency has already been integrated into our average consumer lives, with various banks and stores offering services to accept cryptocurrencies.
“There are digital assets called stable coins, like USDC, that are pegged to the dollar and can be spent as currency with a Coinbase debit card,” Volkov said. “There are ways to spend any cryptocurrency you own at a store with the Coinbase debit card — of course, there’s a conversion fee for going from crypto to dollars.”
Washburn has already implemented such services into his business: Washburn Entertainment. Customers can use crypto as a form of payment for Washburn’s music services.
“I started to think, ‘How can I make my company innovative?’” Washburn said. “We started taking cryptocurrency a few years ago as a form of payment for weddings and such. Not a lot of people do it, but every time I tell people we take cryptocurrency, their eyes light up because it’s a cool and innovative thing.”
While millions of people around the world engage with and embrace the financial and cultural influence of NFTs, many are dismissive. NFTs and cryptocurrency are often criticized for being environmentally harmful. According to Investopedia.com, 30 kilotons of electronic waste are produced annually as a result of Bitcoin mining. Another criticism more specific to NFTs is the impact they’ve had on the art community. Anyone can make an NFT out of any digital media, hence many artists who post content online have had their work stolen and sold as an NFT.
Whether or not NFTs will triumph as the future of finance or become a delicate fad, Washburn said that in the end, most people buy and share NFTs simply to be involved in something new.
“It’s the same reason someone would spend $200,000 on a Rolex rather than $20 on a Timex,” Washburn said. “You’re gonna buy these NFTs for a certain amount of money because it’s cool.”