Photo: Amy E. Price / Contributor via Getty Images
Neal Stephenson, sci-fi author of 1992's Snow Crash and coiner of the term "metaverse," purchased his first NFTs on Thursday. Stephenson's first NFT artwork was "Neophyte MMXXII #94" by artist Sterling Crispin. The generative piece is inspired by nature and comes from the Art Blocks platform, where 25 percent of the initial sale of the NFTs went to Native Animal Rescue, an organization that rescues and rehabilitates wildlife in Santa Cruz County. The sale was announced on Thursday evening by Crispin in a tweet saying that he is "very proud and humbled."
Stephenson purchased the work for .888 ETH ($1,864), and shortly after purchased another generated artwork from the Terraforms collection for .27 ETH ($567). Both NFTs currently live at his vanity Ethereum address, nealtstephenson.eth, which is also an NFT that was purchased just before the artworks. "I became aware of Sterling Crispin’s work while thinking about a generative art project that I’m collaborating on," Stephenson said in an email to Motherboard. "As an artist, I like it when artists get paid. So I bought some of his art!"
Stephenson's vision for the metaverse in Snow Crash was a hyper-capitalist dystopia, which critics of NFTs—which are touted as a cornerstone of the Web3 metaverse—have pointed out is incongruous with how they are promoted as a revolutionary technology for the good of artists and internet users writ large. In particular, critics have pointed to the carbon footprint of the Ethereum blockchain and have questioned whether most artists behind NFT collections are really getting their due. When asked about these issues, Stephenson described them as "interesting" but declined to comment, saying he wanted to comment straightforwardly on the purchase of Crispin's work.
"I’m really thankful for everyone who supports my artwork, and it’s humbling when people I look up to believe in me," Crispin said in a Twitter DM. "I think blockchain technology in general, and NFTs, are widely misunderstood," he added. "There’s a lot of frustration and anger. If there’s anyone out there reading this who feels that way, look closer. There’s vibrant communities of artists and really transformative things going on." Crispin pointed to Art Blocks' charity donations, Endaoment—a platform for donating to charities using crypto—and art-focused NFT marketplace Versum as examples. Stephenson getting into NFTs now could be seen as a vote of confidence at a low moment. Crypto is in the middle of a brutal crash across the board, while at the same time some critics have declared that the NFT market is collapsing (on-chain metrics show a slowdown amid the wider crash, but don't indicate a complete collapse; meanwhile, the apes are down but not out and going for $200,000 minimum). Stephenson did not clarify whether his upcoming generative art project will come in the form of NFTs.