The Flip Side of the Coin - The Environmental Footprint of Blockchain-Based NFT Art
Albers van der Linden, Thomas
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In 2021, blockchain-based NFT technologies saw a tremendous surge in popularity. The newfound possibility of exclusive digital ownership has caused mass hysteria, especially in the art market. Both in popular culture and academia, the promises of blockchain technology were met with great enthusiasm. However, due to the energy-intensive cryptographic algorithms that blockchain relies on, it was found that the technology has an enormous environmental footprint. To uncover the true impact of NFT art, environmentally conscious digital artist Memo Akten published a series of articles in late 2020. In response to his work, a lively discussion about the unsustainability of blockchain was evoked. This research analyzes how the environmental discourse surrounding blockchain-based NFT art may point to a possible social shaping of the technology. In order to shed light on this supposed relationship, a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the discourses surrounding Memo Akten’s article series was performed. The study takes the social shaping of technology as its main theoretical lens, integrating it with the theoretical assumptions of the discourse-analytical research tradition. Prior to this research, no critical inquiry into discourses surrounding the environmental footprint of blockchain technologies had been done. Results show that the author of the main discursive event has been able to popularize the discourse under investigation, by constructing the environmental footprint of NFT technology as an existential threat. Further, observations made in the second and third stages of the analysis suggest that there may indeed be a social shaping of technology possible as a result of discursive practices. However, by no means does this research suggest that it provides evidence for this presumed effect. Instead, it serves as a theoretical starting point for future empirical research on the intricate relationship between society and technology.