What Are NFTs, and Why Are They Taking Over the Digital Art World?

An NFT titled 'SHIFT//' by Mad Dog Jones is on display during a press preview of the upcoming Natively Digital: A Curated NFT Sale at Sotheby's on June 4, 2021 in New York City. Photo Courtesy: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

“Charlie bit me!” If you remember those words, you’ve probably been poking around on the internet long enough to see it go through some pretty big changes, from the advent of social media to the meteoric rise of cryptocurrency. And again, if you remember those words, you might be surprised to learn that the video they came from has recently been subjected to another internet-era innovation: the non-fungible token, or NFT.

NFTs like “Charlie Bit My Finger” (the video’s official title) have taken the internet by storm lately, and the YouTube sensation is the latest in a long lineup of digital media to sell for “escalating prices” reaching far into the millions. But what exactly is this craze, and why are people suddenly so interested in purchasing these works of art that only exist in the digital realm? And, in perhaps an even stranger twist, why have NFTs already developed a “complex legacy of greenhouse gas emissions”? We'll fill you in on everything you need to know to stay in the NFT loop, including what they are, the controversies they've sparked and the different ways people are using (and even benefiting from) them.