I will not talk about NFTs the way others do. It is easy to joke about right clicking and downloading the images, or talking about what is valuable in a voucher containing a link to an image. I get NFTs… at least I get the idea, I don’t like them. But I get it. I understand blockchain too. But I do not want to jump in that hellhole of a debate.
What I am interested in is what it means to have an original piece of digital art. What does original mean in a digital context? As I see it it means nothing.
We can all agree if I right click and download an image it is not the original, just a copy. Or even better I can tell you something interesting: when you download an image this way you already downloaded it to your computer before (your browser did that for you). Otherwise you wouldn’t see it. So you just make a copy to somewhere else on your computer (that is why any image you right click and “download” is instantly done, it is not just because of your internet’s speed).
Ok then, but then the original version of the image is the one that is on the server. Right? Well no. Someone had to make the image before uploading it there. So that is the original one, on the computer of the creator? Maybe. At the moment he saved it, that was the original. But even they never “see” the original image. Any time you open the file its data goes into memory… meaning it is a copy you see based on the data in the memory. So even if you are the artist who made the image, you will never see the original image itself. Just a copy of it. Technically you can never see the original after the initial creation.
So the original image is not even perceivable as an image but the physical state of a drive that represents zeros and ones. Until the operating system decides to move the file around on the drive too. It happens. At that point even the drive’s physical state changed and you lost the original forever.
If I want to make it more philosophical even if you accept that the original is the one the artist saved and you open it to see it on the artist’s monitor for the first time: light takes time to reach your eyes. So you see how that image was. Not how it is. But this is true about everything, we can only see the near past, never the present (that essentially doesn’t exist this way).
Not to talk about the monitor: that refreshes the image 24,30,60 etc frames per second. In one second it could happen that you see 120+ copies of the image or part of the image.
So yeah: you can argue what is original, what is valuable. But nothing is really. But it is much easier to live your life in the illusion of statements like “this is the original copy” (even languages fail you here), “this has value because I own a voucher about it in the blockchain” etc. But even physical things are always changing, so the Mona Lisa a second ago is not the same as the Mona Lisa “now”. We just imagine things are static, because we like certainty. So we fool ourselves there is certainty.