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The Price of Friendship

Published 11 Aug, 2021 04:12pm
How and why the famous friendship meme was sold for $51,000.

On September 13, 2015 an unsuspecting Muhammad Asif Rana releases a crudely-made image of himself shaking hands with Salman (his new best friend) while Mudasir, a former friend was literally cancelled - even before cancel culture was a thing.

Seven years later in August 2021, the image, which has since become a world-famous internet meme, is sold as a non-fungible token (NFT) for $51,000 worth of Ether (a cryptocurrency). Five years later, in 2026, a teacher tries to explain the concept to a new batch of young students. Here is what the conversation would go like.

NFT 101
Zoom connects

Teacher: Welcome to NFT 101, class. I’m glad to see so many young faces in this cohort. Those of you who are using filters on your camera, may I request you to please turn them off?

Nael: But teacher, it’s 2026… we all should be used to this by now. Filters are a way for us to show our individuality!

Teacher: Alright fine. If it makes you happy, go ahead. Coming back to the topic at hand, I’m going to give you guys a crash course on NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Who can tell me what 'Fungible' means, without googling it?

Zoe: Fun with sponges? (snickers audibly)

10 seconds of silence

Nael: Mutually interchangeable.

Teacher: Technically correct, although given that’s the exact default definition from Google, I’m not sure any of you really understands what it means. Let me elaborate. When we say something is fungible, it means that it is readily replaceable. Let’s do a thought exercise.

Imagine that you were supposed to get your allowance on Wednesday when your dad returns from his business trip. On Tuesday, the delivery guy comes to your place for something you ordered. It’s COD, so you go to your dad’s drawer and take out a Rs 5,000 note to pay for your item. The next day, your dad returns and gives you 5,000 as the promised allowance. Sneakily, you put the Rs 5,000 note in his draw before he notices that it was missing. When he checks his drawer next, the Rs 5,000 is there, as it was supposed to be. The currency note is a fungible item. One Rs 5,000 note is functionally as valuable as any other Rs 5,000 note. Now, imagine that you explain this little switcheroo to your dad over dinner the next day. He gets really upset - not because you opened the drawer; he’s genuinely fuming that you spent that particular currency note. You are confused. What difference does it make to him?

He then proceeds to mention that the particular note you so casually gave away to the Daraz guy was in fact, one of the notes that came from his first salary. It has sentimental value to him. He’s had it for close to a decade and he even remembers the serial number on it! To the rest of the world, it’s just any other Rs 5,000 note, but to him, it’s worth much more. The two currency notes are identical in function, both will buy the same amount of stuff, but the one that you gave away was a non-fungible item. Non-fungible because it can’t be readily replaced.

Zoe: You’re in trouble now, Nael!

Teacher: It’s just an example. Focus on what I’m trying to explain. Now how does this translate into digital items? The whole point of digital, whether they are tweets, memes, or anything else, is that they are infinitely scalable; you can easily make a copy. If you make a dank meme today and it spreads like wildfire on the internet, is the original meme file any more valuable that the one that is being spread in devices across social networks? Functionally, it is the same. But because you are the creator, you can claim that the meme is a non-fungible; you are part of its origin, therefore you are part of its value. Now, how can you claim that something is special, given that anybody can make a copy of it by simply pressing CTRL + V?

Nael: Uh, what’s CTRL + V?

Teacher: Sorry, wrong era. It’s easily replicated, I mean.

Zoe: Then how does it work? How do you show the world that my copy of the meme is special?

Teacher: Excellent question, and this is where blockchain comes in. As you know from previous classes, blockchain is a decentralised way to track digital assets. Think of it as basically a giant list, distributed and cross-checked by computers across the world regarding who owns what and how it is being transferred. The same tech can be applied here. The original creator of the meme, or the tweet, or the code, whatever…. can tag it as such. Now, who can tell me about Pakistan’s first NFT?

Nael: The friendship ended meme?

Teacher: Yes! Asif Rana first made that ‘friendship ended’ image somewhere in 2015. This company called Alter pursued and pushed him to release it as Pakistan’s first NFT in late 2021. The image sold for $53,171 through an auction, or about 20 Ether.

Zoe: So the random stuff I make today on apps and put on socials can be worth a lot of money one day?

Teacher: Excellent question, Zoe. Although I do wonder why only two people are participating in this class and everybody else is silent. Ali, do you think one of Zoe’s Instagram posts can be worth a lot one day? Maybe if one of them becomes an international sensation like Asif Rana’s friendship meme?

Ali: Uh… yes, except that her stuff is super boring. She never gets any traction anyway.

Teacher: Wrong! Well, I don’t know about her IG strategy… I’m sure she has the potential to have a runaway hit one day. See, I’m sure he’s proud of it now, but Asif Rana’s meme spread not because it was good… it spread because people thought it was hilariously bad. It got traction because it feels so childish and naïve, not exactly something super smart.

Nael: So we CAN be NFT millionaires in Pakistan?

Teacher: Yes, absolutely. The future is about content, and you guys, the Gen A’s of the world, are so much better at creating authentic stuff that even big brands and specialised content agencies cannot match your pace. You need to keep experimenting. Maybe you should enrol in Asif Rana’s masterclass to see how you can accelerate that journey.

Teacher disconnects from Zoom call

Zoe: Where did she go?

Nael: Oh, it might be load shedding time in Karachi.

Zoe: Still? It’s 2026 for crying out loud! Maybe I’ll make a meme about that.

Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.