‘There’s no planet B. But, we have the Metaverse’, I said to a despairing friend who had just read Mike Berners-Lee’s handbook on planetary perils and solutions.
I dreamt a magical life in the metaverse. I imagined whizzing from Bondi beach to my virtual office with a brief stop over in the Alps to experience the Stockhorn bungy (because there’s no way I’d take that plunge in real life). I could even ascend Mount Everest with Nirmal Purja and his Sherpas from my living room. The idea of experiencing the world without the need to pack and unpack, embark and disembark, check-in and checkout, sounded marvellous – a superb bait for trippers. Perhaps I’d get lucky with an NFT mystery box or an airdrop soon to afford an Ape (yes, the bored one) that would levitate my social status and unlock further new experiences both in the uni & meta verse. The diamond hands status club beckons me.
As I navigate dApps and DAOs I realise inter operability in the metaverse is yet to develop for that sort of a dreamy seamless, parallel, magical universe. The Metaverse currently is a dozen metaverses – meaning a collection of disconnected digital destinations with varying degrees of disparate, immersive experiences alongside digital ownership.
But it’s all in the making. We know.
Still, I shudder at the metaverse trends that greet me – they resemble a genre of science fiction. A few minutes spent on Discord leaves me distraught. I don’t know if I’m interacting with a human or a machine. The godzillion new tech terms, the new dApps, the DAOs, POS, POW, POB, the blockchain technologies, the layers, public keys, private key, ICOs – are an incessant rain of abbreviations – one linked to the other. Unless one’s born in a Dapp, raised in a DAO, fed Bitcoins and graduated in Fortnite, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around the whole gamut of tech terms that propel this new universe. I’m sure even Adam Smith, the father of economics, would need a few weeks to be schooled in the principles of Tokenomics.
The metaverse is currently shaped by the habits and dispositions of primarily Gen Z and kids – who predominantly spend time in gaming, are tech savvy and used to a different (from other older living demographics) modality of socialization, entertainment, ownership and identity – that is largely digital. And understandably, brands are vying for the attention and spending power of this generation to benefit from the metaverse economy.
I applaud, welcome and look forward to the many liberating aspects of Web3.0 that make metaverse possible – ownership, data privacy, immutability, decentralisation and many more but there are three considerations I’d like to share with the decision makers and brand strategists who shape the metaverse.
First, much of what is offered and designed for the metaverse today (NFTs, fantasy games and play-to-earn, especially) cater to two human tendencies – escapism and hedonism, both of which reward the moment, leaving the individual (in this case young adults with little real life experience) empty and miserable in the long run. Positive, productive and mindful ways to engage Gen Z and Millenials to keep them healthy, thriving and wise would be beneficial in the long term. We don’t want our kids scheduling appointments with a shrink to cope with cognitive dissonance as they shift between the metaverse and the real world. You would also agree, that when the game is over, the NFTs minted and smart contracts updated, these kids can’t eat cryptos for dinner!
Second, while Gen Z has an affinity for online gaming, they are also the most environment conscious demographic of our times. They are highly aware of climate change, they want to go back to the basics, they believe in circular economies, recycling, up-cycling, they’ve made plastic a pariah and vintage the new cool, plus they lend their voices to social issues. Brands and metaverse strategists could and should leverage this disposition of the key target group in the metaverse.
Third, while brands engage millions of Gen Zers and Millenials, there’s tremendous potential to attract and engage Gen X in ways that can add significantly to the metaverse economy. Education and health are instantly obvious. This generation will not have an easy transition to the metaverse because of the high wall of high tech jargons mixed with the newness of decentralized finance and security issues that nestle the metaverse but if these barriers to entry are considered and lowered, the geeky part demystified with some customisation, brands have a great chance to engage Gen X in an exponential manner.
Brands that have the attention of young minds and strategize to engage them in the metaverse have a bigger social responsibility as they play into the happiness, habits, lifestyle and well being of a whole generation – our future. But there’s a huge trend at the moment to lean towards commerce while ignoring common sense. It’s easy to play into human wants and avarice, especially of the young and inexperienced but is more ethical to build and deliver for human needs or even planetary needs, both of which are intrinsically interlinked.
I’ve worked with many brands over the last two decades yet much of what I suggest here comes from being a parent of two young adults – two Gen Zers – the target group for brands aspiring to be in the metaverse. I believe we’ve given our daughters good heads on their shoulders. They learned to code before they learned to cook because in their early school days we were busy challenging gender stereotypes. And now? I fret about not challenging them to grow their own food, beware of cyberpunks and crypto frauds, reduce carbon footprint, invest in mental wellbeing and many more. The metaverse can solve many human challenges and leave us better off than before.
Ideas to solve for human needs are inexhaustible, really. But it’s up to us how we want to approach it – merely aiming for commerce? or also the collective wellbeing?
For example, on the mundane topic of food – in-game gastronomy, farming and foraging games, immersive food experiences that’ll also stir up an appetite to grow the ingredients besides hunger, airdrops that can be redeemed at the local growers – gamification, contextualisation and geolocation, can build communities in a meaningful way. I often use an AR app to help me identify trees and plants that are new to me as I live in a climate region different from where I grew up. If an extended version of that technology could also show me how to grow some of them with more granular inputs based on weather, soil and landscape, it would be a rewarding combination of physical and digital. I would love to be a part of a community that might be geographically proximate too. If every Gen Z or Gen X or human alive learned to grow a part of their daily food, it would already ease the global supply chains. As we match demand with local supply, it would bear a significant impact on climate change as well. If this approach is not favourable for the local farmers and food growers, then set them up as food educators in the metaverse – giving the farmers a chance to earn a living as a knowledge worker! How about that?
Well, it’s up to us to make the metaverse what we want or as the saying goes, we’ll end up with someone else’s vision.