Worldwide, discussions around metaverses, web3, and the impact of the internet on the planet in ten years' time, are heating up. As our digital needs and expectations grow, the capabilities (and carbon footprint) of the internet is increasing with each technological advance. Last week, we joined conversations on these topics at the IAM Internet Weekend in Barcelona. The festival-style event was designed to help responsible citizens and organisations make better decisions by using futures as tools to anticipate challenges and opportunities while exploring the socio-ecological impacts of digital technologies and the internet(s) through collective learning initiatives, partnerships and commissioned projects. Known for gathering future thinkers, artists, creatives, strategists, educators, and more at their annual weekend meetup, the IAM Weekend brought people together to collectively rethink the futures of the internet(s).
So - what’s on the horizon within the digital landscape? Get ready for some big future thinking!
A CRISIS OF IMAGINATION
The IAM theme was all about 'Imagining Intercitizenships' - an open invitation to explore, discuss and imagine how the internet(s) and digital technologies can be reframed through the lenses of intersectionality to cultivate a shared sense of belonging to Planet Earth, challenging the constructed borders like nationality, race and gender. Put simply it asks - ‘how can we build better beyond big tech and take care of the planet while shifting to a more empathetic and humanity and ecology driven practice?’
A CRISIS OF TRUST IN BIG TECH
Many highlight the growing tension between the internet and its users as there is a lack of trust between people and the gatekeepers to big tech - 85% of consumers in the US think that big tech has too much power. There was a collective call to put less blame on the users and shift focus onto doing things together. Time to “move slow and repair things” - the opposite of Zuckerberg’s infamous (pre-2014) expression “move fast and break things”
As a result of the desire for meaningful change in tech, the internet is becoming decentralized. What this means is that rather than being powered by one central authority, products and services are developing outside of the servers provided by large corporations. Centralized power vs decentralized communities are shifting control of public internet space. If we zoom in on this and look at it in terms of the metaverse, we can see that beyond Zuckerberg’s new brand positioning, there could potentially be endless streams of new spaces that empower independent digital worlds. Take for example, Crucible, an open metaverse that focuses on building tools and communities, bringing the metaverse to reality the right way.
“The metaverse won’t be a single world. It will be a collection of all of the worlds, connected through common standards and frameworks.” Ryan Gill, Founder of Crucible
On the other hand, we can see decentralized spaces becoming exclusive as well. Crypto platforms like Friends with Benefits have huge waiting lists for members/users to even be considered. As the internet evolves into multiple new spaces (‘internets’), there will be more blended experiences where brands, creators and people will interact in new ways. MetaFactory, for instance, produces ’digiphysical goods' that connect multiple worlds via NFTs, embedded microchips and more. Even the IAM Weekend allowed for optichannel connections; you could choose to attend in person or virtually and engage, or you could watch a panel discussion live in the metaverse about digital fashion.
A big trend in digital design will be a shift from being product-focused to planet-focused. As creatives, there is huge potential to create messages that will educate people about the climate crisis. For CNN Digital’s Senior Visual Editor Sarah-Grace Mankarious, when telling stories it’s all about moving beyond linear and thinking about putting the readers’ experience first.
The footprint of digital products is becoming an increasing concern, and with this we see a need to reframe the way we design for online experiences. “Design lighter” was the mantra from Tom Jarrett, designer for Branch Magazine. Tools like Cabin, a carbon-aware cookie-free analytics platform, are being tested to reduce the impact of measurement. By removing the extra data gathered by cookies, Cabin is giving you necessary insights without the additional information that is collected, thus creating a lighter tool.
NEXT LEVEL CONNECTIONS
The future is going to be connected; this was reflected through the example of Toyota’s Woven City in Japan. Described as the prototype city of the future, it is a ‘human-centered’ evolving city where there is a focus on reciprocity throughout. In short, it’s all about peer to peer support with human to technology connections.
“The balance between humanity & digital support systems is a key factor to give people more freedom & cultivate a shared sense of belonging.” Liya Safina, Digital product + interaction designer
Next level connections will show up in the new creator economy. Platforms like Pluc TV in India are redesigning creator frameworks and empowering their network to create news stories, sharing the real story on the ground. In the future internet there are going to be countless new job formats, like meme artist, dao manager, head of crypto, metaverse creative. Station is a (of course) decentralized space that is literally creating education platforms to allow people to evolve their skills and get into these new jobs.
These conversations about the future are happening now and evolving at pace. Gen Z (and even Gen Alpha) are already accepting and experimenting with the metaverse and digital currency. For example, in the first quarter of 2021, Roblox players spent the equivalent of 652m USD buying digital goods with Roblox’s virtual currency, Robux. This means that however dystopian or far-fetched some of these emerging concepts seem, young people are already embracing these new forms of the internet - now is the time to get on board with the future of the internet.
Get into collective imagining - co-create and listen to your audience, creating things they really want.
Consider your placements - there are questions surrounding digital advertising and placements. Be intentional and think carbon-aware.
Reevaluate your processes - are there ways of building lighter digital products? Let’s lessen the blame on users and create for the future.
Embrace new spaces - the new internet is exciting and scary all at once, now is the time to experiment and upskill, so connect with your partners who are literate in these areas and get into the metaverse.