March 28, 2022

SXSW: The language we need for the future

Laura Thomas

VP of Strategy

Building nomenclature is the first step to gaining intelligence and agency when it comes to learning new topics. Language arms us with what’s needed to embrace a concept or an idea, especially when those ideas are a bit on the esoteric side. In other words: Knowing the lingo of complex, trending topics gives us power. 

At Curiosity, we have a Trend Curious practice where we predict the future of the zeitgeist in order to infuse culture into our brands and strategies. My goal in attending the SXSW 2022 conference in Austin was to fill my cup with nomenclature that will help me understand the future of trends, specifically 2050 tech trends. The big headline here is we should all get comfortable with Web3, the Metaverse, and NFTs. To many of you, these may not be new terms. But I think the following takeaways will help you understand the trajectory of these trends and the terms that accompany them.

1. The dystopian reality of the metaverse.

Let’s begin with the premise that the conceptualization of the metaverse has gotten a bad wrap. In mainstream media, the metaverse is made out to be a sanctuary for twenty-something, goggle-wearing dudes in their mom’s basements playing video games with their buddies. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ok, it probably happens, but it’s not the whole truth. The reality is that the metaverse is being used in remarkable ways to further our knowledge and our cultural understanding. It also allows so many underrepresented people to have a voice. For example, at the SXSW conference, I was able to try out a VR experience with the Gaming for Freedom foundation. The experience combined game-like scenarios and activism. In my case, I experienced what it would be like to be a journalist, held captive, tortured, and interrogated in Israel in 1930. By the way, it was f***ing brutal. My empathy for journalistic freedom soared to an all-time high. This foundation has also created an uncensored library built within Mindcraft – allowing countries that have deep roots in censorship to access true and free information. 

Native Land Digital also presented at SXSW. They are a nonprofit pioneering a communal approach to playspace experiences that digitally document heritage sights. In other words, they’re crowdsourcing Indigenous stories and geographies. These virtual sights map and pin indigenous sites led by an elder council. As a collective, they are able to pin specific locations in the metaverse so that anyone can visit sacred lands, access recipes, songs, prayer, and poems. 

Within the talk, they said that the perception of Native Americans as anti-tech is simply not true. Native Land Digital has leveraged the metaverse to give indigenous people agency over their land and their stories – allowing indigenous people to counter map and erase colonial lines. That means that the stories of America’s oldest civilization can now live alongside today’s newest experiences.

2. The future of the Internet - Web3.

The talks on Web3 were prolific. To be honest, I’ve only recently heard of Web3 in rare pockets. So I was anxious to dig into understanding more. But, in order to understand the evolution of the web as a third iteration, I had to first remind myself of the history of the first two evolutions. 

So, here’s the quick history. Web 1.0 was like just one giant Wikipedia. Remember the all-consuming sound of dial-up internet? Beeerrruuurrrghhhh. This primitive web existed between 1991 – 2004 and contained mostly static pages. It was a read-only source of information. The early internet wasn’t profitable by ads and it wasn’t for social connection. Then … in 2014 … Web 2.0 was born. The biggest change with Web 2.0 was the level of interactivity. We consume content on Web 2.0, but the content isn’t static and there’s a quid pro quo. In exchange for content that is right for us, we give the internet our soul. Just kidding – a little. We just give every bit of personal information – ever. The internet gets information from us to serve us better content, we agree because we are content-hungry people. Web 2.0 is often called ‘The Age of Targeted Advertising’. 

Now, we’re at Web3, the next evolution of the internet. Unlike Web 2.0 where you are the product, Web3 makes you the owner of your content. In Web3 every company is run by an independent group called a DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization). DAOs mean no CEOs, no presidents, no social censorship like FB and Twitter. There is no controlling authority that can shut it down. Additionally, your digital identity is not connected to your real-world identity and since you own your content, it will stay up until you take it down. And, because it’s built on a blockchain, when you take your content down, it’s gone – permanently. The power of Web3 is that it pushes power from the few to the many. The intent behind this is to redistribute power and wealth. 

3. The rise of NFTs.

You can’t talk Web3 without talking NFTs. NFTs have been called many things, including overpriced JPGs. NFTs have been overhyped, underestimated, and misunderstood. NFTs are best understood by talking about the Bored Ape Yacht Club. The Bored Ape Yacht Club is a collection of 10,000 unique Bored Ape NFTs— unique digital collectibles living on the Ethereum blockchain. Bored Ape Yacht Club, or simply Bored Ape, is a non-fungible token featuring profile pictures of cartoon apes that are generated by an algorithm. The term “ape” is used affectionately in the crypto community to mean early adopters. The creators, Yuga Labs, thought it would be funny to create a whole collection around apes who’ve become so wealthy because of crypto’s rise, that they’ve become extremely … bored. Buying an ape is like joining a club. When the craze started, many people on Twitter changed their profile pictures to their Bored Ape avatar. Even Gwyneth Paltrow bought one that, when animated, shows an ape with long blond hair and big blue eyes — her own features transmuted onto a digital ape. Again, when you buy into an NFT like Bored Ape you are buying into an ecosystem of products with communal value. When one ape does something cool - the value of the collection goes up. NFTs are also doing good things for the world. The ape ecosystem alone has donated over $1m in ETH for Ukraine. Bored Ape popularized the NFT playbook. The really real is that NFTs show two things: 1) Consumers are now looking for couture ways to show their worth, their style, and to belong to a group of like-minded people. 2) Buying an NFT means buying the underlying intellectual property to your specific piece of art. That means you can capitalize on your piece of art by licensing it for comic books, film, and TV. Some predict that the Bored Ape Yacht Club will have a Marvel-like presence in entertainment.

That’s it – I’m a believer that learning the language of the metaverse, Web3, and NFTs will allow us to fully embrace future technologies. Not only will knowing the ropes help us to understand the trends of the future, but, by jumping in early, we can play a more hands-on role in shaping the road to 2050.

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