The Future of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging (DIEB): in web3 and the Metaverse

The Week That Was — February 10, 2022

Editors: Sylvia Gallusser and Antonia Nicols with submissions from the brilliant minds of the Grey Swan Guild, a virtual Think Tank that does stuff like this.

Following our last issue on The Future of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging (DIEB) in Society, we wanted to explore further how DIEB is going to play out in a mostly digital world, as the hype around web3, NFTs, and “the metaverse” is getting hotter.

Before we dig into the Great, Good, Bad, and Ugly of the week, we thought it necessary to offer a panorama of the Metaverse(s), as there are different ways to conceptualize it, and many players have different definitions. You can also find a Metaverse Glossary in the Tapestry section at the end of this article.

8 Approaches to the Metaverse(s)

1.Facebook/Meta. Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal about his investment in the future of the metaverse (up to changing his company’s name), expressing that “It won’t be built overnight by a single company. We’ll collaborate with policymakers, experts and industry partners to bring this to life.” His intention looks good on paper: “The metaverse is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more. It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it’s about making the time you do spend online more meaningful.”

In this vision, Meta presents the metaverse as a sort of 3-dimensional version of the current web, an umbrella for a variety of VR-centric sub-worlds and social networks (note that Meta owns four of the top six social media platforms) and accessible through the Oculus VR headset (Oculus was acquired by Facebook in 2014).

Meta revealed financials for its metaverse business for the first time a few days ago. Its Reality Labs reported massive losses, reaching more than $10 billion in 2021. Mark Zuckerberg is seemingly unfazed, having previously announced the concept would cost $10 billion in 2021, then more in future years, as he expects the metaverse to lose money for the foreseeable future. Meta executives believe it could take up to 15 years to fully realize their vision.

Recent patents filed by Meta indicate that the metaverse might be filled with hyper-personalized ads and could include eye-tracking and face-tracking technology.

(Sources: “Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse business lost more than $10 billion last year, and the losses keep growing”, February 2022, “Building the Metaverse Responsibly”, November 2021)

2.Epic Games announced a $1-billion funding round (in April 2021) to support its long-term vision for the metaverse including an additional $200-million strategic investment from Sony Group Corporation. Whereas Meta believes social networking to be the most natural on-ramp to the metaverse, another driving force to the metaverse has been gaming: Fortnite and Roblox (Roblox considers itself the “shepherd of the metaverse”) have demonstrated how gaming can flow into purely social interactions as people often stop playing the game to hang out. MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) and persistent universes have been a subject of study for anthropologists for a while now. Field studies and monographs based on immersion in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft underline the establishment of specific language and behaviors, social norms, rituals, and even rites of passage (such as weddings).

In addition to accelerating the development of connected social experiences in Fortnite, Rocket League and Fall Guys, Epic’s investment is destined to empower game developers and creators with Unreal Engine, Epic Online Services and the Epic Games Store. This metaverse approach is driven by a holistic gaming experience, on top of which creativity and co-ownership play a crucial role. The balance of power is being slowly displaced from “brands over consumers”, to “consumers as co-creators”.

The market for digital artifacts is becoming quite active, both from the involvement of brands such as Nike and all major luxury brands offering virtual fashion items within the games, but also from myriads of digital studios and independent creators designing and now selling their own digital artifacts as NFTs.

If Fortnite, which is a natural part of the emerging metaverse, is not based on decentralized technology, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney yet underlines the importance of building an open metaverse, to counter the threat of a “metaverse run like an Apple ecosystem, governed by one central company, and more powerful than any government”.

(Sources: “Announcing a $1 Billion Funding Round to Support Epic’s Long-Term Vision for the Metaverse”, April 2021, “Silicon Valley is racing to build the next version of the Internet. Fortnite might get there first”, April 2020)

3.Niantic’s CEO, John Hanke, has been advocating for a Real-World Metaverse, which is less of a VR-closed environment (he considers a metaverse seen through a Virtual Reality headset a “dystopian nightmare”), and more of a truly Augmented Reality with physical-digital spaces merging.

“AR is where the real metaverse is going to happen,” Hanke declared to Wired. “At Niantic, we believe humans are the happiest when their virtual world leads them to a physical one. Unlike a sci-fi metaverse, a real-world metaverse will use technology to improve our experience of the world as we’ve known it for thousands of years.” The Pokestops in the Game Pokemon Go are based on landmarks, usually featuring a photograph and occasionally an advertisement.

Niantic has been building its landmark database and building its 3D mapping by asking players to scan these landmarks using the smartphone camera. A new feature rewards players with bigger and better items. This incentive to collect real world visual data is a major step for Niantic to realize their vision for the “real world metaverse”.

By layering information over the real world through smartphone apps, an AR-based metaverse removes any need for expensive VR equipment, plus it allows users to still experience the world we live in through natural sensory input: “I’m talking about embellishing things selectively, like planting flowers in boxes along the street”. Opposed to VR hardware that block out the users’ senses and replace the input with digital artifacts, John Hanke believes in the idea of “using digital tech to reinvigorate the idea of a public square, to bring people off the couch and out into an environment they can enjoy. There’s a lot of research that supports the positive psychological impact of walking through a park, walking through a forest.”

(Sources: “The Real World Metaverse”, December 2021, “AR Is Where the Real Metaverse Is Going to Happen”, November 2021)

4.Microsoft’s vision is closer to a mixed-reality platform at the service of gaming and business applications. As described by Cecilia D’Anastasio in Wired, Microsoft’s metaverse is a “sci-fi skin over its manifest-destiny aggregation of platforms and products, which include its operating system (Windows), servers (Azure), comms network (Teams), hardware (HoloLens), entertainment hub (Xbox), social network (LinkedIn), and IP (Minecraft)”.

According to Azure’s Corporate VP, Sam George, the solution resides in converging the physical and digital with digital twins, mixed reality, and metaverse apps. The environment is already in use for many industrial applications. “Digital twins enable you to create rich digital models of anything physical or logical, from simple assets or products to complex environments. This initial binding of the physical and digital is foundational to enabling metaverse apps.” From there, the possibilities look endless: “One of the most powerful things you can do is interact with the digital model overlaid onto the physical environment in mixed reality. You can get rich metadata and insights into anything you’re doing in the physical world from this digital copy. You can also interact in pure virtual space, even over distances with colleagues and experts anywhere in the world.”

On top of that, Microsoft just announced a $69 billion deal to buy gaming giant Activision Blizzard. “This acquisition will accelerate the growth in Microsoft’s gaming business across mobile, PC, console, and cloud and will provide building blocks for the metaverse.” Activision Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft, has earned well over $8 billion in lifetime revenue from the game.

(Sources: “Converging the physical and digital with digital twins, mixed reality, and metaverse apps”, May 2021, “Microsoft’s metaverse vision is becoming clear — and makes sense”, January 2022, “Microsoft to acquire Activision Blizzard to bring the joy and community of gaming to everyone, across every device”, January 2022)

5.Linden Lab’s Second Life has been an early implementation of metaverse under the form of a persistent 3D world. Philip Rosedale launched Second Life in 2003, as an immersive digital platform in which users can build worlds, create art, and buy and sell digital goods. Despite a spike of traffic in 2007, Second Life faded into the background, while still maintaining a loyal base of enthusiasts.

In January 2022, Philip Rosedale announced he would rejoin Linden Lab as a strategic advisor, which has been interpreted as a strong message to the tech world to prevent the “Facebook-ization of virtual reality”: “Big Tech giving away VR headsets and building a metaverse on their ad-driven, behavior-modification platforms isn’t going to create a magical, single digital utopia for everyone. Second Life has managed to create both a positive, enriching experience for its residents — with room for millions more to join — and built a thriving subscription-based business at the same time. Virtual worlds don’t need to be dystopias.”

Unlike the ad-auction business model implemented by Facebook or Google, Second Life chose to earn revenue “from charging people what’s basically a property tax if they choose to own land in Second Life. The rest of its money it makes from small fees on transactions. If somebody sells digital goods to somebody else through the Second Life marketplace, there’s a small fee that Second Life charges the seller.” However, if the atoms in Second Life have a stamp on it to trace ownership, they are not stored on blockchain like NFTs, but in a public database: “That information contains who created it, who presently owns it, and, if it’s for sale, what the price is and what you’ll be able to do with it once you buy it. It’s very similar to the metadata associated with an address on a blockchain. But we store it in a central database, so people have to trust that Linden Lab is going to keep that database up to date.” As such, Second Life’s version of metaverse is not a decentralized one as web3 is advocating for.

(Sources: “How to Build a Better Metaverse”, January 2022, “Second Life’s creator is returning to advise the original metaverse company”, January 2022).

6. Crucible believes in the inevitability of an Open Metaverse, and works to build tools and communities to bring it to reality the right way. According to Ryan Gill, co-founder of Crucible, “the internet up until this point has been developed and architected by web developers, and the Metaverse is just saying that it’s going to start being built by game developers.”

Crucible uses decentralized Web3 protocols and technologies such as blockchain to verify digital ownership and protect the privacy of the user. The Open Metaverse Interoperability Group works on building protocols to bridge the gaps between virtual worlds and making the metaverse more secure and diverse.

According to Ryan Gill, “The level to which the metaverse is going to be important to the lives of the people on Earth is immense, and the influence it will have is far too great for one company, or a couple of companies, to own in the same sort of consolidated way that other markets have. So we need to embrace more open standards and protocols.”

Crucible also pushes the idea of Self Sovereign Identity as a single-sign-on: “SSI is the gold standard for the way digital identity works. In the real world, SSI has really gotten its foothold in many industries like government and banking, but we are the first people to bring it to gaming. We prove our identity in the world through credentials, and typically on the internet, that is your email. SSI is a blockchain- based credential that proves your identity. It’s the perfect use case for avatars and the way that digital identity is becoming this cultural movement about expression.” Sebastien Borget, CEO of The Sandbox, also supports the idea that the metaverse isn’t about competition but about a future that is open and decentralized.

(Sources: “The Open Metaverse”, September 2021, “The metaverse is too important to get wrong, so it needs to be open”, November 2021)

7.Google was among the first companies to launch augmented reality glasses with its Google Glass (2013–2014) which didn’t gain widespread consumer interest nor adoption. Since then, it has been quietly investing in the Metaverse, although it refers to this as immersive, ambient computing. According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, “Computing over time will adapt to people more than people adapting to computers. You won’t always interact with computing in a black rectangle in front of you. Just like you speak to people, you see, and interact, computers will become more immersive. They’ll be there when you need it to be.”

AR headsets, internally codenamed Project Iris, are expected to be released in 2024. The device will use outward-facing cameras to blend computer graphics with a video feed of the real world, creating a more immersive, mixed reality experience than existing AR glasses. Google is keeping the project secret and no clear go-to-market strategy is defined so far.

(Sources: “Sundar Pichai thinks of the metaverse as more immersive computing with AR”, November 2021, “The Metaverse Set Off A Battle Between Tech Giants Google, Apple, Microsoft And Meta To Build Virtual And Augmented Reality Headsets”, January 2022)

8.What about Apple? While Meta publishes its $10 billion losses on the metaverse, while Epic Games continue to lead the way with Fortnite, while Linden Lab’s founder Philip Rosedale returns to Second Life, while Microsoft invests in Activision, while Google secretly speeds up the project, while Niantic’s John Hanke states “The future that I am describing is the one that’s going to win”, Apple appears “perfectly happy to let the metaverse pass it by”.

So far, its vision is closer to Niantic’s one: Apple (which now counts over 14,000 ARKit apps in its App Store) has already spent a lot of resources on building software to make it easy for developers to implement augmented reality, focusing mostly on the phone and tablet spaces. Apple is said to be working on releasing its own headsets in 2022. These devices could include eye tracking and cameras blending VR and AR together. We wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple of years, Apple comes up with a whole new transverse ecosystem, a neatly designed integrated cross-device extended-reality user experience, with the same surprise effect as for the launch of the first Macintosh computer and first iPhone.

(Source: “Why Apple is perfectly happy to let the metaverse pass it by”, January 2022)

And we are personally looking forward to a metaverse that goes beyond a VR-headset encapsulated world and a phone-based augmented reality, and incorporates smartly with our homes (mirrors, screens, walls, windows, appliances, monitors, furniture…) as mixed-reality equipment! What about an IKEA-led metaverse?

Of all these conceptions of the metaverse, these corporate visions, centralized, decentralized, AR-VR-MR-based, with their experimental governance and business models, we cannot predict which one will dominate. However we believe that this profusion of innovation and healthy competition, with a focus on interoperability, safety, security, wellness, responsibility, and inclusion, will bring many options to a diverse audience looking to engage always further with technology, with each other, and with the exterior world around.

(Sources: “What is the metaverse?”, November 2021, “Is Metaverse singular or plural?”, January 2022)

Credit: Avatar, The Last Airbender

Are we heading toward a Betterverse?

These nascent metaverses are exciting, fascinating, opening new possibilities. But they also make us wonder about the world(s) we are going to live in a few decades, and specifically how we can remain human and respectful of each other in such future(s). Sylvia Gallusser, Founder at Silicon Humanism questions in her latest essay: “Are we heading toward a ‘betterverse’?”

“As new business models emerge, a whole economy is being created. While this new internet is a goldmine for artists eager to promote their artwork and make a living out of it in the form of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), some wonder how a student can earn $1 million dollars by selling a series of selfies or how a pair of virtual sneakers (by RTFKT Studios) can reach the amount of $100,000, while there are still 690 million people worldwide who are undernourished. RTFKT Studios was acquired by Nike in December 2021 for an undisclosed amount.

What about representation and inclusion? Avatar creation and the ensuing market of digital artifacts bring along infinite possibilities of reinventing oneself, therefore opening to more gender equity and gender fluidity. Yet we already notice an underrepresentation of women, disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community. Avatars that are female, or have darker skin tones, tend to sell for less than masculine and white avatars despite being less common. To counterbalance the trend, digital design studio Daz 3D created 8,888 female and non-binary “Non-Fungible People”.

In a decentralized system still led by major business players attempting to achieve interoperability, who is handed down the responsibility? Facebook — rebranded Meta — aims to build the metaverse responsibly, collaboratively, with wellness, safety and diversity at heart. Will these intentions be enough? What governance can we put in place to make the Internet a better place? What ethical futures can we envision and contribute to building as Web3 becomes a reality?”

(Source: “Humanism at the core of web3 and the Metaverse”, February 2022)

Credit: Joshua Sukoff, Unsplash

The Great

1. Built with all humans in mind… provided we all take part in it, not just the big platforms!

In “The Drum’s Metaverse Deep Dive”, Rosie Copland-Mann argues that diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be left to the platforms building the metaverse. As of now, only 24% of game developers are women, Black and Hispanic workers remain underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce, and facial-analysis software shows an error rate of 0.8% for light-skinned men, compared to 34.7% for dark-skinned women.

If the metaverse is meant to offer “shared virtual spaces for humans to connect, interact, express themselves, and transpose activities from the physical world”, we should design it with humans in mind. Virtual worlds do provide us with palettes of fictional characters that don’t exist in real life — however users should equally be given the tools to create avatars closer to their IRL self. In fact, not all people have access to avatars reflecting their identity, so they end up representing themselves as characters, aliens, or animals through necessity. Bitmoji and Meta Avatars have started offering ranges of skin tone, body shape, physical ability, age, but many companies are lagging behind, not providing non-binary options, skin tone variations, hair textures, etc.

Luckily some communities are paving the way by launching initiatives enabling representation and inclusivity, and democratizing digital fashion, art, and self-expression in the metaverse, such as The Institute of Digital Fashion, World of Women, Digi-Gxl.

(Source: ”Why diversity must be built into the fabric of the metaverse”, January 2022)

2. An opportunity for change for traditional brands

Whereas some brands still display traditional mindsets, a new wave of creatives start to write the new rules, such as 18-year-old trans artist Fewocious, who sold their life story through NFTs for $2.1 million.

The rise of this new media is an opportunity for brands to hire, empower, listen to, and learn from a diverse pool of creatives. In addition to offering nontraditional shopping capabilities, beauty brands will use the metaverse to expand their networks and build stronger, more engaged audiences. For example, events will no longer be exclusive to people living in metropolitan areas. According to Brooke Ozaydinli, host of the Naked Beauty Podcast, “Creators like Doniella Davy, the lead makeup artist for Euphoria, can offer looks that your avatar can try on and wear in the metaverse. A hair artist like Nikki Nelms, who creates elaborate looks for Solange and Janelle Monáe, may offer the opportunity for avatars to rock her hairstyles in the metaverse.”

(Source: ”Beauty and the Metaverse May Collide Sooner Than You Think”, January 2022)

3. A new market for providers focusing on DIEB

Tafi, a provider of advanced avatar creation and NFT tools, consults with a broad range of ethnic and cultural experts and organizations to improve representation, remove unconscious bias, and pursue more inclusive avatar standards.

According to Tafi COO, “When Tafi designed its tools and collections for avatar creation, we made sure all content, regardless of gender norms, was interchangeable. Users can place a wedding dress or tutu on masculine characters, or a very formal tuxedo on feminine characters. Our flagship prototype characters, Victoria and Michael, are updated periodically; in a recent iteration Michael is in a wheelchair, and Victoria is deaf. We worked with a leading American Sign Language institute to create sign language animations, so Victoria could actually communicate in sign language. We also worked with an artist who is deaf to create realistic hearing aids.” Technologists are invited to connect with communities and DIEB-specialized players, as a new market of “DIEB providers” emerges.

(Source: ”The Metaverse should be a beacon of diversity”, December 2021)

4. Metaverse accessibility

Tech-cessibility was a key word at the latest CES in January:

  • Biped’s smart harness for blind and visually impaired people, using 3D cameras to monitor the environment and detect obstacles, warning the wearer of potential collisions using 3D sounds transmitted through bone conduction earphones;
  • Samsung’s smart TVs include accessibility-enhancing functionalities such as a voice guide, an avatar sign language guide, SeeColors to optimize color calibration for people with color viewing deficiency, and auto caption position;
  • OrCam won a CES innovation award for its camera that clips to glasses to help visually impaired people identify and interpret facial expressions.

Now how does it translate in the metaverse? In “My Metaverse Day”, Vesa Nopanen aka “Mr. Metaverse” suggests accessibility ideas for developers and platform builders to create, such as: a universal translator, simultaneous captioning and translation of speech, a simultaneous sign language avatar, an audio guide to describe surroundings, muting of other audios, adjustable Spatial 3D audio settings to concentrate on closer people instead of hearing background noise, ability to create an avatar’s voice and type what the avatar says to others, etc.

(Source: “Metaverse increases equality, accessibility and inclusivity”, January 2022)

5. Crypto empowering those excluded from traditional financial systems

Whereas two billion people worldwide don’t have access to financial services, the larger crypto space has become a place where marginalized communities have empowered themselves, both socially and financially.

A poll published in August 2021 by USA Today / Harris Poll found that 23% of Black Americans and 16% of Hispanic Americans own cryptocurrencies. By comparison, only 11% of white Americans own any digital coins. Another finding of the poll is that 25% of LGTBQ Americans own crypto, compared to 13% of the general public in the U.S.

According to Jori Armbruster, CEO & Co-founder at EthicHub, “Traditional financial systems have excluded almost a quarter of the world population, and crypto has the potential to solve this problem.” In addition, crypto does not just mean buying and holding. It also extends to play-to-earn blockchain games, wear-to-earn from fashion brands, NFTs, and global crypto remittances.

(Source: “Building Web 3 for Everyone — Marginalized communities are defining their spaces in the metaverse”, October 2021).

6. Democratizing art through NFTs

Traditional art spaces are notoriously homogenous, with US museum collections consisting of 85% white and 87% male artists. Through NFTs, a diverse range of artists gain exposure without having to go through traditional gatekeepers.

TheBlkChain is a platform which amplifies the work of women, BIPOC and LGBTQ artists and collectors in the NFT space, providing an opportunity for diverse artists to make a living from their art thanks to NFTs. ARTXV is an NFT collective centered on neurodiversity aiming to show everyone the beauty and unique perspective of neurodiversity in the art world and to accelerate the economic independence of artists with neurodiversities such as autism, ADHD, and synesthesia. My Boss Beauties is an NFT collection that portrays a diverse range of strong women. BlackFreelancer is a global community for Black creatives to showcase their work, get hired and passively invest in crypto currencies. The blockchain provides a unique opportunity for private investors of all cultures and backgrounds to close the wealth gap through ownership and collection of NFTs and cryptocurrencies.

(Source: “The Diversity, Equity and inclusion potential of NFTs”, October 2021)

7. Building the infrastructure of a Metaverse for all

Bandwidth will become even more essential as we will need high-performance connectivity capable of supporting the demands of bandwidth-consuming applications in the metaverse. Technology such as edge computing — which can reduce network latency and improve reliability — will become increasingly important in networks that require real-time responsiveness.

Deploying infrastructure functions using virtual machine and container concepts where they can be deployed across the network at scale and in real time will be key. Classic network functions such as routing and switching will need to be fully virtualized. They need to be easily updated, upgraded, patched and deployed. All this requires proper network infrastructure investments and innovation.

According to Steve Alexander, SVP and CTO of Ciena, “The building blocks are already there for Meta to build a hospitable metaverse, and as those technologies continue to evolve — driven by an expected uptick in innovation among tech developers looking to capitalize on the metaverse emergence — Meta will have more world-building tools to work with.”

(Source: “A hospitable metaverse requires the basic building blocks of virtual life”)

Credit: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona, unsplash

The Good

1. Meta extends Black History Month into the metaverse

Meta’s first ever Metaverse Culture Series debuts this month in Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms, bringing together Black thought leaders and creators from across the U.S. to explore ideas for weaving Black culture, heritage, and creativity into the fabric of the metaverse.

Meta Quest 2 users can access curated VR content on Oculus TV each week, including a look at the unsung heroes of the Black Lives Matter movement with the creatives behind “In Protest”, as well as a tour of the International Space Station with astronaut Victor Glover. “Traveling While Black”, a free VR experience from Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, explores the history of restriction of movement for Black Americans and the creation of safe spaces.

“Exhibit African/American: Making the Nation’s Table” opens Feb. 23 in New York” is an immersive artistic journey by the Museum of Food and Drink and AR creator Charles “Ceej” Johnson, exploring the stories of Black Americans who helped shape the country’s culinary culture.

“The ARt of My Roots AR effect” on the Facebook and Instagram camera is dedicated to making art and culture accessible to all, and a collection of AR effects inspired by two pieces from “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table” will be available on both platforms.

(Source: “Meta Extends Black History Month Initiatives to AR, VR, Metaverse”, February 2022)

2. Body image and the Proteus Effect

In September 2021, internal research from Facebook revealed that 32% of teen girls suffering from poor body image feel worse after using Instagram, and that extended time spent on social media leads to heightened suicide rates for girls as they enter adulthood. How can we create a foundation to the Metaverse that empowers women and frees them from body image traps and related mental health? “We’ll need an excess of tools and processes that foster nonconformity. But, because our current models for social media reward women for sexualizing themselves with both clout and cash, how can we hope to break free and build a metaverse that doesn’t just perpetuate the destructive narrative we’re all adhering to today?”

In 2007, a group of Stanford researchers discovered that the way in which users operated avatars in a simulated world would, in turn, impact their behavior back in the real world. Those who embodied tall avatars in the metaverse began to adopt a more aggressive demeanor outside of it. This so-called “Proteus Effect” shows that the way our bodies are represented in cyberspace will undoubtedly affect how we operate in our everyday lives. One major difference between web2 and web3 is that web3 allows us to be more than users: we can operate as contributors and owners of the digital spaces and actively participate in the governance of how they are created, controlled, and changed over time.

(Source: “What happens to body image in the metaverse?”, January 2022)

3. Preserving street art via NFTs

Murals and other similar forms of art are often ephemeral and generating an income from them has remained a challenge. Putting them on the blockchain can give them life after they’ve been covered up or removed. According to Independent curator Gita Joshi, host of The Curator’s Salon podcast, “NFTs now allow artists to grow an international audience, be compensated, and find advocacy for their work. As people buy real estate in, Decentraland, NFT street artists might find new opportunities as commissioned artists”.

“Murals to the Metaverse” is a first-of-its-kind collectible that has bridged murals and physical experiences with the NFT marketplace. It contains six mural NFTs by Bay Area public artists Jet Martinez, Joshua Mays, Bud Snow, Wolfe Pack, Vogue, Yabe Media, and Ruff Draft, and animated by DIY J, and representing the Bay Area’s stylistic and cultural diversity, ranging from portrait photography and pop-surrealism to graffiti and Afro-futurism.

(Source: “Finally, a Good Use for NFTs: Preserving Street Art, January 2022)

Credit: Hans Moerman, Unsplash

The Bad

1. The Grey Area of the Metaverse

The metaverse brings along or intensifies many of the problems we face in the real world about topics such as rights, identity, respect, privacy, mental health, etc. Critics argue that digital influencers are taking away potential jobs from real people of color, while others question the appropriateness of a digital woman of color being created by a white male. Brands cannot abandon real-world efforts when it comes to diversity and representation: not only do the same rules apply, but brands must navigate environments in which new rules and norms are still being established.

Most experts warn against “digital Blackface”, using a Black avatar as a non-Black person, or “identity tourism”, choosing a character outside of one’s own identity. The implications of experimenting with gender are less clear; some feel that it enables people to explore identities more safely, while others say that, for example, men playing female characters is a way for men to objectify women’s bodies. Venture capitalist and metaverse expert Matthew Ball, advises fashion brands: “Be considerate and considered. And don’t imagine the metaverse as a ‘game’ but instead a place where millions will self-express.”

(Source: “Race, gender and representation: The grey area of the metaverse”, September 2021)

2. Limits to participation

In a thoughtful article, on StealthOptional, Lewis White explores some of the barriers to participation that are already being built into the metaverse. Cost is the first prohibitive factor: VR headsets are expensive. So far, metaverse designers have created environments for people who are able to use a mouse or touchpad, and are able to see screens. While the new work-from-home environment has provided benefits to some differently abled people who are able to work from home using specialized equipment, action needs to be taken now to ensure that users who have visual, hearing and motor skill impairments can participate fully — or we will leave them behind.

Digiday has a fascinating article about how technology that exists today could be easily modified to encourage accessibility, if metaverse developers just kept it in mind. Today, less than two percent of the internet meets accessibility guidelines — that’s not a very welcoming environment after several decades of use. We need to do better.

(Sources: The Future internet won’t be kind to disabled people. ; Experts caution builders to prioritize accessibility; Accessibility in the metaverse)

Credit: Mika Baumeister, Unsplash

The Ugly

1. Bad behavior shows up in any ‘verse’.

There’s only one article here because… well, you can read on and extrapolate for yourself. You would think that an environment built by our “best and brightest” would have some guardrails to prevent some of the less savory attributes of the meatverse from showing up… or at least reduce the level of vitriol we currently see in Facebook. Alas, the shadow side of human nature is everywhere. Last month, the female avatar of a female vice president of a rival metaverse was “verbally and sexually harrassed by male avatars”, including groping, making sexual comments, and gang-raped, while she was in Meta’s Horizon Venues. Facebook (sorry, Meta) responded quickly by introducing a new “personal boundary” tool that will make users feel like they have nearly 1.2 metres between their virtual avatar and others when they access the immersive Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues apps through VR headsets.

That’s not enough for some people, including South Korea’s Communications Commission, which is setting up a council to address user protection on the Metaverse and explore the issue of sexual harassment targeting minors. Think that’s overkill? It’s unlikely sexual assault and abuse survivors would think so, according to the victim in Horizon Venues, virtual reality is purposefully designed to prevent the ability of the mind and body to distinguish between real and virtual experiences. In describing her virtual assault, she said: “In a sense, my physiological and psychological reaction was that it was like in real life”. It’s a horrific notion. Can we put some guardrails in to prevent all the terrible -isms of the meatverse from leaking into the metaverse? This would be the time to do so. Let’s discuss.

(Sources: Meta: Woman claims male avatars sexually groped her; Preventing another gang rape: Is Facebook’s new tool enough to stop sexual assault in the metaverse?; Meta Adds ‘Personal Boundary’ Tool After Virtual Sexual Assault Allegation; Introducing a Personal Boundary for Horizon Worlds and Venues; Metaverse Sexual Harassment Forces Korean Government into Action)

Tapestry:

Meme of the week

Seen in Silicon Valley

Picture of the week

DIEB is also about general knowledge, historical memory, about the way we write our human history. Here is a friendly reminder. A few days ago, Spanish daily newspaper El Pais tweeted: “Rafa Nadal becomes the first tennis player to win 21 majors after winning the Australian Open,”. While he is the first male in tennis history to reach the landmark, three women have outdone him so far: Margaret Court (24 Majors), Serena Williams (23 Majors) and Steffi Graf (22 Majors).

Graph of the week

Metaverse Glossary:

Interoperability: The ability for virtual experiences, possessions and identities to travel unchanged across platforms.

Persistence: A continuity of existence; the continuation of virtual life regardless of whether people are online or offline.

Decentralization: Distribution of ownership — the idea that the metaverse will not be regulated or run by a single corporation or individual.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs): are digital certificates of authenticity that will form the basis of digital ownership.

Digital twins: Physical spaces that have been cloned in the virtual world to promote familiarity and efficiency.

Liminal spaces: A new generation of gathering spaces and event locales that incorporate both physical and virtual elements.

Extended reality: An umbrella term encompassing augmented, virtual and mixed realities.

Web3: A decentralized, blockchain-based internet that will enable a seamless fusion of virtual and physical life.

Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs): are community-led digital organizations that run on blockchain technology.

Virtual teleportation: A new technologically enabled form of travel or collaboration that uses multi-sensory and photorealistic renderings to make you feel as if you’re in the same room as someone who could be halfway around the (physical) world.

(Source: The metaverse glossary, February 2022)

Grey Swan Guild — Join Us in the Future

We are the Guild that goes a little bit deeper, a little bit wider and a little bit more passionate on subjects of interest, like our post above. Every month, we tackle a wide gamut of world challenges and next Grey Swans.

We are a post-modern version of the Guild — this is what we do:

February is Miami Month in the Guild:

Each month the Guild has a Feature City — this month we are going to South Beach. Bring us your best beach worthy thinkers, sunny eyed futurists and palm tree pensive thinkers. Join us Feb 23rd at 4pm for our Miami Guild Town Hall: https://bit.ly/gsgMiami

A Sneak Preview — The Guild 2nd Year Anniversary

Coming up in early April’22 — April 7th and April 8th. 24+ hours of sensemaking activity. It is our landmark event for the Guild and we will be doubling up on last year’s smashing success.

Grey Swan Guild

Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢

https://www.greyswanguild.org/

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Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges & Next Grey Swans — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢

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Grey Swan Guild

Grey Swan Guild

Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges & Next Grey Swans — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢