There was a time where, until very recently, art and technology lived very binary lives. If we think of y2k rom coms, the nerd was a very different individual to the beauty queen and the jock. It wasn’t till the 2010s that these binaries and boxes started to break down slightly (maybe we have Glee to thank, who knows) and as we enter Web 3 the lines between technology and creativity continue to blur.
Today, especially since Facebook announced its renaming as Meta, those in the creative industries who embrace tech are seen as pioneers at the cutting edge of their niche. We think on Fortnite and Roblox 2020 concerts with popular American rappers Travis Scott (Fortnite) and Lil Nas X (Roblox).These concerts were first-of-their-kind live events, attended by millions of players in-game who were able to witness the artists perform for them via gigantic lookalike avatars. They roamed around their respective digital stages, dancing and singing as players navigated their own characters alongside them, listening to their favourite tracks, as well as new songs released exclusively during the concerts.
These shows were considered the first “mainstream” glimpses of the Metaverse. A tantalising taste of what is to come, and how these virtual worlds, which for so long have been reserved purely for gaming, can eventually offer an alternate reality – one populated by gamers and non-gamers alike, who will attend events, socialise, or just explore these vast unknown spaces on a daily basis, much like how one might venture out into town to meet a friend or see a show. And that is, in very basic terms, what the Metaverse will likely offer.
Since the pandemic, Roblox has reached 43 million daily users – that’s over twice as many as it had at the beginning of 2020. Not only that, but the platform was recently valued at just under $70 billion – much of this resulting from the huge surge in public interest around Metaverse-related stocks. Of course, other tech giants and various cryptocurrencies also profited from this surge – and in some cases merely from vague associations to it – but the key to Roblox’s particular success lies in its promise of online freedom. In other words the platform has become so remarkably popular because its product is not prescriptive: whereas other developers offer players beautiful premade worlds for them to explore, Roblox gives the player the tools to build their own world – a creative licence.
It is uncertain yet who exactly will build the metaverse, but unlike Web1 and Web2, this 3rd stage will be so detailed and all encompassing that artistic input will be primordial in creating a well rounded space. Developing the physical attributes of the metaverse will definitely require a new class of artists, engineers, architects and designers to all come together to redefine the new forms of spaces. Currently, there has been more activity from artists and engineers and less input from architects and product designers. This is why there exists lots of beautiful online spaces that might not have a ton of functionality or usage, or functional spaces that might not have a strong purpose or intent. Architects and product designers can help identify the goals and needs of various new types of spaces and inform how those spaces will gain utility and ease of use based on the types of users participating and the corresponding needs of users.
There are many who see the metaverse as a way of grouping all the technologies and developments that are coming together, such as blockchain, AR, VR, AI, etc. and banding them together into one vision. However the likelihood that this technology will replace the physical experiences we have is extremely unlikely, if not, impossible, instead it will add to it and offer more opportunities to trade and connect on a global scale.
One thing the metaverse will certainly encourage is experimentation with the medium, perhaps allowing people who reside outside of the tech industry to engage with it and come up with ever more creative and promising ways of using it – applications that can benefit society in a much wider sense. The same goes for all of the other technologies that the metaverse encompasses and, considering them as a whole.
A major factor that many creatives and technicians alike are curious about is how the medium of photography – something traditionally analog – will translate into the digital world of the metaverse. Well, photography has always been intrinsically linked to technology and the camera – a photography practitioner’s usual tool of choice – is in itself a remarkable piece of technology, and has undergone many changes over the decades. But even without the camera, the essence of photography lies in the process, not the tool, and this understanding changes the way we can perceive the medium’s potential in the metaverse.