In a desperate attempt to stay relevant with crypto-curious audiences, marketers around the world are FOMOing into the metaverse trend, experimenting with everything from branded non-fungible token (NFT) collectibles, to virtual shops and offices, through to issuing their very own cryptocurrencies. But users are often nonplussed, getting the sense these retail schemes are more about supersizing sales than cultivating community, connection, collaboration and co-creation in the new era of Web 3.
As contemporary artist Krista Kim sees it, there are too many corporate executives conceiving these new virtual worlds and not enough artists. As the founder of the Techism Movement in 2014, Kim called for a reconciliation between technological innovation and the creation of art. In 2021, with the emergence of Web 3, she updated her original thesis to recognize the potential for blockchain to realize her vision for an open, decentralized future. With artists and creators at the helm, it’s possible to engage communities through meaningful experiences that have lasting impact and add real value to people’s lives, establishing a deeper connection with users and delivering on their desire for authenticity.
In 2020, feeling personally impacted by the isolation and emotional trauma of the coronavirus lockdown, Kim created a therapeutic escape in the form of a virtual house. Based on her digital zen philosophy, she built entirely with light to create a soothing, healing atmosphere, with musical accompaniment by Jeff Schroeder of The Smashing Pumpkins. Dubbed the “Mars House,” it was sold as the world’s first NFT home on SuperRare for 288 ETH ($512,712) in 2021.
Kim has partnered with major luxury brands including Louis Vuitton and Lanvin to help them make sense of the metaverse and find relevance with their communities. She is also the creator of Continuum Tour, a sound and light public art installation staged at Aranya Beach, China, and a contributing metaverse editor at Vogue Singapore.
In this interview, I spoke to Kim about the shift from Web 2 to Web 3, and how she sees blockchain technologies empowering sovereign individuals to thrive in a world built on immersive, inspiring and artistic experiences.
She also explains why today’s pixelated versions of the metaverse are NGMI [Not Gonna Make It], why screens are not our enemy and how DAOs [decentralized autonomous organizations] can facilitate ownership and agency in a radically inclusive, optimistic and resilient future society.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
As a pioneering architect of the open metaverse, what do you think people are still getting wrong about virtual worlds today?
They don't understand the long-term vision of what the metaverse is. Right now, there's a misconception that gaming platforms are the metaverse – like The Sandbox, Decentraland and Cryptovoxels – those with low-fidelity graphics, where the look of the place is highly compromised. But if you think that voxelized graphics are going to last beyond the next year or two for Gen Alpha, you're mistaken.
The future of the metaverse in terms of the quality of the graphics will be photo-real. With the introduction of more advanced hardware, like eyewear with [augmented reality] capabilities, the metaverse will be so powerful that the digital layer will be nearly indistinguishable from real life, with frictionless interplay between the two worlds.
What is your take on skeuomorphism? Why are artists and architects still designing digital objects that resemble things in the physical world, when they could create almost anything in virtual environments?
What a lot of people in businesses these days have to realize is that you cannot repeat what has been done in the past and think that you will win. The metaverse is the greatest art project in the world, and it requires imagination and creativity. That means that you have to step out of your comfort zone, but most companies don't want to do that. Most professionals who work in corporations are trained to follow the status quo or to follow workflows that have worked in the past, to play it safe.
The metaverse is not about playing it safe. The metaverse is about inspiring people and you can only do that through art. There needs to be more artists at the helm, and companies don't know how to negotiate that kind of relationship, where you have artists and creators in the lead. That's why Web 3 is a whole new phenomenon and a whole new corporate structure.
What barriers are preventing Web 2 creators from moving into Web 3?
Right now, crypto is a high-risk, volatile space. But if you’re looking through a long-term lens, the crypto revolution is already happening. We're simply in the genesis period, so that’s why people are risk averse.
You are basically shifting an entire paradigm from a corporate industrial model, where people were taught to obey and to work a nine-to-five job for a company and not have any entrepreneurial skills. Web 3 is all about the sovereign individual being empowered through blockchain to create their own destiny, through their own creations and [intellectual property], while collaborating with others and thriving.
And when you think about DAOs, they are going to transform the way the world works. It’s going to pull away from a corporate model, where the corporation is dominating the system, to communities that are coming together to solve the world's problems collaboratively – where people are actually involved and co-invested in projects. This is a completely different model for how the world will function and how things will get done. It will get done through passion and through purpose in Web 3.
So it's not just educating people on how to use crypto. It’s learning how to be a whole new kind of human being in a new world. So, of course, there's going to be friction – it’s a completely different way of thinking.
Most people think they should limit their screen time, but you’ve embraced the screen as something that could bring meditative effects and even help to treat anxiety. Why?
This is a broader conversation about our relationship with technology and innovation. For the most part, there hasn't been much contribution of art into the evolution, aesthetics and uses of technology.
That is why I wrote the "Techism Manifesto" in 2014 because I felt the content we were consuming on screens was so commercial that there wasn't a balance. There was no truly aesthetically soothing or humane application of the technology, because art was not at the forefront. Art was not considered an important factor in the development of these technologies.
Techism is a call to action – not only in the technology world, but also among the creative world – to collaborate and co-create. Creators have to start thinking about technology as a medium, engaging with it, taking it seriously and finding ways to create that human touch.
So it's not just about screens, it's also about the content. Because the screen is a tool. Just as a surgical knife can be used to heal, it could be used to kill. The tool itself cannot be blamed. It’s the intention and the creative process that truly reveals what the effects will be in our broader society.
What has changed since you wrote your original manifesto in 2014?
Since 2014, we have seen the emergence of Web 3 through blockchain technology. Web 2 was a dark period, particularly in regards to data sovereignty. Surveillance capitalism, I believe, is a very unethical business practice of Web 2 that has dominated our lives, and it's really impacted us in a negative way.
Data is power, data ownership is a human right, and people need to be educated about the importance of that. If we were able to capture our data – that is, the personal data leakage that Web 2 companies exploit for monetary gain – and self-custody our own data, we could choose to sell or license that information and be remunerated for it. I believe that would be a fair situation, because our data is a record of who we are.
Why do you think we're seeing so few female founders in the space? How can we get more women to participate in Web 3?
It's only because we're so early. Web 3 is a space where females can naturally thrive, because it is about collaboration, co-creation and community. Women will thrive in Web 3 unlike any other era of human history, because it is accessible to us. There are no barriers to entry. It is simply a matter of engaging, initiating and creating communities or core groups and teams with other people who can contribute to a project.
About two generations from now, we will be much more unified as a transcendent culture in the metaverse. It is actually an extremely spiritual experience to meet people in the metaverse, talk to them, and only care about the person, what they say, what they are about. We're not judging them by any other factor, except maybe they have some cool wings.
Allowing people to express themselves as an avatar, no matter what their backgrounds are, makes for genuine human connections that transcend race, religion, gender, and whatever other divisions exist in the real world. All these issues will not be issues in 50 years. People will be activated around causes or common interests instead. It's going to be a whole new world.
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