We are sharing 10 reasons to believe the metaverse can be built for better… This is an excerpt from the latest issue of the Grey Swan Guild’s news wrap. Read the full article here: The Future of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging (DIEB): in web3 and the Metaverse from lead editors Sylvia Gallusser and Antonia Nicols.
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”)
8. 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)
9. 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)
10. 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)