Re-imagining Tomorrow

Dust Bunny looked deep into my eyes as I spoke to her in a techno club called Cyberpunk Garage. Those oversized blue eyes on her Studio Ghibli inspired avatar. An instant sense of connection caught me completely off guard. I was overwhelmed by the absurdity of the moment but I ran with it.

Turn of Centuries

The dawn of the 20th century was steeped with optimism, economic prosperity, artistic revival and technological innovation. However, la Belle Époque was not as magnificent and untroubled as we often now imagine it to be. Rapid technological progress was accompanied by extreme uneasiness about the unprecedented pace of change and concerns over the impact of globalisation.

The post-Napoleon 19th century was dominated by the theory that individuals pursuing their own singular purpose would garner the best results for broad society. An ethos of laissez faire capitalism alongside brutal colonialism enriched the ruling classes.

The rising prosperity in the major Western cities was contrasted by stark financial disparities both within countries and between them. Competition was intense at the nation state level with empire building and military development, ultimately culminating in World War 1. The system, the world order if you will, was designed in such a way that it got exactly the results that it was erroneously designed to get.

Welcome to the 21st century. Enlightenment values of reason, science, and humanism have brought progress. Health, prosperity, safety, peace, and happiness have tended to rise worldwide. Yet in many ways today we are facing a hope deficit. It is not just one generation or social cohort — it is a pervasive feeling of anxiety about the state of the world and the future of things.

Commodification of personal data for the core purpose of profit-making has led to surveillance capitalism. Social media has strategically polarised discourse and fractured societies. Democracy itself has come under renewed scrutiny and attack.

If we are to believe what we are being told, the outlooks are bleak and the future is a dystopian one — devoid of climate health on the one hand, and human ethics — or any central moral cohesion — on the other. Our physical systems are archaic, they can not keep up with our current pace of change — or growth; while our digital systems were built on the wrong foundations to start with, and so they no longer can function sustainably in a way that works for the many.

What underlines both of these early centennial periods is the fact that the systems that were built in each phase of our society garnered results that were disastrously misaligned with the objectives they were there to achieve.

Yet from the ashes of these fires, new ideas, new systems, have come to pass. Both periods resulted in the emergence of experimental communities, driven by a marriage of dislocation and idealism, that have disrupted traditional manners of socio-economic life.


The author Anna Neima notes that “to invent a ‘perfect’ world is to lay bare what is wrong with the real one.” The utopians of the post-World War 1 era did not look for reform via the usual methods of electoral politics, civil disobedience, or even violent revolution. Instead they focused on articulating a truly transformative society. At heart of their endeavours, there was a shared understanding that while idealism can be accused of naivete, if one doesn’t believe in the ideal then the idealistic version can never come to pass.

Their aim was to encourage complete self actualisation, uniting head, heart and hand. For example, Dartington Hall, a lavishly endowed English country estate, mixed chicken farming, open air theatre, spiritual exploration and communal self government. Atarashiki Mura, a small collective of Japanese intellectuals cultivated rice and aimed for self actualisation through the arts.

Fordlandia, designed by Henry Ford, was a rubber producing town which was to demonstrate how paternalistic industry could generate a harmonious society if given free rein. What united these, and the plethora of other post-War utopian initiatives, was the belief that a new socio-economic order needed to be created.

The collective grief of society, driven by over-exposure to broken systems, had given rise to fresh, radical ideas. And while these idealists are sometimes footnoted or even mocked in the annals of history, their influence was far reaching — from providing models to the counterculture of the 1960s to the propagation of child-centred educational policies and universal access to the arts.

Today we are witnessing a paradigm change in how we integrate and interact within cultural, social and economic systems. A new generation of dreamers and creators have emerged with a vision of a decentralised society.

One where the banks and financial institutions who wiped out the aspirations of generations during the financial crisis of 2007–2008 are stripped of their unchecked power. One where the centralised actors of surveillance capitalism do not hold foreboding control over the behaviours of their customers. One where artists and creators can reap the real benefits of their work.

One where digital adventurers are respected as valued stakeholders in the virtual worlds they inhabit. These dreamers and creators are galvanised by the emergence of a blockchain-based metaverse as the historic enabler of their generation.

Scaling new worlds

The metaverse is a heated term. Matthew Ball calls it “a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”

Web pioneer Tim O’Reilly asks “what if instead of thinking of the metaverse as a set of interconnected virtual places, we think of it as a communications medium?” Debate of course also exists as to whether the metaverse is anything but a bad investment in the next fad. While all this is happening however, people are building and interacting with vast and growing virtual worlds.

Ones like VRChat where one friend of mine runs a sign language school, while another organises tech-house raves. There are millions of people inside of virtual worlds today. Not tomorrow, today. Blockchain-based virtual worlds like Decentraland and Sandbox, while slow to attract daily active users at scale, have garnered significant public and investment interest in their early life-span. Moreover, the next-gen of blockchain-based virtual worlds have essentially been financed heavily over the last twelve months. Whether we like it or not, the metaverse is coming. In this next wave, there are those who are dedicated to learning from the mistakes of the internet and building our next cultural, social and economic digital systems.

Towards utopia

It is unlikely we will go backwards — there is no precedent in history — and so the only way is forward. Which presents us with two paths. Hope for the best, or do what you can to use the technologies we have to create more sustainable future states for more people (if not all people). So the question is not what happened or why are we here, but what we will do next.

What will the systems of the next civilization look like? If you want a system that ultimately thrives solely on competition and a winner takes all philosophy, build the system that rewards that. But if you want a different system — one which draws on the principle of cooperation and collaboration, and rewards collectivism vs. self survival — design the system that rewards that behaviour.

To date there are very few, if any, systems in virtual worlds, let alone the real world, that model such a vision. So to understand what it could look like we have to look at systems beyond those of purely human creation — to consider those models from the natural world.

While we are taught from a young age that individualism is the central tenet of survival, that being able to stand on your own two feet, to manage your own resources, and focus on your own ambition are key to social status and success, the reality is that rugged individualism only gets you so far. The real key to survival through time, history and place is a focus on interdependence.

The understanding that it is impossible to achieve legacy change and impact when we seek to do things alone, and that cooperativism underpins the ecosystems of the world’s most successful species, from trees to bees to bats. Unlike pure individualism, cooperativism is built on foundations of negotiation, reciprocity, interdependence.

The belief that bigger wins can only happen when the collective pulls together, and the understanding that emotional fulfilment and reward is multiplied when it is shared.

In the words of visionary architect Bjarke Ingels, “Utopia is a literary invention of a place so perfect that it can’t exist in reality. But that’s exactly what we should be striving towards. Of course you can’t realise utopia in a single flash. What we can do, however, is make sure that every time you are called upon to design a space, you have to make this little fragment of the world more like the way you wish the world to be.”

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