Is technology truly a neutral tool, or is that only part of the story?
Glitchcraft and the Digital Commons
An experiment with data doppelgängers, this performance lecture draws on literary histories of the doppelgänger and emphasizes the ambivalent dis/enchantments of living with new forms of computational power that are simultaneously ordinary and uncanny. McGlotten considers versions of ourselves and others that come to life in ‘data’ form, animated by usually invisible forces. Considering recent developments in AI, including data-twins and ChatGPT, they offer the term ‘the computational hex’ to emphasize some of the witchy, weird, and queer entanglements of identities, bodies, and other forces that help comprise data doubles–the surveilling gazes of corporations and states, as well as the diverse experiences induced by discussions with chatbots. How might the notion of the computational hex help us to understand something about histories of algorithmic sorting or the anxieties and pleasures attendant to digital rabbitholes?
Gender queer identity in virtual spaces
Entering the Metaverse offers an enormous potential for freedom of expression. Without a physical body, the constraints of social convention — or even gravity — need no longer apply, so what choices are you ready to make? Many metaverse environments are created by a homogenous group of California developers, and often offer us the same binary menu we are only now breaking free from. Can gendered avatars be a useful new frontier for queer activism and experimentation? Is the idea of gender even relevant in virtual worlds? If we take other cosmologies of gender into virtual spaces, what new forms of embodied identity can we imagine?
More than 4 out of 10 people in the Netherlands experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. With unprecedented waiting lists, limited access to healthcare and an acute shortage on mental health professionals, alternative routes of (self-)care are needed, and digital technology might be paving the way. There’s a new wave of apps for mindfulness and yoga, watches that measure stress, online health consults and digital psychologists. VR, augmented reality and mixed reality are successfully used as tools in the treatment of various mental health diseases. Digital technologies are hailed as a solution to both the pressure on mental health professionals and the lack of access to healthcare. Will the metaverse serve as a portal to a new era in mental health? How will it impact the well-being of those who dwell within it for extended periods of time? How can we create safer online spaces in which (self-)care, well-being and empathy are promoted?
Rituals, Spirituality and Community
Religious groups and the spiritually curious have always used means to achieve their spiritual goals, from mantras to icons, relics to rituals. What is different today is the use of technological means to facilitate spiritual experiences and quests. Apps help you meditate, pastors lead VR churches and virtual sanctuaries bring communities together. These developments change how we practice spirituality, how we connect with spiritual communities and how we experience the Divine.
The Metaverse could play a pivotal role in both conserving religious heritage and providing endless opportunities for spiritual worldbuilding. How will spirituality shape the metaverse and vice versa? What will rituals, relics and icons look like? And will the metaverse give rise to new gods and belief systems?
Personal identity is multi-layered. Research has shown that we are all made up of different types of ‘self’, which explains why we can hold contradictory beliefs and can change over time. Context determines which traits are allowed to shine – you may highlight different traits to your boss than to your oldest friend. If outward identities are fluid, and unlimited, in the Metaverse, to what extent do the avatars we create influence our (analogue) sense of self? What are the risks of playing with multiple identities, and might our digital personas one day feel more relevant than our physical ones?
Should the law adapt to the metaverse, or should the metaverse adapt to the law? It’s a common trope that technology evolves faster than legislators can keep up – but courts are already applying laws to the Metaverse is surprising ways. Countries as diverse as China and Columbia are now hosting trials in metaverse courtrooms, with Colombian judges even using ChatGPT to write legal opinions. But it’s not just deliberating physical-world cases in virtual spaces – we are starting to create legal precedent on what happens in these virtual worlds themselves. It is understandable that brands want to protect their copyright, but if Andy Warhol appropriating Campbell’s soup is considered art, why is appropriating a Birkin bag in an NFT considered a copyright infringement? Where is the line between art and appropriation, and should it be different in virtual spaces? Should digital creators have new or different standards? And in a truly global virtual environment, whose law applies?
Climate concerns have long haunted the fashion industry, and the time to rely solely on traditional sustainability actions is in the past. Digitizing fashion seems to be the only way forward – and fashion in the metaverse is the newest trend that is believed to future-proof the industry. Drastically reducing overproduction, overconsumption and transportation, proponents celebrate digital fashion as a pathway to sustainability while also being a commercial alternative to the physical industry. At the same time, critics contend that the data centers and NFTs required for this transformation consume enormous amounts of energy, and the risks of extraction and greenwashing are not to be ignored. Will digital fashion prove to be the next wave of green capitalism, or will it be a new form of greenwashing? What eco-friendly solutions are required if we are to move forward with the metaverse?
THE MESSYVERSE ends with a bang on Oct 6 with a special program. Geoffrey Lillemon invites visitors to the “The Breathing Palace”, an immersive experience and sensory celebration of breath, light, and space. Professor Payal Arora shares insights about the Digital Divide during a mini-lecture and panel discussion. Artist Serwah Attafuah closes off with a special presentation of her metaverse: An Afro-Futuristic Dreamscape.
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Over the past decades, Big Tech corporations based in the United States have governed most of the digital infrastructures around the world and gained excessive powers over the Global South. From undersea cable networks that follow colonial and slave trade routes to the extraction of data, labor and resources: digital colonialism – the use of digital technology for political, economic and social domination of another nation or territory – is quietly engulfing the world. With US tech giants shaping up and dominating the development of the metaverse, vital questions are raised about the foundation and future of this digital ecosystem. Can we head towards an “open and inclusive metaverse” if its fundamentals are rooted in the colonial architecture of Silicon Valley? Can the metaverse overcome the digital divide as well as the expansion of digital colonialism?
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These programs are part of THE MESSYVERSE. By buying a ticket you can experience the first fully digital fashion show FUTURE FRONT ROW, the exhibition and attend the programs on the day you purchase a ticket for.
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