In this empty shop, two artists opened a window into a dystopian future

“How do we make it safe? How do we make it safe for people? But we also say: how do you make it friendly and how do you make it beautiful?”

Science fiction has been asking these questions for a long time. Technologists like Mark Zuckerberg are pushing the concept of the metaverse, an immersive online world where we will (supposedly) live, work and play. It is also an important part of the story around cryptocurrency and NFTs: the currency and ownership of the virtual world.

But literally since the metaverse was invented, it has been accompanied by dystopian fears. Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel snow crash, who coined the word to describe a three-dimensional, immersive successor to the Internet, envisioned it as an anarchic, capitalist free-for-all where malicious hackers use QR code-like images to infect online citizens with mental viruses. that real-world brain damage. A Generation Earlier, William Gibson’s neuromancer visualized the “matrix” as a Tron-like an online universe where immensely powerful artificial intelligences deploy humans as their surrogates in a shadowy cyberwar.

Reeves is happy to acknowledge their influences. She says the more the merrier in this conversation about where we’re going.

Salama says the metaverse is an idea at this point – we don’t have the shape for it.

“There’s a pressure not to have big technology controlling Web 3.0” [a hypothetical future for the internet]like a Meta, like an Apple, and that’s the conversation we’re having right now, Who is? building instead of what we are building.”

But the pair say we need to start thinking about what we’re building now — “before it turns into a runaway train,” Salama says.

“Is it Skynet? Is it going to swallow us all without any control on our behalf?”

Reeves says it’s time to draw on the lessons we’ve learned from how social media has transformed our lives and relationships, “before we do this next immersive thing that goes deeper into our minds and bodies.”

“Before we even do that, let’s have an ethical foundation in that…it could be a really beautiful thing.”

So they came up with a series of virtual drugs that can make you more intelligent, regulate emotions, increase curiosity or nostalgia, mind hacks that can help you cope with trauma and encourage self-expression.

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Reeves says empathy itself — which they envision as a virtually injectable mental state — is key to making the online future a better place, where we can participate in acts of creation rather than just re-create our real-life conflicts and fears.

They use the Store – which is part of the City of Melbourne’s Shopfront Activation program that offers low-cost or free space to artists, budding entrepreneurs and craft makers – not only for the exhibition, but also to hold weekly talks.

Reeves says: “Technology is often shortcuts: but shortcuts can be good and shortcuts can be bad. Brands will lead everyone there – but this is a future that belongs to all of us: we have a voice and we have a say.”

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