‘I’m favouring AR over VR until the clunky hardware catches up’

The return of SXSW delivered what was needed: a real-life chance to connect, muse and ‘nerd-out’ on the next frontier for the new economy, writes CHEP Network head of technology consulting, Josh Speight.

After a two-year hiatus, “SouthBy” was back and (although a lighter version), the opportunity to nerd-out in real-life was an amazing reminder to the power of in-person connection.

For most of us, it was the first physical event we’d been to in two years. With a palpable hesitancy to mingle and interact, the first few days felt like a high-school disco. Fast-forward three margaritas later and connections were formed sharing stories of the past year.

Although this year’s conference was slimmer by design, the daily ritual of meticulously selecting which of the 100+ sessions to attend still caused plenty of FOMO. Unsurprisingly, Web3, the Metaverse and Blockchain, dominated as topics.

Did somebody say The Metaverse?

It wouldn’t be a technology conference if the ‘m-word’ wasn’t mentioned. The Metaverse has been a buzzy term since Meta’s (previously facebook) late 2021 announcement, and was the most talked about subject this year by far.

The blending of digital and physical worlds is already here and it’s likely you’ve experience micro-fragments of the metaverse every week. For example, UberEats delivers from virtual restaurants – places that have no physical prescence – but have a pseudo-digital identity dependent on local food demands. Sounds kind of like the metaverse, right?

Despite a few superfluous brand activations and a couple of jabs at Zucks, the theme was clear: we are witnessing only the first iterations of the ‘verse, and the community should be approached with authenticity and respect.

The ‘new ownership’ economy

Since its inception in the early 2000’s, Web2 has introduced us to the democratisation of content creation and publishing through social media and peer-to-peer services, like Instagram, Uber and AirBnB. Web3 gives those creators immutable ownership to their content, devoid from traditional organisations – Music producers are collecting direct and fair royalties, artists are minting NFTs (and making millions) and virtual fashion designers are partaking in the world’s first Virtual Fashion Show.

This is revolutionising the creator economy, which is already larger than the movie, TV, and music markets put together, with a total market size estimated at US$104bn. Blockchain is ‘fixing’ Web2’s mistakes, by giving creators direct monetary returns for all their content creations. We’re entering the ownership economy.

Taking the lessons of Web2 into Web3

We’re experiencing a significant cultural shift and the next frontier of the internet. It’s an exciting, but complex future that we’re witnessing first-hand. As we look to capitalise on these new opportunities, let’s take the learnings from web2 and head into the future responsibly.

Amy Webb from Future Institute Today hypothesised what the future of Web3 would look like. She gave us two scenarios: In the first, consumers have more control and trust than ever before, with radical inclusivity, accessibility and transparency. The second (and more likely) scenario, she said in jest, “[…]People will have dozens of virtual meta-versions of themselves promoting an unprecedented amount of fraud and misinformation”.

Webb’s key takeaway was to “not get too distracted by the shiny things”. There are some big Web3 buzzwords flying around, but once the dust settles, we’ll see the true potential of the underlying infrastructure and we’ll need to approach responsibly.

A better Augmented Reality

Back to something more light, I got a chance to experience a taster of The BBC’s Green Planet experience, which demonstrated augmented reality (AR) done well – and not just because David Attenborough is a national treasure. With your mobile and headphones, you explored a virtual rainforest, taking educational cues from Sir David along the way. The concept lent itself well to the immersive storytelling AR can facilitate without feeling laboured.

For us normal ad-types, I’m favouring AR over VR until the clunky hardware catches up to create more intuitive and accessible experiences. The VR space still feels reserved for high-end gaming and specialised art installations, in which you’re immersed in the content for longer periods of time. I think we’ll see greater adoption once we can personally access this content in the privacy of our own homes with ‘lighter’ hardware. Although the participants of the Hottieverse might disagree with me – a crowd favourite in the SXSW Experience Reality Exhibition.

With two years’ worth of catch-up to be done, this year’s SXSW felt like a late-night Netflix binge. Rapidly bringing us back up-to-speed before the new season releases, so we can hit play together. Given the pace of innovation in the new economy, next year will promise to be a more accurate reflection on the current state of play and a more pronounced view on the future. I’ll enthusiastically be there, watching it all unfold, with a margarita in hand.

Josh Speight

CHEP Network head of technology consulting, Josh Speight.


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