Whenever I write, it’s usually to explore the possibility of a bunch of ideas or experiences converging or moving towards an apex, it’s usually pile-driven by me being a basic bitch about the things I love and that which is simply vile. Thing is, I just came back from London, where I have been bombarded with a bunch of ideas and experiences that I’ve lived through, I know all the stories, and I know where the bodies are buried. Is Gen Z a useless generation or really just a rebranded Gen X?
The Beige And The Grey (/Black/Brown)
Usually, I live in a country where the standard uniform is to wear clothing with as many drab tones and as much mum-function as possible. I recently did a metaverse lecture where one of the students was the son or god-help-me grandson of a very popular 80s electronic group. I looked at what he was wearing and asked him to reel off his fashion. “Well this is from the Sally Army,” he referred to his brown Farrahs: ok so far, then, pointing to his t-shirt and scuffed Dunlop Green Flash said “and this was my dad’s, and these sneakers are from a friend’s dumpster.” He paused, “the moustache is my own.” He joked. Yikes. Looking like John Oates, his wet Jheri curls seemed ironic against a backdrop of brand-focused fashion-conscious 20-somethings who were over-aware of their status in the food chain.
This irony continued as I made it through the streets of London, only this time, I was the ironic iconoclast in my Target jacket and pink hair. London fashion is dry, uneventful, and tired. Surprising because, it wasn’t so long ago that we were more adventurous, even to the level of the Swiss John Oates but without the mix-and-match-that-somehow-works aesthetic. In London, the unstylish are well-thought-through.
The point I’m making is that these brown, beige, and grey/black uniformsters are our user base. Are they colourful and avant-garde in their daydreams? Are they afraid to rise above the street level of oil mixed with London rain hues? Do you need to be colourful and vivacious to be remembered? Yes, yes, yes, all of these things are important to metaverse and game developers because they are, in a way, all of us.
In Japan, there’s a system to describe this human condition and I love it: the honne–tatemae divide. Honne (本音), quite simply, is the private self, and Tatemae (建前) is the public self. The expectations of us are deflected by the facade we have to protect who we are. What society expects from us is not always who we are, and this is not a new phenomenon, no way, this is a system of self that was first identified during the post-WW2 war era of Japan. In the 1970s, it was a Professor Takeo Doi who wrote about the Anatomy of Dependence, identifying the importance of this to the growth of cultural events. 50 years later, we have secured an almost transcendence of knowing our honne and tatemae in everything we do, from walking wet London streets to basking in the neon of a post-conference booze up in Shoreditch. It may have shocked our parents or Gen Z’s grandparents to discover that all is not as it seems but we’ve grown with these feelings. We know who we are. Don’t we?
Walking down Oxford Street and a colleague tells me that a can of PRIME is going for £20. A CAN. Who the actual eff has the money in an economic crisis to both sell and buy Prime? Two icons of the late Millen-early Gen-z age have made, let’s face it, a really rubbish energy drink that I would only use for cleaning my toilet, and the kids don’t like it much either - so why is it the biggest thing of 2022 and 2023? Content. No, not of the drink, because, well, that’s just lame. It’s what you’re getting from or with the drink. You’re getting Tik Toks, YouTubes, and drama. You’re getting WWE Wrestling at the end of the day: kay-fabe which if you live in the west (and now Japan), is way more lucrative than k-drama. It’s about being seen, feeling seen, and being part of something bigger, wider, and more important than anything. It has not failed the autonomy-mastery-purpose formula. Anything that starts with a boxing match and ends with a drink between friends is a beef you want to be a part of. Not since I threw my shoes at my then boyfriend's side-piece have I seen more beef. Wait a minute, I got the side-piece in the end, so, that’s worth more from a time when smartphones were called carphones.
When Gwyneth Paltrow launched a million nonsensical healthy things (how is that going btw?), Bella Hadid said hold my pint of Coachella fizziness, I need to make something that will “awaken your heart”. Kin Euphorics costs $57 for a 12-pack of 236.5ml cans. Girl, I just don’t know if I have the will to buy a drink that depends on you. Sure, the ingredients seem fun enough: a herbal mix of all the good stuff, which you know you could buy as a supplement if you wanted. Side note: I had a vegan friend, once upon a time, who didn’t want to sully her insides with meat (because that’s murder) however, she did coke as often as I change my mind.
Is this Kin the kind of thing I want to do to reach sobriety, because it feels fake. And am I ready to get sober with a bunch of supes? If you squander your youth on mindlessness you will definitely forget what Purdey’s tastes like when you are 49.
We’re in a very strange place right now, it feels like Brawndo has what plants crave when we have enough time to save the planet; we just can’t be arsed with it all and outsource our thinking to influencers. Remember when Kim Kardashian had to pay $1.26m in penalties to the SEC over crypto? Yeah, it was only 4 months ago. SEC Chair Gary Gensler said, "This case is a reminder that, when celebrities or influencers endorse investment opportunities, including crypto-asset securities, it doesn’t mean that those investment products are right for all investors."
The Lipstick King, Austin Li has a following of over 64 million followers on TaoBao. That’s no mean feat. He sells lipsticks out in seconds, and his fanbase trusts him to provide them with a solid product. In a way, he’s no different to his western contemporaries but what Austin Li is doing is technically verboten. Jing Daily reported on China’s crackdown on Sissy Men back in June of last year, earmarking celebs such as Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo (read about them in my previous Metacrun.ch article here). However, removing such influencers and endorsements might work for the government on beauty products, but Austin Li works solely on lipsticks. He’s earned his right to be there.
I’ve just completed an amazing k-drama where in episode 5, an influencer was hired on numbers alone. The content would be provided and “packaged” by the influencer. It was as simple as her holding a purse and live streaming on insta. She smiled and talked gushingly about the product before stopping the livestream and po-facedly telling the fashion PR that (the product) wasn’t all that and where’s her money? It reminded me of a short story collection I wrote in 2016 about young men and women (called the Young Neues) who had been trafficked into the world of the influencer where they had become a borg or a hive mind, assimilated to just one thing: influencing. Though the backdrop of the story, the Mid-Levels in Hong Kong, was in ruins, everything that was front-of-camera was pristine. It’s 2023 now and though set in the near future: the Mid-Levels aside, not everything is as it seems IRL until the cameras roll, eh?
The Metaverse As A Service
Some of the things I hate about influencing are some of the things I love about influencing. You could say that my thought leadership in Metacrun.ch is a form of influence. I give you a good run-through of the best and worst of tech, web3, and metaverse stories of the week in your inbox, but I’m also terminally catty about metaverses because I actually go in and experience them—they’re not always amazing.
In Davos, I recently discovered that she who has the mic wields the power. But you can’t just go around saying or doing stuff because we want to hear it. You have to be authentic. The same goes for metaverses. Putting stuff in a metaverse just because you can is a bit stupid, don’t you think? Yet here we are in 2023 where the 10 worst brand collabs in metaverses have been detailed in all their glory. I ain’t mad at all, but I am jealous, jealous that I wasn’t even saltier as to report on what I actually think about anything that goes into, say, Roblox (other metaverses are available). So whilst you are being fed a constant stream of nonsense about the metaverse and how it will change the way we buy and the things we do, just remember that not only do we have these 10 cringemeisters but we also have a good handful of the worst NFT drops too. Porsche, who backed a dead cert in the race, were left red-faced when only 17% were sold. It’s hubris, plain and simple. The execution was lad at best, suggesting to me at least that one of the world’s most exclusive automotive companies had absolutely no clue who their end user or buyer might be and simply went with 0.0911ETH in a bear market.
When we make a start on metaverse influencing, we need to think about the bigger picture. A bit like our frenemies KSI and Logan Paul, they didn’t take 6 weeks to do PRIME, because their careers started in 2009 and 2014 respectively. This didn’t happen overnight. They didn’t wake up one day and make themselves spokespeople for lame-tasting energy drinks and white-collar amateur boxing. They didn’t write a book about Youtube and became a Youtube sensation addressing Youtube conferences around the world despite not owning a single channel. These guys grafted. They grafted and they crafted. They learned their chops and built a trusted network of fans, and if you know anything about fandom, you will be aware that fans will go anywhere for their idols. You know how I feel about Jungkook and if you don’t why are you still reading this? What KSI and Logan Paul offer, apart from a box of fake Pokemon trading cards, (but real GI Joe cards,) is authenticity in everything they say and do for their fans. BTS do it too. When authenticity messes up, it usually apologises, it dusts itself down, begs for your forgiveness and you accept it. Austin Li made a catastrophic error in June 2022, and what followed was an e-commerce blackout, plain and simple. Never complain, never explain.
When half-cocked campaigns show up with shady business leadership or hoaky brand collabs you eat it like fast food and you move on with your stomach still empty of nourishment.
Metaverses or whatever they are calling themselves this year need to wake up. The autonomy-mastery-purpose method is an integer out of range when there is a marked lack of authenticity from day one. When I deliver workshops on this I compare autonomy to the first day at school. What am I doing here? Who should I meet? Where do I go? What’s my raison d'être? If you fail that first-day scenario, no amount of NFTs, Discord channels, and PR will bring you back from the 0.0911ETH dilemma. Mastery is a bit like getting to level 20 on Candy Crush, everyone has done it and everyone knows how a match 3 works. They simply have to do it rather than try and beat it. It’s about checking in, doing good, getting gems, and sharing progress or earning progression. Purpose is stanning. It’s about not only buying PRIME drinks, but also Tik-Tokking it, blogging it, and getting them numbers. It’s about joining the KSI and Logan Paul team, driving the strategy, and onboarding the newbies. It’s the transcendent part of the experience and it isn’t achieved without autonomy and mastery.
In 1997 the Spice Girls did a brand collab with Pepsi a full 2 years before The Matrix came out. We were already post-rave and hungry for a new world. We’d changed over political leanings, president, prime ministers, and we were in the middle of a few civil wars. Some style icons had died, some celebrities were about to break the hearts of millions, yet somehow each element of our daily lives even as far back as 25+ years ago we were living honne and tatemae in Gen X. Honne and tatemae, especially tatemae is not some panacea to enhance influence, moreover, we used influence to enhance honne where our lives were without smartphones and indulged by MTV (After Hours anyone?) and tatemae where we were careful to be seen in the best places with the best faces.
As Gen Z is failing to be understood by pretty much everyone, I think I can see some similar patterns emerging in Gen Z that we had in Gen X. The honne, that private self is a thing now that young people are rejecting the constraints of non-stop communication by carrying vintage Nokia, Motorola, and even Samsung Prada’s around (if you can find them) to take calls only. By the way, they got these from their Gen X parents and wild aunts—I’m just saying. They’re turning their back on tech and focusing on themselves. But, they’re also embracing technology by making it open. The tatemae of this piece is about platforms like BeReal and Telegram and Discord rather than Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook. Please. No cares about walled gardens, especially not those places where your mom can find you. Their view is simple, we will be present but we can change our minds. We didn’t have this choice in Gen X—we got what we were given and we were expected to stan it and share the love as though it were some weird MLM. It’s 2023 and the amount of data Gen X have pumped about the place left us feeling a bit broken and tender (rather than Tinder).
So web3 aside—what’s the point of using the metaverse for branding and collabs if the young neues want to be seen on their own terms? Simply, it’s about the creator and the creator economy. If we’re creating things as developers that we think our audience wants, we are wrong. I think I told you recently that my kid cousin spent Christmas Day night playing the hits of George Michael through some in-Roblox app, she doesn’t even know who George Michael is, but that wasn’t the point. She wanted to earn some new tools to build something for herself. And when you learn, you earn. Look at Hundo: they’re doing excellent work with the cultivators of tomorrow in finding ways to educate and inspire through a chained/unchained NFT process of access and validation of education. Goodbye degrees, it’s been fun.
Gen Z doesn’t care about your book, do they have the time to read? Nope, they’re out squandering their youth on their tatemae. Only when they are able to come through the digital mass will they find that honne, the thing that they care about, their true selves. And that true self stuff might well be stored on-chain, as NFT, with an eternity of utility of living by doing, of earning by learning. You see, web3, the metaverse and all that lovely cyberism need a simple organisation of mechanics involving autonomy, mastery and purpose to get shit done. Your Gen X footprint makes no impact in a vast multiverse that doesn’t need flim-flam merchants. It needs content, people power, and freedom. It needs the room to learn and not be judged. We already know this to be true because for our generation it’s a lived experience. It’s like a game of snake, after that first death screen we learn, fast, and then we assimilate, monopolise, and project. Let them tell you what they want, and in return, you can help them to find what they need.