Aesthetics and the Metaverse
Dear Aesthetics Advocates!
I recently went to NYC for Digital Fashion Week (Sept 7-11, 2022), where I gave a talk about the importance of meaning and aesthetics for digital fashion and, more broadly, the metaverse. Reflecting on all these conversations, I want to encourage people to temper the forward momentum with ideas from the past.
Too often people seem overly enthused by the fact that we can do something that we don’t consider all the consequences. And we enthrall ourselves with something’s function without considering the aesthetics of it. Without addressing aesthetics at the start of a process, we run a greater risk that a new product, procedure, or idea becomes a mere fad that fades.
If we want new technologies, like digital fashion and the metaverse, to reinforce our flourishing as humans, then we need to bring our humanity into those spaces and not let those spaces dictate the terms. Of course, while a new technology is in its nascent phase, we may not have all the implications and applications worked out. But this is precisely why it is crucial to begin the discussion now.
There’s especially a lot of buzz about the metaverse. If the metaverse will enhance people’s lives, then it must retain core elements that people need, such as friendship, health, play, and aesthetic experience. At the very least, the metaverse (or any other context or organization) should not be wholly devoid of these core elements that people need to flourish. When you decide to play a game, it seems fine that other dimensions of your humanity take a back seat for a moment. But if people think the metaverse will be a virtual extension of the physical world, then it can’t be limited to any one aspect of our humanity.
Since much of the focus seems to be on connecting with people and playing games, I thought it would be good to urge people consider the aesthetics of these virtual worlds right away. Admittedly, virtual spaces I’ve seen often display a particular color scheme and layout. But ugly spaces have those things too. Plus, aesthetics encompasses more than just these things.
How a space makes us feel contributes directly to our well-being. If we feel unsafe in a space, for example, then we can never fully relax. Particular spaces may exist to fulfill a certain function, like work, school, or sociability, but these require aesthetic aspects in order to fulfill their functions to a higher degree. Children in their classrooms, for instance, perform better with biophilic aesthetics and design.
If the future of the internet is a more immersive experience, then all aspects of our humanity need to be considered in its development. We shouldn’t have to leave our humanity in the real world in order to participate in a virtual one.
At the moment, these thoughts are in their early phases. I’m currently working on a few articles: the metaverse and personal identity, whether the metaverse is a return to Plato’s cave, and digital selves as a replacement for the soul. As I develop these ideas, I will share them on Twitter and LinkedIn. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment, so I can hear your thoughts on the future of digital worlds. To be honest, I’m not convinced they will be great or awful, but I want to think about it now.
I’d also like to hear about how to make this newsletter something beneficial for you, so I will include a short survey in the near future to hear what kinds of things are most interesting and useful. Thank you!
What I’ve been up to.
I organized and will moderate two panel discussions about Digital Fashion for Boston Fashion Week 2022. They were both recorded: What is Digital Fashion? and Digital Fashion and Sustainability.
On October 20, I’ll be a guest lecture for a course on “Neuroaesthetics” at Harvard University, taught by Nancy Etcoff. My lecture concerns the philosophical foundations for neuroaesthetics.
I’ve been working on several articles about aesthetics in hospitals and prisons; the metaverse and personal identity; and contemplation and the metaverse.
I continue to write articles for BeautyMatter, an online resource about the beauty industry. Click here for my author page, which will grow with each article.
I’m teaching a course on “Aesthetic Taste” at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
To invite me to speak or write to your group or organization, please email me at email@example.com
Recent ARL Posts
Why Aesthetics Should Drive the Metaverse