Steven Kainth, founder of creative research studio, Elluminate Me, helps luxury and technology brands anticipate the future. Here he explains how digital innovations can ensure our legacy as responsible ancestors
The Chinese philosopher Confucius said that “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we only have one”. When I turned 40, I reflected upon my life until that point and realised two things. The first was that I was about one third of the way through my working life, which meant I had an enormous amount of time and energy left to make a positive impact. The second was that I was incredibly lucky to live in an economically and politically stable country with access to opportunities most people in the world could only dream of. From that point on, my life’s purpose became a journey of working towards being a good ancestor.
In the future, my descendants will have access to my digital footprint from which they will be able to reflect on the kind of person I was. Living a life full of purpose has become the most important aspect of being alive for me.
As a creative research studio, Elluminate Me helps global consumer brands to see the future with a little more clarity – and purpose – working at the intersection of retail strategy, technological innovation and understanding consumer behaviour. How our descendants will judge us, and why it is vital that we all aim to become good ancestors, is central to the way we work with clients in order to fuel innovation.
The internet is crucial to this. It not only changed the world, but also our daily lives — and what’s to come will be even more radical. Technology is about to become ambient and omnipresent in both the atmosphere and inside our bodies, where sensors will monitor our vital signs and offer hyper-personalised health and wellness treatments. The real ‘a-ha’ moment for me came in 2018 after spending a couple of years helping Meta to launch Oculus VR in Europe. I came across the work of Swedish interactive artist Erika Marthins, who demonstrated how our senses can be manipulated in VR.
Erika showed how amplifying our sense of sight and hearing in a certain way could change our sense of taste: could marshmallows taste like carrots if you see carrots and hear the crunch of them? The answer was yes! The potential of using technology to change our physiology was both exciting and frightening. I started to question everything, comparing real-world experiences with a pure digitally native approach to the world. Today, the agency’s job is to identify emerging trends and to see the value in new services and business models. Nowhere is this more evident than across the evolution of digital goods and services, the power and potential of NFTs and what the metaverse will become with all its complex layers. Over the next few years, the metaverse will be a regular place we all visit or access through a variety of devices. We’re already starting to see luxury brands drop digital twin products that can be used with avatars in metaverse games, such as the high-end skins Balenciaga created in the popular game Fortnite.
While the economic opportunities for fashion and luxury brands which embrace new digital tools and services is vast, there are also new opportunities to work towards building a better future. It is critical that our purpose at Elluminate Me is to think about ways to develop new technologies and services that have a positive impact on the lives of millions of people and the environmental ecosystem. We started by asking, could we create a virtual city that reduces carbon emissions? Could we build a service that ultimately has the potential to change consumer purchasing behaviour by presenting planet-conscious alternatives? Could technology and new virtual worlds be the key component that solves the climate crisis? Could we create a new borderless way for people to earn a living from a virtual city and allow the market to determine someone’s value instead of a rate determined by where that person lives in the world? The answers to these questions can be seen in our virtual city: Lunaria.
How do you build a virtual city? First, we built an online product directory in which we’ve curated the products and services of companies striving to do better, both environmentally and ethically. By presenting alternatives to the everyday products we consume across our lifestyles, we hope consumers will think twice about what they regularly purchase, and over time make a conscious decision to switch to a better alternative. Our focus is to work as a collective of producers and consumers striving towards positive change. In doing so, we start to build a virtual community.
Like any real-world city, Lunaria needs to have utility and function that supports its community and visitors. This is why we built a feature call ‘eResidency’ that allows anyone to become a citizen of Lunaria. It works by allowing the user to show off a portfolio of work that we call their ‘Superpowers’ along with their ‘Loves’, which gives visitors an insight into the individual and their life purpose, in order to attract paid work. The difference in what we’ve built is the power for individuals to use our virtual city as a platform to monetise their superpowers and soft skills. For example, a graphic designer who also happens to be amazing at cooking pizza can offer paid online training, alongside writing and selling retro comic books, all made possible via their eResidency profile.
The advancement of artificial intelligence and robotics is creating greater efficiencies in the workplace that is resulting in the loss of many jobs worldwide. In the future, many people will have to supplement their basic incomes with other forms of paid work to an international pool of buyers. Today no such service exists, and we aim to become the first of its kind.
Online communities already exist across social media today, but the promise of new virtual cities lies in the collective power and potential for a highly aligned community to create change. This will happen through adopting Web3 practices, such as geographical decentralization, to open opportunities for all; governance by crypto token holders, instead of power being controlled by a single centralised company; and the embrace of augmented reality and spatial web tools as opposed to flat websites.
We have an opportunity to rethink everything because of the internet, and the next reiteration that some call the metaverse will change everything again. As we leave digital breadcrumbs by spending time online and crafting our digital identities, it’s vital we think about our legacy and how our descendants will judge their ancestors.