Next tech era: play + deeply human experiences

It is becoming easier and cheaper than ever to purchase or create new tech products and learn anything you want to know about how to use them. At the same time, this extreme accessibility is leading to a feeling of oversaturation of content, information and new products being produced. On the social platforms I peruse, I’ve increasingly seen people express a feeling of there being too much: too much content, too many subscription services, too many new social platforms. Within all of this, I’m extremely excited and hopeful when I see what the increased accessibility to emerging technology is allowing my peers and I to create. Many of my friends and collaborators across the world are using emerging technologies to develop new forms of creative expression and shift paradigms. I’ll outline a few of the projects and trends I’m seeing.

New forms of worldbuilding

Llainwire immediately comes to mind as someone using technology to craft a world around their music different to what we have seen before. The visuals they create to accompany the music include avatars in CGI universes which Llainwire produces, edits and directs. Eugene Angelo shoots the video footage for these rich videos on iPhone. Together, they show how small teams can now create whole worlds with tools that many of us have in our pockets.

Still from the video for Llainwire's track Trust Fund (2023)
Still from the video for Llainwire's track Trust Fund (2023)

I also recently came across the story of the artist Teflon Sega. They created a digital avatar and pseudonym to release music with. The start of this character came about when the artist had been signed and shelved by a major label and eventually turned to releasing music via a new anonymous digital character to still keep expressing themselves creatively. Using YouTube, they learned how to make 3D animations. In an interview with The Red Bulletin, the artist recently shared:

“..real-time animation and motion capture is so new and it’s becoming accessible for creators in their homes, without studios or big budgets. People would send messages complimenting my ‘team’ on their work. I wanted to show that I’m just making this stuff in my garage, and that you can do it, too.”

Zooming out a bit, I predict that gaming aesthetics will permeate different cultural spheres even more strongly in the future. We’ve seen growing trends of people acting like NPCs (non-playable characters) on our feeds with the likes of Pinkydoll really bringing the content style to mainstream awareness. MSCHF’s red boots and other aesthetics reminiscent of gaming on recent catwalks show that similar ideas are big and growing in fashion right now too.

MSCHF’s red boots
MSCHF’s red boots

The lines between fiction and reality are becoming increasingly blurred and artists that are experimenting with creating new types of digital worlds are garnering a lot of interest. As knowledge and tools to create these kinds of digital worlds are becoming ever more accessible, I’m excited to see what is created in this realm.

The recent spike in views on the Skibidi Toilet videos on platforms like TikTok and YouTube shows how interested people are in absurd, action-packed gaming aesthetics with strong storylines. What I find especially fascinating is that these videos are resonating most strongly with Gen Alpha, indicating the type of content younger generations want to consume. In the realm of music, I predict a rise in artists who lean into aesthetics popularised by social media algorithms. These include interesting transitions, intriguing opening scenes, strong lore, fantasy worlds, fast cuts, and symbols and formats carrying over between content. Right now there is also a big fascination around AI, the blurring boundaries between humans and machines, and explorations that circle around uncanny valley aesthetics and so we will likely continue to see a lot of this coming through in artistic creative expression.

Hardware renaissance

With many of us now using the same technology that only changes marginally with each upgrade, e.g. the Apple ecosystem, it feels as if we have reached a type of inflection point. A move back to more plurality in the types of hardware we use and own has steadily been creeping into the cultural zeitgeist in recent years. Vintage tech like analogue cameras and more recently digital cameras and camcorders are experiencing a surge in popularity. A lot of experimentation with custom hardware is also occurring. Kanye West’s 2021 Donda Stem Player stands out as a playful example in this realm which reimagined new roles and applications for hardware linked to an album release.

As it becomes cheaper and easier to produce hardware, the entry level pricepoints are dropping and it is becoming more accessible as a medium to experiment with. Lychee, Inc is a company that I find really exciting in this realm. Co-founders Tigris Li and Eugene Angelo recently shared that they are creating cultural hardware that encourages users to play and experiment with the hardware. Recently they released a small run of handheld devices in collaboration with Zora Zine which light up in sync with music that is played near them. Lychee is focusing on utilising hardware to connect with younger generations and shift culture and I’m looking forward to seeing what they release next. Technologies needed for hardware creation becoming more accessible is allowing for easier production on a smaller scale which greatly reduces the barrier to entry into the hardware-as-medium world.

Lychee x Zora Zine
Lychee x Zora Zine

There are also projects tapping into nostalgic hardware behaviours and extending these to create new models for the future. One project doing this is USB Club. Bring your own USB to an event or get one at their event station and receive a mix of files curated specifically for that event. This could include the likes of music, reference images, or readings. In a world of information overload, it feels really nice to browse curated files that you can only receive through being at a specific event or from someone who was at that event. Irl distribution of a small collection of files feels like the ideal antidote to the pace at which new information and content are shared on digital platforms.

There’s a really fascinating dichotomy here between a return to vintage technology like digicams alongside new custom hardware becoming easier to develop using tech like 3D printing. Branching out into new forms of hardware allows people to signal their identity and engage with tech in a way that feels more fun and playful again. Right now it feels like that genuine joy and discovery felt while using a product or software is something that is lacking in a lot of online spaces and business models. Simultaneously, people are craving it more than ever.

With AI content generation on the rise and more people having the tools to produce a large range of content types, it appears as if the amount of content reaching our feeds daily will continue to increase. This creates quite a difficult environment for connecting with audiences and building genuine relationships. But the good thing about challenging phases like this is that it will lead to brilliant forms of innovation. Coupled with the fact that the tools at our disposal provide us with more opportunities and pathways than ever before, I’m excited to see which people and projects create something different and captivating enough to shift paradigms. I also strongly feel that as technologies and AI become ever more integrated into society, it will be the stories and experiences that make us feel truly human that will be more important than ever.

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