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AfroTech World 2022 Covered Immersive Tech, NFTs, and Creator Communities

The two-day conference in Virbela covered XR, NFTs, and other aspects of Web3.


If you’re a regular ARPost reader, you’ve probably seen us cover annual events like The Polys, the Immerse Global Summit, and the Augmented World Expo. This month, we were invited to cover an event for the very first time – AfroTech World.

Here, we’re going to introduce AfroTech, and of course cover what we could catch from the two-day conference, which took place in Virbela.

Meet AfroTech

AfroTech is a company and community that promotes technology and finances with a focus on the Black community. This provides a certain atmosphere to the community, but also creates a dedicated space to discuss the goals, obstacles, and opportunities that are unique to this group.

Their virtual conference, hosted by Blavity Inc. and streamed on YouTube, attracted hundreds to a virtual world built in Virbela. Speakers discussed topics like XR, blockchain, NFTs from the perspectives of black technologists, entrepreneurs, and creators and drew special attention to topics like equity and access.

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As AfroTech World didn’t have an opening address, we may start the article by borrowing from PwC Technology Impact Leader, Mitra Best, in a “Diversity and Equity in the Metaverse” panel discussion during Virbela’s recent Hands In Enterprise Metaverse Summit:

“It’s really important to make sure that we have diversity in the creator community, in the builder community of these virtual worlds … We each have a responsibility and we each can do something, even if it’s deciding not to be a bystander.”

Roots of the Metaverse in Gaming and Social Media

The conference opened with a discussion titled “Gaming and the Genesis of the Metaverse” featuring gaming and entertainment producer and broadcaster Erin Ashley Simon of XSET, and Facebook Reality Labs Director of Augmented Reality Business Development and Partnerships Chris Barbour. The discussion was moderated by CEEK VR CEO Mary Spio.

AfroTech World 2022 - Gaming and the Genesis of the Metaverse discussion

“The next sway in terms of what people want from their experiences is becoming increasingly immersive,” said Barbour. “The timing is kind of right for the technology to evolve to the point that these kinds of experiences are possible.”

A lot of that technology came about through gaming. Technologies like real-time rendering and spatial audio that were initially developed for 2D games were required to make AR and VR impactful.

”Gaming was already ahead of the curve,” said Simon. “When we discuss the metaverse and see all of these examples of it, it’s just about immersing yourself in these digital, versatile experiences.”

As these trends take themselves into other fields like industry, education, and medicine, it’s going to take a lot of creative power. There, once again, we see the echoes of other forms of media in XR.

“I believe that there is going to be an incredibly strong creator economy to generate all of this content,” said Barbour. “A lot of the ways that creators are thinking about ownership and community, the norms for that, are being set by social media.”

Unfortunately, not all of the aspects of existing media that are carried into XR are positive. Many of the biggest obstacles to the kind of creative economy that Barbour is talking about are much older.

“There are some amazing black creators but they’re still battling racism and sexism,” Simon said. “As we grow this environment, education and access are going to be just as important as technological advancement.”

“NFT 101” With SWOPES

Speaking of education and access, artist Elise Swopes presented “NFT 101” – a beginner’s guide to non-fungible tokens. Swopes also addressed how NFTs fit into the larger Web3 movement by creating ownership of digital information and transparency of digital transactions.

AfroTech World 2022 - Elise Swopes “NFT 101”

“Web3 is really about read, write, trust,” said Swopes. “We really do have the ability to see how things work behind the scenes wherein Web2 we didn’t need to know how Facebook worked, we just signed up.”

While we typically think of NFTs in terms of digital art, Swopes also commented on the ability of any information to be minted on a blockchain. While this does include digital art and other virtual assets, it may also one day include personally identifiable information that denizens of the current internet may not have a lot of control over.

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“NFTs are just this unbelievable opportunity for creators and people in general,” said Swopes. “There’s so much opportunity here for us to finally dictate our own rules and governance.”

The session even included a guide on how to create a cryptocurrency wallet. Swopes encouraged viewers to follow along, or at least do their own research. Though, she also acknowledged the concern that some may have.

“A lot of people say ‘I feel like it’s really scary to be a part of this community,’ and it should be really scary because it’s a free-for-all out there,” said Swopes. “There aren’t a lot of protections for creators and there aren’t really a lot of protections for buyers either. You need to make sure you’re being safe.”

Virtual Assets and “The Stapleverse”

The NFT discussion continued on day two with “Culture Icons and Their Next Web3 Investment.” Blavity Inc. co-founder and CTO Jeff Nelson spoke with Staple President Jeff Staple about how the streetwear brand went from cautiously exploring NFTs to “The Stapleverse.”

“When it came time for the NFT/crypto/Web3 space, I said, ‘Instead of me just going full-boat all-in on crypto and NFT, let me learn from people who have been in it slightly longer,’” said Staple. “That allowed me to get a taste of it and again to justify to myself whether this is going to be something that I really want to invest a lot of time, energy, and effort into. Obviously, I did.”

Of course, he could have picked worse partners. An early partner in minting and selling virtual items was RTFKT, which has since been purchased by Nike. Staple learned a lot about digital production.

“There are a lot of logistical hurdles in a creator’s way in terms of getting something physically made,” said Staple. “Every time there’s a hurdle, you are sacrificing a concept or an idea … in the digital world, anything I dream, if I can code it, it happens.”

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His current Web3 project, the Stapleverse, is in its early stages and is still materializing. Right now, fans are buying FEED NFTs that they can feed to pigeons, which are about to start appearing around New York City where Staple has its roots. As far as NFTs and digital goods, to Staple, it all makes sense.

“We are already, as humans, trading on a digital-only landscape,” said Staple. “You’re already trading equity, value, and clout on the mobile device digitally. NFTs are just kind of taking that all the way through.”

We Hope to See You Soon

There was a lot more to AfroTech. Fortunately, it was all captured, and you can watch or rewatch it on their YouTube channel. The Afrotech conference is also “taking over Austin” on November 13-17 if you want to see it live.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.