Metaverse and Web3: mirage or oasis?
— Stéphane Distinguin, Founder of Fabernovel
Stéphane Distinguin founded Fabernovel in 2003. Since then, as a true jack-of-all-trades with a boundless curiosity, he has multiplied his projects: companies, publications,... and even film extras! Has the confinement linked to the pandemic affected his creativity and his thirst for innovation? Certainly not! To find one's place in the present world and in the world to come could well pass by artistic expression. And is this future world free of the concept of property? Will it lead us to consider the Metaverse and the NFT as mirages or as oasis? Let's look over our shoulder, but forward
Can you describe yourself quickly?
I am Stéphane Distinguin, founder of Fabernovel. I've done, I do other things but this remains by far my major project, the oldest and the main one, my flagship in short. I've created start-ups, I've participated in many initiatives that led to the creation of FrenchTech. Since the "Great Containment", I have been afraid of lacking creation, creativity, so I had the chance to try other practices, and as appetite comes with eating, I became even more curious and hungry than when I created Fabernovel, in 2003. I appeared in the movie Eiffel and I loved the two days of shooting, I wrote a book about a crazy or scandalous idea that came to me in April 2020: sell the Mona Lisa to finance a great recovery plan by and for culture. "Et si on vendait la Joconde" was published by JC Lattès on January 19th. I'm working on a series project as well. I collect a lot of things. Among them are a lot of lists on Post-it notes, of things to do, to see, ...
What are your favorite subjects?
The economy of creation and its history. Undertaking, especially, not to leave my part to the cat.
What is the emerging topic that you think will matter in the near future?
There are so many! There are so many of them. From the most derisory but not the least fascinating with the NFT, this technology that allows to collect things that were thought not to be collected, to the storage of CO2, the advent of climate tech that will be necessary in addition to more responsible uses, and then less funny things the return of war and therefore of perils much closer than global warming... By the way, between the pandemic and the war, we have known a few weeks where - what a joyful period - the subject after death by disease and before death by arms was the end of life... what was called the "beautiful death" until society no longer tolerates it, with good reason, and the EHPADs become "gravediggers". It is also incredible to follow research and start-ups in this field, such as Altos labs in the United States or Zoï in France, are beginning to flourish: we are promised in the coming decades the same progress in the fight against aging as in the treatment of cancer since the 1970s.There has never been so much knowledge available, but the world seems all the less certain. We are living Spencer's paradox: knowledge grows like a sphere and the surface it exposes to the unknown grows exponentially. I am unable to tell you what will be more important in the near future. Messenger RNA and hydroalcoholic gel or hypersonic missiles, Cryptopunks or Bored Apes (actually, I have a firm opinion and the mass is said)? That's probably why the arts are what interests me the most. And if I had to name one initiative, because it's close and accessible to all those who live in or pass through Paris, I would name Blanca Li's Bal de Paris. Honestly, I was a little disappointed but I've been kicking myself ever since for trying to dissect and chew it like a cook would go to a rival restaurant that does molecular cooking to look for the flaw behind the risk-taking. It's joyful, new, complete, ... you see a show by participating in it, you cross-dress, all the sensors are used. Frankly, go ahead and imagine what the first cinema sessions were like at the end of the 19th century.
What are the issues?
So I'm going to stay with these immersive experiences rather than hypersonic missiles.The main issue? They are disappointing. Everything is progressing, fast, but we are far from there. The equipment is heavy and cumbersome, the image imperfect, blurred, pixelated, and, to my knowledge, apart from Blanca Li, no one has really thought about making it a "total" show: a fiction, real time, with interactions between humans and machines that make each performance unique. Will the Metaverse, the Web3 be a mirage or an oasis? That's the question and I bet on the oasis, but until then, while looking for it, we can get lost and meet mirages...
What changes, what opportunities can it bring?
Let's go back to utopias and live up to our times (finally? maybe?).The two challenges: leave the Web open and free, decentralized, in the hands of its inventors and engineers. To return to the original promise of the Web. But also to allow a generation to create a patrimony, there is a form of injustice or revenge of the previous generations to notice that the digital natives who live and make the industrial revolution from which we all benefit are deprived of a more sound and stumbling patrimony. How many will own their apartment or a car? It's funny to say that the World Economic Forum announces the end of property for this generation... is it their will or a necessity? We tell ourselves that property is has been when it is not theft but have we given them the choice to own anything other than a smartphone? Web3, blockchain and NFT are about valuing and making "liquid" thousands of hours of practice. It is for these two reasons that I am very convinced that we are dealing with an oasis rather than a mirage (remember Clubhouse last year?).For the opportunities, we will have to trust the artists more than ever. I would like to point out that this Web3 is the first one not to pit creators against each other (I've lived through the Homeric battles of the new broadcasters against the rights holders) but to propose virtuous models of collaboration and challenge them to invent together the works and experiences that will shape a new civilization.Imagine what Moebius could have proposed to us as a Metaverse experience? Since he is no longer here, I would dream of being able to immerse myself in the world of Bianca Argimon's drawings... that's a project that would motivate me. And let's not hesitate to invite other art forms or other artists. I'm thinking of my friend Fabien Iliou, scenographer, one of my best companions when it comes to thinking about immersive experiences, visual effects and perception.
What are the obstacles, the dangers?
Interoperability is a promise without which this new generation of applications and experiences will not happen. Equipment will also be an obstacle. The cell phone took the previous generation of the web and its uses to the skies... the immersion we are promised still requires a new type of terminal and dedicated screen, and it's not certain that we will all think about owning these bulky, expensive terminals that go out of date quite quickly. The brakes on the uses of blockchain are even more numerous: difficulty of access, complexity of use, enormous risk of loss or theft, ... imagine the brake that "I don't put my credit card on the Internet" could represent for the deployment of e-commerce!So when you try to link the two, everything becomes an exponent of brakes, risks and dangers.Personal data will be an increasingly critical subject. One of the initial promises of the blockchain is decentralization and transparency, so it can help to get out of the Web 2.0 logic that has been going on until now "if you don't pay for the service, you are the product". However, and NFTs are an excellent example, we will need more and more trusted third parties, services... as always, new intermediaries will emerge and they will have to manipulate our data... And then, major danger, there is a happy part, a return to the libertarian origins of the Internet but we can't ignore that Web3 and metavers are resource consuming uses and that fundamentally despite decentralization, transparency, interoperability, it is an Internet of property and therefore of the rich, whether in equipment, in resources/energy, in skills, in digital goods (NFT or cryptos).
"We are living Spencer's paradox: knowledge grows like a sphere and the surface it exposes to the unknown grows exponentially"
Who are the players in this market?
Who can afford not to be? We will all be players. As always, we will start with a handicap (market, powerful players, capital to invest) but if you consider Sorare, RTFKT or Ubisoft, we are better equipped in France and in Europe even if the very big players GAFA / MAGMA (to integrate the M's of Meta and Microsoft very present on these subjects), Coinbase, Binance, OpenSea, ... are unfortunately not, once again, European.
How did you come into contact with this issue?
I have often compared digital entrepreneurship and creation to rock, to pop culture. When you go out and listen to music in the 1970s, you go from rock, to soul, to pop, to funk, to glam rock, to disco, to punk... I always wondered how we would consider these musics in 4 centuries? I, who am totally hermetic to baroque music, who doesn't see any difference, do we find this variety in a single decade of baroque music when we have lived it from the inside?In short, a way of saying that when you're passionate about it, you're so "inside" that it's very difficult to say exactly where and when it all starts... and you end up seeing differences that are of interest to a handful of people.
Or can we find out more?
In my book, "Et si on vendait la Joconde?" published by JC Lattès and then just about everywhere, because everything leads to it and just about everyone thinks about it, has an opinion, often strong. It's a field and a moment of madness where, despite what people say (of course, today you'll find almost as many long-time bitcoin enthusiasts as early resisters after the Liberation!), you can quickly become an expert in this extremely rich and abundant field and you're bound to find even more experts than you. Isn't that crazy? This invites both pretension and humility.