2018: The Beginning of the X Age

I do not know if Paul Adefarasin had foreknowledge but he was on to something when he christened his annual prayer, praise and worship watch-night service some 12 years ago, The EXperience. I say this because today, we are on the cusp of a monumental change in the way we interact with and experience life. We are moving from 2 and even 3D experience into total immersion. 

Imagine being able to experience the latest Nollywood movies as if you were right there in the scene? Imagine experiencing Mo Abudu’s The Wedding Party, 1 and 2, such that you could hear and feel Sola Sobowale’s Tin Tin character heave as she gave one of her characteristic emotional outbursts? Imagine experiencing a play at Terra Kulture or a concert at the Muson and you could see, hear and feel every character, every movement, every sound, and every expression, as if you were right there on stage with the actors and performers? Imagine entering into The EXperience, lights, sounds, singers, and all, as if you were right there in Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, Nigeria? Now imagine experiencing all this from the comfort of your living room anywhere in the world?

I believe 2018 will be the beginning of the X years, or the X age, when Virtual Reality & Blockchain Technology come together and take us to the next level in experiential existence. Wikipedia defines Virtual Reality as a computer technology that uses headsets, in combination with physical environments or props, to generate realistic images, sounds and sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. This enables a person look and move around, and interact in the virtual world and with virtual features of items.

Imagine instead of ‘Facebook’, you had ‘Xlife’, where people could visit you and experience everything that you wanted to share. You could share your love of music, of fine wine, coffee or a play you had just seen. You could debate in real time about APC vs PDP or Trump and Europe. They would hear the music and see the excitement in your face and feel your energy. Instead of taking selfies, you could show your friends your full ensemble as you did a full 360 for them. All this will happen with you and your guests not leaving the comfort of your individual living rooms but interacting seemingly and seamlessly as if you were in the same room.

I remember going to see a movie in 3D at the new iMAX theatre in Lekki 1. Through 3D glasses, the characters, props and scenes were no longer on the screen. They became life-sized and so real we could almost touch them. We dove from the tops of the buildings, we flew across the sky, and we duelled with the villains. What an experience that was! But 3D movies, smart TVs, and 3D glasses are not enough. In addition, there needs to be a payment system that enables vendors and service providers marry the experience of their goods and services with how and when they collect payment into one seamless experience so they are done at the same time. You shouldn’t have someone collecting money at one point and the experience happening at another. There shouldn’t be any gaps between payment and the experience because you may lose the customer.

Blockchain technology provides that payment system. In its simplest form, blockchain technology is a computer technology that provides a system of record, just like Wikipedia, that enables the transfer of value from one entity to another, securely, anonymously, transparently and at a fraction of the cost. Value can be property, your vote, and money. Unlike Wikipedia, copies of the entire system of record, the distributed ledger, or the blockchain, are held not in one place but by blockchain miners across the world. Blockchain therefore enables b-commerce, and not just e-commerce.

Imagine you have a boutique on Awolowo Road in Lagos but you also have a presence in a blockchain-enabled VR community, a VR Mall of Africa if you will, where a customer can visit your boutique from the comfort of their flat in London or house in Maryland using VR technology. They enter your boutique, look around, experience the decor and the ambience, they admire the clothes and styles on display, and you or one of your staff attends to them in VR. Using smart contracts enabled by blockchain technology, they can buy right then and there. They pay in blockchain technology-enabled cryptocurrency using their MasterCard or Visa. You ship their goods to them and you get your money. Voilà! Your shop in Lagos is now open for business across the world.

Imagine an African art gallery on a blockchain-enabled VR platform. No physical place yet. People visit the gallery every day from around the world. They experience African art and culture. They see the pictures and read the blurbs. They watch videos, they experience Africa and they want a piece of Africa. You hold auctions and people across the world bid. Someone wins the auction, you deliver the art and get paid.

Imagine a real estate company in Washington DC that renovates and sells or leases apartments. Your children are going to school next year in Washington and you’d like to buy a place for them to stay. You are in Lagos and do not have time to fly to Washington to look around. You can take a tour of the renovated apartments from the comfort of your office in Lagos. You do some research. You call the company and find out more. You are convinced and make an offer. It is accepted. Your children’s comfort is secure. You are happy and they are happy. All this and you didn’t have to leave Nigeria.

On the other hand, imagine experiencing Disney World in California. Imagine visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Imagine seeing Big Ben and the River Thames in London. Imagine experiencing the Wonders of the World. Now imagine doing all of this without leaving Lagos. These are the possibilities.

And it has started. There are a number of ongoing developments with VR, blockchain technology and blockchain-enabled VR environments. In one such development, people buy plots of land to build anything from universities to museums to art galleries to shops to hospitals to offices to conference centres to event halls and so on. About 90, 000 plots were made available with half reserved for districts and general community use, and the other half auctioned. Bidding for each plot started at $100 in the proprietary cryptocurrency. With bids coming from all over the world, the most expensive winning bid was $60, 000 and the plot with the most bids had 107 bids. After the auction ends, we start building. Projected launch date for this experience is 2018.

The total market capitalisation for the blockchain technology-enabled cryptocurrency market exceeded $300 billion in 2017. Global virtual reality revenues were projected to have reached $7 billion in 2017, and to go to $75 billion by 2021. Though a fraction of the cryptocurrency market now, I believe that cryptocurrency will catapult the VR industry and push their combined capitalisation towards $1 trillion in the next few years. Investing $60, 000 for a piece of a $1 trillion market seems like a pretty good investment to me. If we add the 1 billion plus African market, one-fifth of which are Nigerians, the possibilities will be limited only by our imagination.

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