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The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated existing trends in changing of the key aspects of social relationships through the usage of digital platforms. A pandemic of an airborne infection, spread faster through social contact, affecting personal relationships by altering the ways through which people interact.

Vaccine programs were being rolled out in countries that could afford them, but new and more contagious variants of the virus were also being discovered, that is slowing down the time needed for exiting from current situation with the consequences of a continued disruption to social relationships.

This pandemic suddenly forced people to continue their human relationship using digital applications in different aspects of their life as personal and professional interaction, obliging students to study from home, workers to work remotely, generating the growth in share of e-commerce and the “delivery economy”, which was two to five times faster in 2020 than before the pandemic and this trend is likely to continue in future.

The Digital Future of Work

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted labor markets globally during 2020, elevating for the first time the importance of the physical dimension of work, spurring changes in business models and consumer behavior, many of which are likely to endure.

This elevated some elements often overlooked in work: the physical proximity of workers to one another and to customers, the level of human interactions required, and the physical environment in which work takes place.

Before the pandemic, people were used and sometime misused to have physical proximity in the workplace where it was mainly considered as confirmation of a human interaction, intended as a proof of solidity of the professional and social approach. The pandemic elevated the importance of the physical shape of work: the proximity of work to customers or coworkers, the frequency of human interactions required, whether these interactions are with few colleagues or with strangers, and whether the work is indoors or requires an onsite presence. By the way some kinds of jobs are strictly pegged to the onsite and physical presence; for example, blue collars cannot do their job at home if they are involved in assembly line for manual operations.

Videoconferencing has become the norm and will likely replace some business travel even after the pandemic. Companies rapidly integrated Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and other virtual platforms into their operations to facilitate communications and interactions with employees, customers, suppliers, and service providers. In a global survey of business executives in July 2020 by Mc Kinsey, 85% of respondents said their company had increased adoption of virtual communication and collaboration tools since the start of the pandemic.

A disruptive effect arises also in business and commercial relationships, since salespeople who may once have doubted their ability to close a deal over videoconference have found they can. Although developing new client relationships will still benefit from in-person connections, some routine B2B meetings are likely to continue virtually.

By forcing workers to rapidly adapt to the need for far less physical contact and human interaction during the pandemic, COVID‑19 affected two trends in addition to remote work that will have lasting effects on the workforce: the use of digital tools for transactions, consultation, and collaboration, as the adoption of automation, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies in new digital workplaces like Metaverse.

The Digital Future of Social Relations

The human relationship is completely based on our ability to connect with the people and the world around us. Human beings are psychologically, emotionally, and physically wired to bond with one another. 2020 global pandemic generated an impressive disruption in social and economical relationship as never before, changing the way of people interact each other during lockdown and not only, increasing the usage and diffusion of digital tools and applications as surrogate of the physical presence.

People have found new ways to interact despite the physical distance, using digital applications and social networks to carry on and keep alive social interactions as love and friends’ relationships but also in business, school and other social actions like, for example, shopping.

The paradigm and the characteristics of the six social interaction types changed as following due to the COVID-19 pandemic through digitalization:

  • Engagement – one’s connection and participation in the activities with another person of a group. Linkedin, Facebook (Meta), Instagram, Tik Tok, Sandbox, Fortnite, Hinge, Tinder, Bumble are the best of breed in social engagement app, what else to say… 😉
  • Exchange – people interact with an effort to receive a reward or a return for their action. The acceleration of the virtualization of the exchange as form of social interaction, by the pandemic, pass through the wide usage and diffusion of social network platforms and applications as alternative to the physical presence. The result of this virtualization of course is different by population aging and digitalization level.
  • Competition – when people fight to achieve a goal. The competition interaction had been moved more on the technology ability or capability and digital knowledge level of people, where the ones with better IT skills, positioning their-self on a higher stage.
  • Conflict – as deliberate attempt to control a person by force, to oppose someone. The conflict interaction in the pandemic era had been strongly emphasized by social media network through sometime actions of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, cyberscams and cyberattacks.
  • Cooperation – when two or more people or groups work together to achieve a common goal that will benefit more than a single person. COVID-19 highlights ‘life and death’ stakes for a greater digital cooperation where people interacted digitally, contributing doing social actions like creation of communities for the development of mobile applications for distribution of pharma and foodstuff to aged or illness people unable to move from their home.
  • Accommodation – is the achievement of the state of balance between conflict and cooperation. Even the accommodation was more closed to a physical interaction practice between parties, also this moved to a virtual relation through the use of digital apps.

Social media is taking a regular increase in impact and necessity, in different life areas, as clarified by some research; new social media has been the main drivers accelerating the development of globalizing society with its digital, interactive, and virtual nature, has brought human interaction and society to a highly interconnected level. The virtual reality social media means any platform which imposed new patterns of living with its massive spread and presence, and the diversity of society members gives various virtual interactions as metaverse are going to do in an immediate future.

The Digital Future of Shopping

E-commerce accelerated during the pandemic far beyond the most bullish forecasts, the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic augured the displacement of many retail sales and service workers, while creating escalating demand for workers in delivery and technology related services.

Many consumers discovered the convenience of e-commerce, grocery delivery ordered by app, and other online activities during the pandemic. In 2020, share of e-commerce in retail sales grew at two to five times the rate before COVID‑19, increasing its share of total retail sales by several multiples. Furthermore, three-quarters of people using digital channels for the first time during the pandemic say they will continue using them when things return to “normal”.

E-commerce has grown two to five times faster than before the pandemic in every country

One important pandemic effect is also the Direct to Consumer, that brands are increasing in popularity, and this was given these brands an extra boost. Consumer goods companies had 70% growth coming from D2C sales online, and according to eMarketer, web traffic on D2C shops has doubled in the last two years.

Omnichannel marketing strategies have become one of the most dominant trends in the e-commerce space. Based on a Google research, omnichannel strategies drive an 80% higher rate of incremental store visits, while another study done on EU consumers found that 67% of consumers use multiple channels to conduct a single transaction.

One more important element to evaluate is the role of cryptocurrencies in shopping and ecommerce, where some Crypto and Ecommerce leaders are moving in this direction. Coinbase is investing in apps for ecommerce stores, Paypal just moved to the 1st cloud company in market cap and Shopify shifted to 4th because of the increase in online shopping caused by the pandemic. The competition is strong: Paypal also released a cryptocurrency option for its online payments, in some countries only for the moment, while Binance released the VISA Debit Card allowing to use BNB cryptocurrency for payments. Anyway, an attention point for the role of cryptocurrencies in shopping and ecommerce must be considered, as the security level of the wallets for people with not enough skills and familiarity on the usage of these tools and the cost of transactions for the cryptocurrencies, that are still using the expansive and high impacted carbon footprint of proof of work as GAS.

The growing diffusion of AR and VR technologies is accelerating ecommerce brands to move into the power of the metaverse enabling customers to interact with product offerings more effectively within digital spaces. Nike just bought RTFKT, a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and sneakers ‘for the metaverse’.

On October 29th 2021, the ‘Meta’ (A.K.A Facebook) posted a video on YouTube of Mark Zuckerberg selling their proposition for the metaverse. This so-called ‘embodied internet’ will allow us to walk around and interact with spaces that we can currently only view through a screen.

This world of applications across the shopping experience like virtual try-on applications, AR and VR are fast becoming a requirement for merchants selling products that are traditionally difficult to buy online. Home furnishings, cosmetics, footwear, and fashion typically see high return rates due to the difficulty of judging a product’s suitability online.

How Metaverse and Blockchain is transforming Work, Social Relationships and Shopping in Pandemic Era

Adoption of a range of digital technologies, including online tools, virtual platforms, e-commerce, and videoconferencing, has already significantly risen across work areas with high physical proximity as consumers and businesses sought to replace physical interactions with virtual ones where possible during the pandemic.

In the customer interaction area, jobs are already being disrupted by the growth of e-commerce and use of apps for ordering and delivery, among other digitization. This will shift jobs away from cashiers and shop clerks to warehouse pickers and delivery staff. In office settings, the shift to working remotely has unleashed a wave of new virtual collaboration tools to enable virtual meetings, document sharing, and new communication channels. These changes have the potential to make work more productive, and may reduce some business travel for internal meetings and even client interactions.

 The new technological disruption in this scenario is the Metaverse. In 1992 the science fiction novel Snow Crash by author Neal Stephenson, described a virtual world he called the Metaverse, an internet-connected, immersive construct that served as an alternate shared reality for its users.

When Mark Zuckerberg in October 2021 announced the conversion of Facebook in Meta, less than 20 years passed since the pioneer of the virtual meta universe Second Life was released on 23rd June 2003. At that time the project was too much early in timing, considering the technology and the social approach to that kind of platform considered nothing more than a game; while during pandemic, the social rules had been suddenly changed and forced people to deal with physical distance, opening the doors to the current Metaverse where individuals are more comfortable and used to socially interact through digital tools, and furthermore intrigued by the possibilities that those platforms offers in terms of new sensorial experience.

NFT is a blockchain based technology that establishes ownership of digital assets and has mostly been applied to digital art. The future of NFTs will be their use as building blocks in the next iteration of the internet metaverse.

An NFT is a unique and non-interchangeable unit of data stored on the blockchain that can track a unique digital asset’s transfer, ownership and properties. The term non-fungible distinguishes NFTs from other blockchain entities like cryptocurrencies, which are equal in value and mutually interchangeable or fungible.

In the crypto world, currency units are similarly fungible and interchangeable, but not all digital assets are. That’s where NFTs come in. The digitization of media, including art, music, videos, books, documents and even news or blog posts, has confounded the nature of ownership, copyrights, and intellectual property. This is largely due to the easy with which digital media can be copied and reproduced. NFT provide a tool for owners of different types of digital content to sell and trade their property using the advantages provided by blockchain.

In the crypto world, currency units are similarly fungible and interchangeable, but not all digital assets are. That’s where NFTs come in. The digitization of media, including art, music, videos, books, documents and even news or blog posts, has confounded the nature of ownership, copyrights, and intellectual property. This is largely due to the easy with which digital media can be copied and reproduced. NFT provide a tool for owners of different types of digital content to sell and trade their property using the advantages provided by blockchain.

The trending example of NFT avatars shows how the metaverse NFT connection is transforming the world itself. NFT avatars are representatives of a player’s actual self and the one they imagine. Players could use their NFT avatars in the form of access tokens for entering and switching between different locations in the metaverse. Individuals can feel NFTs as the extension of real-life identities of them with complete ownership, control, and flexibility for building virtual identities

 With NFT individuals and their avatars could gain virtual connection to a wide range of experiences both in the real world and metaverse. This imply that the combination of metaverse and NFTs could improve the social and community experiences for users. 

Why Brands Must be Ready for Metaverse and NFT Blockchain

Metaverse is becoming our digital twin in the blockchain, a virtual place where people using AR/VR devices and digital platforms can work, socialize and do shopping as a parallel mirrored world, where to emphasize individuals’ personality and creativity through the usage of avatars NFT and cryptocurrencies.

 This “new world” is a huge opportunity for brands in developing a new business model where to create more seamless, engaging experiences that remove friction from the shopping journey and boost customer loyalty

Breaking down the borders between offline/online channels with virtual shopping. Since ‘omnichannel’ became the ultimate cool word in retail, brands are pushing to create consistent experiences between ecommerce, brick and mortar, and social media.

By allowing content creators to retain ownership of their work, without limiting its propagation on the web, NFTs could reverse the content ownership model, offering creators, their audiences and developers a viable alternative for monetizing their work. their digital production. A sort of disintermediation that we have already witnessed in the physical world with the advent of e-commerce.

This new distributed model of ownership and monetization of digital content suggests a very interesting direction for the future of digital brand marketing, especially for luxury brands. Right now, in fact, the value of a digital content is measured not only on the basis of the number of copies sold, but also on how many memes it inspired.

This collaborative creation is obviously of great interest to any users, but it tends to scare brands, especially luxury ones, who are understandably more protective of their content. NFTs now give brands the possibility to maintain complete control of their digital content without limiting its diffusion.

In a digital world of abundance, where copies of a digital object are created and distributed with extreme ease, scarcity creates value, just like in the physical world. And NFTs make it possible to create digital scarcity.

The most interesting case of a purpose-driven digital brand is RTFKT – a brand that stands for “Artifact” bought by NIKE last 13th Dec 2021. The brand was born just 18 months ago, but it has already become the “dream” digital sneaker brand for gamers.

The take-off began when RTFKT published a post on Instagram in which Elon Musk is seen wearing a pair of Cyber Sneakers (digital sneakers designed by RTFKT and inspired by the Tesla founder ‘s Cyber Car). And it continued in February 2021, when – in just 7 minutes – RTFKT sold the NFT of 3 pairs of digital sneakers for a total value of 3.1 million dollars.

In a blog post, Bill Gates says:

Within the next two or three years, I predict most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids—which I call the Hollywood Squares model, although I know that probably dates me—to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars. Both Facebook and Microsoft recently unveiled their visions for this, which gave most people their first view of what it will look like.

 For that reason, it feels ambitious to predict we’ll see 3D meetings replace Zoom-style interactions in just 2-3 years.

 There are a ton of companies working on 3D avatars and I was super impressed with some of the prototypes I had a chance to test.

 You don’t realize how unusual it is to have meeting audio only coming from your computer’s speaker until you try something else. There’s still some work to do, but we’re approaching a threshold where the technology begins to truly replicate the experience of being together in the office.

Now let’s imagine the avatar of a manager dressing a Salvatore Ferragamo’s suit in a metaverse meeting, or a student dressing in a metaverse classroom his favorite and cool pair of digital sneakers as the real ones he own and we have the answer to the title of this paragraph.

If the various examples can hint at the potential of NFTs to create a relationship between a brand and an inhabitant of the Metaverse, brands must however be aware of the fact that the Metaverse is not the virtual version of the network, but something completely different from the network, a parallel and mirrored universe as our 4th dimension. Metaverse is a parallel reality, a place where we will spend a large part of our time, using it to play, visit places, socialize and work with other people and, of course, buy and consume products. In other words, the Metaverse will radically change the way we live.

 This is something that brands must take deeply in consideration for building something entirely new; an integrated, dynamic digital omni-verse reality which bring together the best parts of online and offline, where the customers can buy (now experience) both the physical and his digital twin to be used in real life and all metaverses at the same time.

Ugo Romano – CEO @DynaBrains –