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Cathy Hackl is a tech entrepreneur, futurist, author and storyteller. She pioneers cutting-edge virtual and augmented reality experiences and is known as The Godmother of the Metaverse.
Miriam Haart is an app engineer, host of the Faking IT podcast, girl-power Influencer and star of the hit Netflix series, “My Unorthodox Life.” Miriam narrated the story of tech entrepreneur, Cathy Hackl. We learn all about Miriam’s tech journey and what she thinks the future of technology looks like.
This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Deborah Goldstein with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Meghan Pochebit and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Miriam Haart. Joy Smith was our executive producer. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!
|What is the metaverse?
Is it a virtual reality? An augmented reality?
A galaxy far far away or…somewhere inside our computers?
This is one of the mysteries that Cathy Hackl was determined to solve. As a powerful storyteller and tech executive, Cathy was fascinated by all the different ways people could communicate and connect. And she knew that everyone had a story to tell.
So how could she explore this mysterious thing called the metaverse and share it with the world?
|I’m Miriam Haart. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us. On this episode, CATHY HACKL, tech futurist, storyteller and Godmother of the Metaverse.
|Cathy was born in Costa Rica and moved to New York City when she was nine days old. Her father was the Costa Rican ambassador at the United Nations. Because of his job, Cathy and her family traveled all around the world. Cathy loved to experience the unique cultures and landscapes of every place she called home, from Colombia’s cumbia rhythms and fútbol matches to Switzerland’s crystal-clear lakes and icy breezes. Cathy especially loved going to a huge amusement park in Germany and eating Nutella on her toast for breakfast in Geneva.
At a very young age, Cathy knew she was born to be a storyteller. She told stories all the time to her family and friends — some of them about the world she saw and some of them about funny characters she made up in her head. One day at school, when Cathy was living in Central America, a journalist visited her class and told them all about reporting. Wait, you can get paid to tell stories? Cathy thought. I want to do that!
Years later, after graduating from journalism school, Cathy started working for major television networks like Animal Planet and CNN. One of her jobs was to watch hours of news footage and choose what would make it onto the show. She also spoke in front of the camera, adding commentary and translations. It was exciting, but some days, it was also really bleak. The news could be scary and hard to process. She felt like she was talking about tragedy after tragedy without ever connecting with the words or images she was sharing.
After a while, Cathy worried that she was just numb to it all. There had to be a better way to connect with the world around her…at least, she hoped so.
|A short time later, Cathy experienced something that changed the trajectory of her life and her career. She and her colleagues were making their way through a large convention center. There were booming video presentations and energetic conversations. Professionals from all around the world had gathered to talk about the future of their work and Cathy was excited to see what that meant. Then, she paused in front of a news outlet’s display with a wireless VR headset.
Curious, she placed it over her eyes and ears. Instantly, the hubbub of the crowd around her went… silent. Cathy was transported to another reality completely. It was a virtual solitary confinement cell. In front of her, Cathy saw a large metal door. She heard it clink shut. A faucet dripped behind her, and the walls felt like they were closing in. Cathy’s heart began to race. She’d never experienced something this powerful before. She got very claustrophobic and had to pull off the headset.
(BREATH) Once Cathy was back in the convention center again, she felt her whole body flood with relief. She also was energized by a new sense of wonder. What was this incredible immersive technology that had made her really feel something? She’d been so concerned that she’d lost touch with her humanity, reading news every day — even about prisoners in solitary confinement — and feeling nothing. But by putting on this headset and experiencing a new reality, she felt truly connected to the emotional impact of these stories again.
This is the future of storytelling, Cathy thought. How can I be a part of it?
And so began Cathy’s journey into the Metaverse.
|Cathy needed a new set of skills to understand and engage in this evolving technology.
“I didn’t know where to start, but I knew I would have to find my own opportunities,” she says. “I built my own door – or portal – into the industry and made it happen.”
She left her job in communications, and started working at a virtual reality production company by day, researching everything she could about the metaverse in her free time. She learned how to create simple games in a game engine called Unity and dove into digital design. She sharpened her skills in understanding cloud computing, VR production, and gaming. She also started writing about this revolutionary new technology — in blog posts and articles, even compiling her thoughts for a book. Cathy became so knowledgeable about this industry, that she was soon hired to lead agencies and brands in using virtual and augmented realities.
Yet, as Cathy looked around meetings and boardrooms, she noticed that most of the executives around her were white men. It was time for that to change.
“Don’t just talk about it,” Cathy thought, “start creating.”
So she pitched her first creative concept using these multiple realities — a holographic press release. She gathered a tech team to help construct it, thrilled to be sharing her vision and bringing it to life. It was so exciting to see how people could share her work over multiple platforms too. This was exactly what she wanted to do — expand the different possibilities for communicating and telling stories.
After the success of her hologram project, Cathy truly was unstoppable. She published several books about the future of technology, put together all kinds of virtual experiences, and kept asking the question, What’s next?
For Cathy, it was the dazzling world of virtual fashion. A large fashion house asked Cathy to help design the first-ever metaverse ballgown. Cathy had never been an expert in fashion before. “But in the metaverse,” she thought, “we can be anything.”
Cathy sat at her computer in the physical world while Cathy the avatar placed a hot pink bracelet around her wrist. She clasped a powerful, titanium sleeve into place on her arm as a shimmering, metallic blue fabric fluttered around her.
Soon, Cathy’s eyes sparkled with pride and the reflection of her incredible, iridescent design. Virtual cameras clicked as Cathy’s avatar joyfully stepped into the spotlight, debuting her stunning creation and proudly taking her place in this digital world: as a woman, a Latina, an innovator. As The Godmother of the Metaverse.
|Today, Cathy is the first recognized “Chief Metaverse Officer” and founder of a major tech company, breaking new ground in augmented reality, virtual reality, gaming, music, and fashion.
Or, as she says, “I’m a woman in tech, I’m a woman in VR/AR, I’m a minority, but most importantly I’m a storyteller who is trying to break the virtual ceiling.”
Inspired by generations to come, especially her own kids, Cathy still loves to tell stories. She’s the host of an award-winning podcast on the Metaverse and has written three books on the subject! She’s also continued exploring her love of virtual fashion, launching her own fashion line called VerseLuxe.
Cathy believes that the Metaverse is a place where our physical and virtual lives come together, where storytelling can transport us completely. And she believes anything is possible as we step into the future together.
“What we build today matters more than ever,” says Cathy. “I’m not the typical face you see representing technology and that’s why it’s important for everyone to know that the future is for all… In the Metaverse we are all world builders and now is our time to build!”