Meta-morphosing: what will our world become?

The presentation of the Metaverse opens questions whether technology will replace reality. Will it only be an escape or will it change humanity?

Elizabeth Meade
16th November 2021
Credits: Canva
Augmented reality, long the provenance of the video game industry, is now being marketed as an item for quotidian use. Similar to technologies seen in countless science fiction novels, Mark Zuckerberg's new Facebook product aims to create 3D virtual spaces to foster user interaction.

The term 'metaverse' comes from Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, in which it describes a highly-immersive form of the Internet. While not as invasive as the technology seen in 'The Matrix' (1999), it's pretty all-encompassing. Products such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift have utilized AR technologies to provide instructions to workers and deliver video game experiences, respectively. It was only a matter of time before someone would invent something similar to, say, the lenses in Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge or the 'cloudhook' in Arkady Martine's Hugo-winning A Memory Called Empire.

The physical world has an inherent importance in our collective experience that computer can't match

The presentation of such an idea in media has familiarized audiences with the concept and likely made them more comfortable with it becoming a reality. While sometimes framed as a feature of a dystopian world, books such as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline make an interactive video game world seem pretty exciting. However, I don't think a metaverse would be as enjoyable as it seems.

Despite a desire for escapism in today's world, there's a reason that real, physical activities such as gardening and walking in the woods are so popular. The physical world has an inherent importance in our collective experience that computers--a relatively new technology--can't match. A metaverse won't provide the same feeling. Something will always be missing from metaverse interactions.

Additionally, life revolves around face-to-face interaction. Remember how annoying it was to be inside during lockdown and talk to all our friends over Zoom? Social media can be an innovative way to share content, but its ability to foster genuine connection is limited. Many already feel that current uses of technology divide us, and a metaverse will only widen that gap.

Meta presentation video - Credits: Meta

Zuckerberg's Metaverse is essentially Skype, only 3D, more complicated and with the visual rendering of 2002 Christmas special 'Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa'. Perhaps the better visuals could be compared to 'Foodfight!' (2012). Imaginary things I picture in my head feel more real than these graphics, even though they are clearly just that--imaginary.

The real danger of a meteverse is an inability to separate fiction from reality. I doubt people will believe that fictitious things in these interfaces are genuinely real. However, users will prioritize the aesthetics of a virtual construct over the practical aspects of real life. In a world where we can superimpose digital graphics over anything we don't like, we will inevitably neglect real-world issues such as the environment, improving living conditions and preserving culture.

While the marketing for Metaverse makes it look fun, I think its impact will ultimately be negative.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
Science sub-ed and Chemistry major. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking.

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