Source: Adobe / wacomka
Nick Kelly, Lecturer in Interaction Design, Queensland University of Technology .
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the tech giant will transition from a social media company to a “reverse business,” working on an “integrated internet” that more than ever brings together the real and virtual world. .
So what is a “metaverse”? It sounds like the kind of thing billionaires talk about to make headlines, like Tesla boss Elon Musk who makes “pizzerias” on Mars. However, given that nearly three billion people use Facebook every month, Zuckerberg’s suggestion of changing the address deserves some attention.
The term “metaverse” is not new, but recently there has been an increase in popularity and speculation about what all this might mean in practice.
The metaverse idea is useful and will likely be with us for a while. It is a concept that deserves to be understood even if, like me, you are critical of the future its proponents propose.
Humans have developed many technologies to deceive our senses, from speakers and televisions to interactive video games and virtual reality, and in the future we may develop tools to deceive our other senses, such as touch and smell. We have a lot of words for these technologies, but there is no common word yet that refers to the complete blend of ancient reality (the physical world) and our artificial extensions of reality (the virtual world).
Words like “internet” and “cyberspace” have been associated with the places we reach through screens. They don’t quite capture the internet’s constant entanglement with virtual realities (like 3D game worlds or virtual cities) and augmented reality (like navigation overlays or Pokémon GO).
Equally important, the old names do not express the new social relationships, sensory experiences, and economic behaviors that appear alongside these extensions of the virtual. For example, Upland combines a virtual reflection of our world with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and real estate markets.
Upland is a kind of “metaverse” property exchange game based on real world trends. plateau
The Facebook ad talks about its attempts to imagine what social media might look like in the Metaverse.
It also helps that the term “metaverse” is a poetic term. Researchers have been writing about a similar idea under the name “Extended Reality” for years, but it’s a pretty boring name.
“Metaverse,” penned by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, has a more romantic appeal. Writers are accustomed to recognizing what trends they should call: “cyberspace” comes from the 1982 book by William Gibson; “The Robot” is from a 1920 play by Karel Schapke.
Read more: Do we want augmented reality or morphed reality?
New modern words like “cloud” or “internet of things” have stuck with us precisely because they are useful ways of referring to technologies that are becoming increasingly important. The metaverse falls into this same category.
If you spend a lot of time reading about big tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, you might end up thinking that technological advancements (like the rise of the Metaverse) are inevitable. It’s hard not to start thinking about how these new technologies are shaping our society, our politics and our culture, and how we might fit into this future.
This idea is called “technological determinism”: the feeling that technological progress shapes our social relationships, our relationships of power and culture, with us as mere passengers. It ignores the fact that in a democratic society we have a say in how this all happens.
For Facebook and other big companies, determined to embrace the “next big thing” before its competition, the metaverse is exciting because it offers an opportunity for new markets, new types of social media, new consumer electronics and devices, and new patents.
What’s less clear is why you or I are excited about all this.
In the ordinary world, most of us are faced with things like a pandemic, a climate emergency, and a human-caused mass extinction of species. We have a hard time understanding what the good life is like with the technology we have already embraced (mobile devices, social media, and global connectivity are associated with many side effects such as anxiety and stress).
So why be so excited about tech companies investing billions of dollars in new ways to distract us from the everyday world that gives us air to breathe, food to eat, and water to drink?
Metaverse-style ideas can help us organize our communities more productively. Common standards and protocols linking disparate virtual worlds and augmented reality in a single open metaverse can help people work together and reduce duplication of effort.
In South Korea, for example, a “reverse alliance” is working to persuade companies and the government to work together to develop an open national platform for virtual reality. A big part of this is finding ways to combine smartphones, 5G, augmented reality, virtual currencies, and social media to solve society’s problems (and, more pessimistically, profit).
Similar claims were made about sharing and collaboration in the early days of the Internet. But over time, the initial promise was abandoned due to the dominance of large platforms and surveillance capitalism.
The Internet has been very successful in connecting people from all over the world to one another and has served as a kind of modern library of Alexandria to house vast stores of knowledge. However, it has also increased the privatization of public spaces, advocated propaganda in all aspects of our lives, united us with a handful of giant corporations more powerful than many countries, and led the virtual world to consume the world. materially from environmental damage.
Beyond the world of the world
The deepest issues with the Metaverse have to do with what kind of worldview it might represent.
From the world’s point of view, we can see ourselves as passengers in a unique reality that is like the container of our lives. This view is probably familiar to most readers, and it also describes what you see on something like Facebook: a “platform” that exists independently of one of its users.
In another worldview, which sociologists say is common in indigenous cultures, each of us creates the reality we live in through what we do. Practices such as work and rituals connect people, earth, life, and spirituality, and together they create reality.
The main problem with the first vision is that it leads to “one world”: a reality that does not allow other realities. This is what we are already seeing on existing platforms.
The current version of Facebook may increase your ability to connect with other people and communities. But at the same time, it limits how you relate to it: features like six predefined “reactions” to posts and content chosen by invisible algorithms make up the entire experience. Likewise, a game like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (with over 100 million active users) offers unlimited possibilities to develop a game, but sets the rules by which you can play.
The idea of the metaverse, by moving more of our lives onto a global platform, expands this issue to a deeper level. It offers us unlimited possibility to overcome the limitations of the physical world; However, in doing so, you only bypass them with the restrictions imposed by what the Metaverse allows.
This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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