Would You Rather Be Part of Mark’s Metaverse or Your Own Youniverse?
On October 28, 2021, Facebook announced it changed its name to Meta. The company claims it better represents the future of the company but critics say it’s a way to change the conversation. Facebook (ehhem, Meta) has been in the news a lot lately for some unsavory reasons, so I wanted to better understand what Mark’s Metaverse might look like and why we should care about it.
The metaverse is…. well, we don’t know exactly.
Meta describes it as the next evolution of social connection. The CEO of Take-Two (the maker of video games like NBA2K and Grand Theft Auto) made the argument on CNBC that his company is “probably the biggest metaverse company on Earth.” Entrepreneur and angel investor Shaan Puri thinks that the metaverse is actually a moment in time: the moment where our digital life is worth more to us than our phsyical life.
The closest thing to consensus that I can find is what the New York Times calls a branding exercise: an attempt to unify, under one conceptual banner, a bunch of things that are already taking shape online. Think: virtual reality, augmented reality, crypto, and gaming platforms.
In practice, the metaverse could be a three-dimensional digital world where we attend work meetings and concerts, play games and hang out with friends, and exchange virtual goods and conduct other digital commerce.
This type of virtual world would open up interesting possibilities for how we work, play, and interact; however, there are concerns about having a few mega companies controlling vast amounts of your data and an increasing amount of your entire reality (both on and offline). Having to put up with Facebook in the real world has been bad enough; now imagine living in a virtual one created by a company that has shown ambivalence towards humanity. There are worries that some of the same controversies around marketplace competition, misinformation, and extremism could be taken to new heights in an unregulated and unpoliced metaverse. Perhaps most concerning of all: the endangerment of human interaction. We already can’t put our technology down today. Soon we might be living primarily in our technology.
Is this what people want?
I think the metaverse pushes people in one of two ways: either they love it and jump in or they hate it and rebel.
Case for love: We’re already connected 24/7 to our phones, tablets, watches, earbuds, computers, TVs, game consoles, etc. We wake up in the morning and check our small screens to see what we missed overnight. Then we move to our medium screen for work all day. Then to relax in the evening, we sit in front of the large screen and often the little screen makes a few more appearances before bed. The metaverse is a natural extension of these existing habits and we could potentially benefit from a more seemless and immersive experience with richer functionality than we currently enjoy. Many people will slip happily into the metaverse where the possibilities for human creativity will be unbounded.
Case for hate: In a world of Zoom fatigue and surveillance capitalism, people are reexamining their relationship with technology. There are increasingly more voices for mindful and intentional living and digital minimalists are popping up everywhere. People are excited to socialize in person after a year of lock down in their houses. The metaverse is antithetical to the real human connection we crave and need. Intimate relationships with family and friends simply would not be the same — maybe not even possible — if we shifted more of our time to a virtual world.
Time to decide.
Technology has become such an integral part of what we do, where we go, and how we communicate with others that some version of the metaverse feels inevitable. I’m for a metaverse that helps us be more productive and efficient. I’m for a metaverse that makes our entertainment options more fun! However, I’m only for the metaverse in moderation and to the extent it makes our virtual interactions better and not just more frequent.
We have the ability to craft our own Youniverse of people, places, and activities that bring us real, lasting joy. Accumulating rich experiences with our most intimate inner circle are the makings of a fulfilling life.
Should we spend all our time in a virtual world when we have the real one waiting for us? What does it say about us if every second spent in a fake world is one less second tending to real relationships, exploring real places, and having real, meaningful experiences? Unfortunately, our technology often distracts us from our Youniverse instead of serving as a utility to build it. Let’s hope when the metaverse arrives it allows us to get more out of real life instead of holding us back from it.