Society isn’t prepared for metaverses

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With the unfathomable evolution of computers in a short period of time, some wonder: what will come next? Well, the metaverse is here and we aren’t ready for it.

Metaverses are digital worlds which you can visit with an internet connection and virtual reality goggles. These worlds allow you to interact with objects and other people, marking a genuine evolution of the social media model. If you’ve seen or read “Ready Player One,” then you have a strong idea what this technology is.

It sounds like science fiction, but this could be our reality in virtually no time at all. Tech companies and analysts expect a reality akin to “Ready Player One” in the 2030’s.

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

In a capitalist economy, commodity producers are constantly fighting for our time, attention and dollars. For example, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook app competes not only against direct competitors like Twitter and TikTok, but against indirect competitors such as Disney, Major League Baseball and even your local bar.

Like a tobacco distributor, it was always in Zuckerberg’s best interest to have his consumers addicted to his commodity. A troublesome problem he would face is people “logging off” to go see the latest Avengers film,  watch the big game or to meet up with friends at the bar. The only natural conclusion to Zuckerberg’s problem: to have us all live inside of Facebook. Que, metaverses.

Imagine going to work, shopping at Walmart or attending a prominent social event with your friends within a digital world. Now, imagine going to see the latest film with your mother … who died years ago. This seems far-fetched, but startup Somnium Space wants to use AI learning to keep customers “alive as avatars” after they die, copying how individuals used to speak and act inside their metaverse.

The technology is in its infancy, but more and more people are spending chunks of their days in these virtual worlds. These virtual worlds combine the appeal (an addictive model) of video games with social media (also an addictive model).

When I was in high school in 2011, I remember friends playing “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” for days on end. Why not? To escape from their inadequate reality, they could venture into a whole new world where they were the hero who slayed dragons, got the girl and exercised their own visions of morality without barriers.

Metaverses will carry this appeal as the technology becomes more integrated with video games. Controllers will become a thing of the past as consumers will turn to these vast digital worlds and VR headsets. This is precisely why Zuckerberg’s Meta is so interested in acquiring video game studios to assist in the development of these metaverses.

Another troubling element of metaverses stems from an existing problem with the internet: with total anonymity, online users can act with impunity. There are already instances of sexual harassment on Meta’s Horizon Worlds metaverse.

This only scratches the surface of problems these metaverses will pose to our very real, shared material world. The internet has long been a refuge of white nationalists, Nazis and other extremists. Imagine the radicalized message boards these people inhabit becoming fully fleshed out virtual worlds. It will not only assist with recruitment and organization for these extremists, but it could help them carry out attacks against institutions and minorities.

It’s quite terrifying to imagine white nationalists teaching each other how to build bombs within the safety of a virtual world.

The technology for virtual reality isn’t quite here, but it’s quickly approaching. Big tech envisions a society where we all interact within these virtual worlds for everything. We don’t know to what extent these virtual worlds will uproot our current reality, but they certainly will.

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Caleb Sprous
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