Metaverse: Evolution or Devolution?
Let’s start with the origins of Metaverse—Neal Stephenson coined the term ‘metaverse’ in his 1992 dystopian novel, Snow Crash. It comprises two words, i.e., ‘meta’ and ‘universe’ and was initially referred to as a 3D virtual space. This concept remained only in science fiction books until some years ago but is slowly becoming a part of the real world. Yet, talking about the ‘metaverse’ almost feels as if someone was talking about the ‘Internet’ in the 1970s—it is there but not entirely in existence yet. Some platforms, like video games, provide the closest metaverse experience.
What is the Metaverse?
The simplest definition of the metaverse is where the digital and the physical coincide. It includes virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) with the characteristics of the digital and physical worlds. This world is found in video games and has evolved into one where peoples’ social interactions occur, and transactions take place for a digital economy. The metaverse is, thus, a searchable, clickable, and machine-readable world that allows individuals to work, shop, game, and socialise in a virtual 3D space. The movie, Ready Player One, brings out the best visual explanation of this metaverse experience.
With Facebook Inc. now calling itself Meta Platforms Inc., the buzz surrounding this technology is even more. Ultra-fast broadband speeds and technology that support immersive experiences is making the metaverse slowly and steadily take over our lives—experts reckon that it will only take five to ten years.
Currently, most platforms have avatars and virtual identities associated with only one platform. However, as the concept of the metaverse progresses, a persona for every person is likely to get created that one can take to anywhere within the metaverse! This will be much like copying a profile picture on various social networking sites. When this happens, this virtual universe will operate on AR, VR and each person will control his avatar.
We are possibly around 8-10years away from such a Metaverse life though.
Where does it go wrong?
So when the metaverse scales, we start living in a virtual world, possibly with our consciousnesses uploaded in them (our physical bodies may or may not eventually continue), engaging in social interactions, perhaps working, playing games for sure, and getting virtual entertainment, etc. Real life as we know it may look dull, less engaging, with worse graphics and physical boundaries. The metaverse will have the power of being super addictive, something that we cannot ever leave it, just like how social media has been, but with far-reaching consequences.
Developments like faster computing, enhanced virtual experience devices, internet speed (powered through satellites, 5G, etc.) will likely make this new experience more immersive and attractive. At the pace of current developments, we are not far from deeply engaging metaverses with neat interfaces that render our real lives boring.
This technology (d)evolution is leading humans down the rabbit hole
Humankind’s precious discoveries and inventions like fire, the wheel, and agriculture led to constructive, slow and sustainable evolutionary developments. As a result, human society became more civilised and matured over the decades that followed. But then, in the mid-1700s came the Industrial Revolution, which, coupled with fast-paced capitalism, led to our society leapfrogging into an unsustainable and unstable position. The consequences of this are seen today when we have ended up with a disharmonious planet with a lack of biodiversity, irreparable climate change, superficial & out of harmony human race.
It is not only our damage in our physical world that is of concern. Our so-called evolution has resulted in a parallel digital world and made us slaves to devices. The foremost example is social media that has irreversibly (and unknowingly) damaged billions of humans who are now addicted to their pretentious, unnecessary, comparison-encouraging, dopamine-releasing platforms. As a result, humans have become more anxious, depressed, and disconnected from their inner and authentic selves.
To survive and flourish in such a world, you need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance, something that we inherently lack. To add to that, the government‘s inability to comprehend this fact and regulate social media, tech platforms and smartphones is nothing short of a colossal failure. We have even failed at protecting young, vulnerable children from the evils of social media.
Metaverse could be the start of the end
If you thought social media was bad, let me remind you that the metaverse will take this ‘devolution’ to another level. We will become prisoners of meta platforms and will be controlled by the tech lords, sometimes without knowledge and mostly without consent. We could be programmed to crave the experience and paraphernalia—gaming, social interactions, shopping, virtual developments, etc.
The metaverse seeks to combine simulated sights, sounds, and feelings into what we know as the real world, thus, changing and even distorting how we interpret our daily life. It aims to merge the physical and the virtual world so compellingly that boundaries will vanish—we will believe that certain people, places and objects exist when they don’t. The metaverse might provide an escape from reality, but it might end up being manipulation at its best.
It can have negative repercussions to the effect that products will be sold to us even if we don’t need them, information that is untrue and can cause social unrest will be circulated, political divisions will get magnified, and certain groups will get ostracized. The community that we are a part of today, which to some extent allows for different viewpoints, will cease to exist. Instead, we will be fed news that matches our beliefs, reinforcing existing biases. You can only imagine the kind of society, if any, that we will be living in.
And the most significant conundrum that will lie in front of us will be how to exit the metaverse. In the 2D world, we can turn off our phones and computers and move away from what we don’t like. But with the sheer psychological power of the metaverse, you will always remain a part of it.
It is thus inevitable that with the coming of the metaverse, humanity’s raison d’etre may cease to exist, and our spiritual and consciousness evolution will reverse. And if this weren’t enough, we could destroy our own race and society, leading to the next big extinction. Unfortunately and very likely; it is no more a question of ‘if’, but a question of ‘when’.