Is the Metaverse a better-verse?

Is the Metaverse a better-verse?

In October Facebook officially announced it will begin its transition into Meta Platforms – a multiversal, social technology platform that will eventually combine the social networking elements of Facebook and other apps (like Instagram and WhatsApp) with a world of augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR).

Meta Platforms describes itself as “the next evolution of social connection” designed to help bring a new realm – the Metaverse – alive. This new era of social media will allow users to explore the world through a different lens and create an entirely new world of their own. This includes extending online experiences into three dimensions and projecting them into the physical world via gadgets like smart glasses or AR/VR goggles.


Spaceship poker, flying koi fish and giant robots

In an hour-long (and cringe-worthy) video, Mark Zuckerberg gave us a glimpse into the Metaverse. It is a computer-simulated space accessed via a range of devices that has the potential to be anything at all. Users can take as much of the real world as they like and layer virtual elements on top, like landscapes, objects, animals and activities, until they have escaped reality entirely.

Zuckerberg shared: “You are going to really feel like you are there with other people. You will see their facial expressions [and] their body language … all the subtle ways we communicate that today’s technology cannot quite deliver.”

It is an example of the social networking cliché: ‘we are bringing people together even when they are miles apart’. But in reality – excuse the pun – these fabrications of real-world interactions only put us at a greater risk of becoming more technologically engrossed than we already are.


A work in progress

Despite illustrating the vast scope of possibilities in the Metaverse – from cartoonish personal avatars to social gatherings in spaceships – the announcement seems premature. We do not know exactly when the metaverse will be a fully functioning virtual universe, but issues will likely arise if it is made available too soon.

As a disclaimer, Zuckerberg shared that ‘privacy and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one’. However, Facebook has more than 2.89 billion monthly active users. That is a lot of responsibility. Facebook itself has recently come under fire for failing to adequately protect its users from privacy and safety risks, so will we get something better from a virtual universe? It will have to take responsibility for the safety, security, privacy, physical health and mental wellbeing of billions of people.


Ingenious tech or a dangerous distraction?

Technology is evolving at an alarming rate, but where does it stop? Are we heading down a one-way road to a life lived entirely through VR goggles? Before jumping on the next technological trend, multi-billion-dollar companies should be helping to solve the problems we are facing now in real life – poverty, the climate crisis, inequality, violence, discrimination. The list goes on…

As The Financial Times put it: “It sends the message that perhaps our true world is so corrupted, so divided and so unfair, that it isn’t worth saving after all.”

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