Here's What the Metaverse Will and Won't Do for You
When Neal Stephenson coined the term "metaverse" in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash, he had a distant dystopia in mind that he probably didn't think he would live to see. Now, Mark Zuckerberg has taken the first steps to making that dystopia a reality by rebranding his company, "Facebook," to "Meta" -- as in the metaverse. If you have a negative view of Zuckerberg, it is one that seems to be shared by the vast majority of the tech press. When that much unchecked bias starts rattling around in an echo chamber of confirmation bias, it is hard to get a real sense of what it all means.
First, read Snow Crash, then Ready Player One, and recognize that neither of those things are about to happen, not even close. We should all take a deep breath and a step back from the ledge. Zuckerberg couldn't pull it off if he wanted to. And he doesn't want to. There are actually a lot of benefits we can expect from a fully populated metaverse. It is not all dystopian. Some of it is utopia, certainly offering benefits that we don't have today. So before passing judgment on the next phase of technology, let's consider what it will and won't do for us.
In the future, you are still going to need a job. What you might not need is a commute. We can probably put that in the "win" category. Why travel to work for a meeting that we could just as effectively attend in the comfort of our VR headset? Expect more remote work for everyone without a loss in productivity.
What it won't do is eliminate the need for common-sense precautions at those places where work cannot be done remotely. There will still be factory floors, retail stores, and restaurants. You will still be on your feet all day in certain jobs. So you will still need comfortable work shoes. Your feet are still going to be sore at the end of the day, even in the metaverse. If you are working from home, comfortable shoes are still a must. It is just that no one has to tell you to wear comfortable shoes when you are at home. That is something we tend to do anyway. And the fact is, we are going to go on doing it because no matter how much work changes over the next few decades, sore feet will remain the same.
As long as there are people, there will be superficial biases. But one thing a metaverse has a chance to improve is the way we treat one another based on a superficial first impression. If race is your thing, you are not going to know a person's race when you have an initial interaction. That will likely happen online or in the metaverse. There, a person can have whatever appearance they want. They might not choose to appear human at all.
You will not be able to make cultural judgments based on the color of their skin, or the blondness of their hair, or even their gender. You will have to actually get to know a person on the basis of their mind, interests, and personality. Those things will not change except for the fact that a lot more people will start to feel a self-confidence that they don't feel at present. Again, that can only be a good thing.
The environment could suffer if we are all in a computer-generated world where there is no litter or pollution of any kind. If that is what we see all day, we might be less inclined to put effort into cleaning up the real world. VR could become an escape from the horrors of reality. That is when it really becomes the dystopia of the novels. VR is never a real escape. As long as we have real bodies, we are going to have to spend at least some time in the real world. What impact will the increased requirements of electricity have on the environment?
We have to start addressing the possibilities now while we still have a chance to do so. And regardless of what happens with the metaverse, we still live in this universe. Here, we will still need comfortable shoes, an open mind toward other people, and the motivation to take care of the only universe that qualifies as reality.
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