Sunday, December 5, 2021

What Will the Metaverse Be?

I don't get it, but then I'm about to turn 60 and VR makes my stomach heave. But I think it is worth pondering what will happen as the technology spreads and gets better. Zoe Weinberg in the NY Times:

Today, glimpses of the metaverse are everywhere. Virtual concerts attract record audiences; high-end designers sell virtual fashion; and gaming has become a livelihood for people around the world. Many of the closest corollaries to a full-fledged metaverse are immersive games like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox, where players can socialize, shop and attend events in a virtual world.

I find this puzzling, and I doubt online socializing will replace much of the material world. That is largely because of personal experience. In 1999 I threw myself online in hopes that I could find there what had eluded me in the material world since I left college, a community of people interested in the things that interest me. I never found anything close. I found that the internet seems to promote fractal splintering, with the focus on narrow special interests. General intellectual conversation is nowhere to be found. And if a lively intellectual conversation does spring up, for example on Scott Siskind's comments section, it rapidly swells to hundreds of people making thousands of posts, something I don't have the time for.

Which is how I ended up just starting my own blog. But anyway I am dubious of the notion that the online world is much of a substitute for this one.

Weinberg is very interested in the political side of the multiverse:

There’s already evidence that online multiplayer games can enable the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories. Players can use in-game communication tools to disseminate rumors or “fake news,” targeting others in difficult-to-track ways.

The metaverse could allow motivated regimes or extremist groups to go a step farther. Immersive layers of text, voice and visuals in virtual environments would provide new, convincing ways to broadcast misleading or extremist content.

Virtual environments have also shown promise for activists resisting digital authoritarianism. On Minecraft, Reporters Without Borders has sponsored an Uncensored Library where users could see content by dissident writers that had been censored in countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia and Vietnam. It’s possible that the metaverse may bring new promise for freedom and transparency across borders.

But the metaverse’s consequences may be even more radical.

If it becomes as all-encompassing as some predict, the metaverse may foster virtual communities, networks and economies that transcend borders and national identities. Individuals might one day identify primarily with metaverse-based decentralized autonomous organizations with their own quasi-foreign policies. Such a transition could mandate the reconceptualization of geopolitical affairs from the ground up.

I find this intriguing. Suppose you are a young person profoundly frustrated by the politics of your own nation, either because they are just really bad (Egypt, Venezuela, Bulgaria, etc.) or because your own views are such a minority that they have no chance of being enacted. Might you turn to the metaverse in search of a way to be meaningfully involved? Might we see grand political experiments in the metaverse, like anarcho-communist states or an Islamic Caliphate? A truly borderless Europe? A nation of the African Diaspora? And if one of those states was successful, might we see serious attempts to recreate it in the material world? 

One thing to note is that language barriers are if anything more important online, although improvements in translation technology have already eased that and may one day make it a mere annoyance.

As I said, I am skeptical of all of this, but I recognize that my skepticism is related to my age and my membership in a generally flourishing nation. For young people who have grown up online it may be very different, especially if they live in places where material life just isn't very appealing,


G. Verloren said...

The idea that the online world is a substitute for the real world is wrongheaded - in the exact same way that the old notion of "cyberspace" was wrongheaded.

There isn't going to be a replacement, but rather an augmentation. This is already how the internet works, and how it has always worked, and how it likely will continue to work for a long time to come.

Carolyn said...

Hi again, I'm hoping you can respond to the comments that I tried to post on Dec. 7 2021
in regards to three shield discs from the Saint Louis Museum, a post you did back in 2019 -
where you were exchanging comments with a certain Verloren

I studied them (among other objects) for my M.A. thesis and would like to find out what has become of the knowledge of how they are worn - as cuirass disc on the chest, I believe, not on a shield.

Let me know if you can get back to me on this, as I am re-inventing my old interest in archaeology these days, and I find much is watered down on the internet re provenances too.