It has been suggested by many that human biology is so massively complex that even though we have explored every inch of the planet and landed on the moon, we still can’t agree on what we should eat. The adaptability of the human brain and personality is so complex that there are only competing and incomplete theories on how people form and express themselves over time. Nature created the ultimate optimizing organism in humanity and our physical form is a rugged and incredible piece of technology.
So, it is too bad that so few people take a critical interest in their ‘wet ware’ as it’s called in some movie because lacking a physical body means there are no other bodies, even in the Metaverse.
The word ‘metaverse’ is a concatenation of ‘meta’ and ‘universe’ and ‘meta’ is defined as something that is more comprehensive or transcendent. So, a metaverse is a universe that is more comprehensive than the here and now in which we live. In practice, a ‘metaverse’ of the Metaverse is a fake world of digitally created reality that humans submerge themselves in via screens and inputs. We’ve seen these for a while; Second Life is an online game where people have online versions of themselves, called avatars, that they direct and induce to do things. They can conduct in behaviors from talking to shopping. If one wants more action there are numerous games with violent themes and plenty of death. Fortnite is the latest, but there have been many others. Porn is the metaverse of sex where plenty of people submerge themselves.
It is easy for the old to bemoan these worlds as time wasters without recalling that there have always been a metaverse in our lives. Reading the Bible is a metaverse experience of the world where we were to envision the action of its characters and then find ourselves within the context of the world described. I spend many enjoyable hours in a metaverse called Hemingway novels, and binge watching a TV show is a sort of metaverse of a managed reality.
So, what’s the big deal about the new Metaverse, the one that Facebook is so committed to that it changed the name of the company to Meta?
There is no problem with a Facebook managed alternative life if you are happy with the current alternative life managed by Facebook and the social media universe. Facebook bought Oculus, a headset maker that created a new and better device that goes over your eyes and blots out the rest of the world. The user is then served up a fake universe of human creation. The reality that is presented is managed by the game with input from the user.
To me, this is not a revolution as much as another incremental step to letting machines live our lives for us. We understand the game conventions and we play our parts within the context of the defined world where we can know the rules and simply stop it if we’ve had enough. Some of us will play these Metaverse parts very well and get famous there. Some will be frustrated and have the same feelings had in the actual universe. But either way, these alternative worlds offer managed lives stripped of the parts many humans just don’t want.
Regardless of how engrossing a world the Metaverse can provide, the human body we have in the actual Universe, the one of meteors, and the relativity of time, the periodic table of elements, wars, viruses, sex, and death, carries on. Time in the Metaverse is time away from the Universe. You can’t be in both place at the same time, and the Universe, the place where humans and human ingenuity prevails over the predators and the weather, is a world still mostly unexplored. Again, we can’t figure out what we are supposed to eat, or why, when, or how much.
An ideal life takes the best of human ingenuity and blends it with the ancient biology we inherited. The early days of advanced learning, which included the world of books and the ideas they presented, were good for humanity. Abraham Lincoln could both read and wrestle. The world of moving images and recorded sound, the movies, are a fantastic invention where humans capture behavior and presenting it in a sequence to tell a meaningful story. Movies are the campfire tale writ large. The internet has opened education up to everyone on the planet. Humans have done amazing things.
A Metaverse, however, will capture millions, conquest their imagination, and they will not leave it. They will, in a sense, become it’s slaves, adding value to a world they don’t own or control, and they will pay by being manipulated on behalf of those that want to keep them under control; advertisers, influencers, authorities. In that sense, the Metaverse will enslave the people who live in the Universe.
The Universe is where I live and I have no desire to leave it and retreated in to a managed and safe space. The Universe is interesting as hell, and I have the greatest of all gifts; a BODY to live in while I explore the world. Maybe when I die, my spirit will occupy some Metaverse version of the actual Universe. I just don’t know.
But I won’t kill myself prematurely to get in to whatever world FacebookDisney intends to create for me. I might visit, and if I can find a justification, I’ll stick around a while, but it has taken me ten years to (somewhat) adjust to social media; I can use it and get benefits and mitigate the downside. TikToc, the latest Metaverse entrant, is allowing teen girls to provide mental health advice which is, predictably, not helpful to their development as adults. Social media has real downsides as do permanent internet connections. The Universe has thousands of lifetime’s worth of new and valuable things to do, and there is no reason to leave it. One could learn to dance, or ride a horse, or paint, or garden. Why are we so determined to let this go?
The gap between the 2003 internet site Second Life, the 2018 film Ready Player One about an immersive game that everyone plays from their tiny shacks, and the dystopian world of complete unreality, The Matrix, is not that far apart. We’ve moved WAY past the world of books and ideas and are now moving in to the world of capture. Mark Zuckerberg lives in a great Universe of wealth and pleasure. He invites you to submit to your fake world of managed pleasure. Hearing him describe it is creepy. Movies have captured what all of this means, as have hundreds of science fiction books. As far as Metaverses goes, books and movies might be as far as I travel.
Judge for yourself.