Published on [Permalink]
Reading time: 4 minutes
Posted in:

I Don't Want a Metaverse

Random Thoughts of the Day

Anyone who enjoys speculative fiction, and who has read about that thing known as the metaverse, quickly grasps that the metaverse is a dystopian concept. Why? Because the metaverse is an alternative to flesh and blood reality, and in all imagined futures where a metaverse plays an important role, investment in this false reality speeds up the erosion of actual reality.

In other words: The Metaverse concept is that the “real world” is shit, and therefore we choose to populate a digital world where the difficulties, disappointments, limitations, and fears of the real world can be set aside.

Of course, you might say: Metaverses need not be dystopian. We can move our consciousness and our attention and our relationships to a digital reality without simultaneously leaving the real world and real institutions to rot. We can enjoy “virtual” games and schools and workplaces and society absent those places being also some kind of corporate-controlled hellscape where human activities, creativities, dreams and time are somehow monetized by a malevolent force rendered untouchable by vast wealth and an unwillingness to regulate them in law.

Yet I believe this metaverse will be dystopian. Why? Because the resources, philosophies, and leadership guiding the development of metaverses arise from a dystopian root. Organizations like Facebook and Google are already operating from the corporate-surveillance-no-regulation paradigm, and they are the ones who will pour billions into this system.

Note, in the book Ready Player One the battle was not between the hero and the game, but between the user and the corporation. Their fictional metaverse was controlled by a largely benevolent organization (something that will not occur in our reality) and a more exploitative corporation sought control. In essence, the dystopian world of RP1 started out as less dystopian than our current reality. When the Sixers rule the Metaverse from the start, there is no inspiring battle, no young hero to save us all with his knowledge of pop culture.

If you need a preview of Meta’s impact on the world, you only need look at their past behavior. And note that they talk not about developing “a” metaverse, but “the” Metaverse. In the nightmare vision of a world “connected” by Meta, there will be only Meta. If you need employment, friendship, society, and education, it will all be there, just one EULA away. Not just memes and viral conspiracies burning through our parents’ generation like intellectual poison, but a total takeover of the fabric of reality. The ground. The air. Every inch of visible space. What you hear. Who you see. What you’re taught.

It will all be under Meta’s control for as many hours as they can hook you into the system. (engagement metrics, yo!) But they’ll hold up their hands and declaim all responsibility for the dystopic aspects of their system. Hey! Hold up. We’re just providing the miraculous technology that connects you. The fact that KFC-Fingerhut-Northrup-Grummund is sponsoring your child’s Pre-K isn’t our fault. They’re just providing a service. Have you considered adjusting your settings?

Fictional metaverses are meant not to serve as blueprints for our future, but to act as warnings. They remind us that reality (in particular, our biosphere) can all too easily be destroyed if it is not carefully stewarded. They show us that those who control a too-powerful platform become defacto governments, unelected and unaccountable. These fictional metaversus also remind us of the seductiveness of escape, of taking the easy path, of letting a love of a false God (technology, in this case) lead us all straight to hell.

But - hey - shiny new technology, right?

I’d love to be wrong about all of this. Yet my biggest hope at the moment is that building a metaverse is simply *too hard * and that the big corporates will fail. My second biggest hope is that people will put on a headset, cringe, and say “No thanks.”

But hope is itself a kind of false reality. It’s the notion that if we want something badly enough we can make it happen through the sheer force of our feelings.

In the end, the only thing I can control is my own actions. And personally, I plan to stay far far away from anything connected to the new “metaverse.”

Virtual reality?

No thanks, Zuck. I’ll take the genuine article.