Even before Zuckerberg made his creepy hour and a half long video explaining his company’s future product line as being intrinsically tied to the development of civilization, the concept of ‘metaverse’ had been brewing in science and tech circles for a while. Despite this, the term only started gaining traction in popular culture during 2021, as Zuck’s vision of a generation wandering around with screens literally tied to their faces proved an upsetting pill for the masses to swallow. It was great propaganda from the world’s largest social network platform provider and provided a lot of fodder for memes about him and the company.
The hype led to a fresh wave of innovations in the blockchain industry as the red hot GameFi took a step to the side and assumed the role of a ‘pillar’ in the incoming metaverse. According to builders, the metaverse would be comprised of entertainment, social interaction, and financials. In industry terms, that’s GameFi, DeFi, and the incoming SocialFi. For many, ‘metaverse’ was fast becoming synonymous with the equally ambiguous ‘Web3’ phenomenon.
It’s Not a Thing You Can Touch
As an advertisement slash educational production, the hi-tech screen goggles in Zuck’s video are actually a red herring. Web3 and the metaverse are not things we will be able to physically see or tune in and out of by putting on goggles; the distinction between real-life and virtual life will be a lot more subtle than that.
The metaverse is an umbrella term for a time when our lives are lived more online than offline.
In many ways, we are all already one foot in the metaverse. With smartphones and the Internet, no matter where you are, you are always connected to a global network of people and information – is that not the metaverse? Americans pick up their phones over 200 times a day and spend an average of 5-6 hours a day looking at them for non-work-related browsing. Moving forwards, development of Web3 will look to draw even more of our attention, money, and time online.
In Web1, users paid to consume company-produced content.
In Web2, companies paid platforms for user attention.
In Web3, users pay other users for content and services via decentralized platforms.
Although this sounds like a positive development for humanity, it’s important to approach this concept with some healthy skepticism. Humans are inevitably greedy beings, and there will always be individuals who leverage the dynamics of the system to generate disproportionate amounts of wealth and power for themselves.
Getting to the Nuts and Bolts
Underpinned by decentralized networks such as blockchains, the digital world will run parallel to our own offline existence and increasingly blur the line between reality. It’s easy enough to draw a line between our real lives and an online computer game in which we slay dragons and conquer new lands, but developments in Web3 will attempt more and more to imbue realism into these applications, such as object scarcity, permanence, and indisputable ownership.
The more realistic games and the metaverse become, the more we are encouraged to dedicate our time, energy, and attention to cultivating them. Inevitably, the technology will become too sophisticated for the majority to understand, but that has not hindered the adoption of other technologies in the past, such as cars, microwaves, and computers.
Zuck’s supposed vision of headset-wearers dancing around their living room is in many ways a deliberate diversion from the slow and creeping reality of the true metaverse. The headset gives a sense of choice and creates a physical barrier between the real and virtual worlds: if you want to leave, just simply take it off. The reality is a lot more subtle and infinitely more imposing. As the line blurs, we will inevitably fall deeper and deeper into our digital prisons.