The Metaverse and the Need for Virtual Realities - Startling or Convivial?

As the world still battles a pandemic, it remains imperative to understand that no matter in which condition man finds himself in, technology moves as it does: in leaps and bounds. It is often said that it is not that we use technology, we live technology. Recently, Facebook unveiled new technology that may change the course of social media and connectivity to an all-new level. News forums call it the internet of the future; it claims to transport people into a whole new world of human interactions. Mark Zuckerberg’s 81-minute video essay on the long run of human interactions that culminated with the rebranding of Facebook as Meta, this term has been effervescent this year. Leaders in technology, recreation and fashion have hurried to stake their claim on it, although few appear to agree on what it precisely is. The vital factor is that the technology is coming sooner than one thought it would. 

Conversations regarding the metaverse cut back the sensation of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, “Snow Crash” coined the term metaverse, and it has recently been hurled into wide and varied use. For most enthusiasts, Zuckerberg’s idea may take several years to formulate completely. However, some believe that simpler versions of the metaverse could already exist. Recently, at the Web Summit, the CEO of Magic Leap, Peggy Johnson said, “We're in the early stages of the metaverse, in some ways.” Furthermore, Chris Cox, Meta's Chief Product Officer, who spoke to the BBC on the day of the rebranding, claimed that metaverse will change the way we use the internet as a whole and not simply imply a big change for the company alone. His words, "Technology often starts in lower resolution versions of what it becomes."  

Virtual reality-based experiences have already been in play since the emergence of games like Pokemon Go. Such technologies have already been used by the medical personnel when undertaking complex surgeries involving conjoined twins. Companies like Roblox have welcomed the notion of metaverse as they have been using a platform similar to this. However, what remains a significant concern is how effectively Facebook will be able to make this platform safe, user friendly, and keep the public discourse moving. The company has claimed to have been working on a set of protocols that will ensure the aforementioned features.

Most gaming companies, who have used virtual realities in some form or the other, seem to look forward to Meta coming up with a form of virtual reality that would also define their work and procedure. Many others stand against the idea because they believe that what Meta plans to bring forth is dangerous and manipulative. They believe that it fails to ensure that the platform will not be misused, like how other, simpler social media platforms were in the past decades. 

One of Facebook's earliest investors, Roger McNamee has branded Facebook’s plans for a metaverse as dystopian. He said, "It is a bad idea, and the fact we are all sitting and looking at this like it is normal, should be alarming to everyone. Facebook should not be allowed to create a dystopian metaverse,” and went on to say “there's no way that a regulator or policymaker should be allowing Facebook to operate there [in the metaverse] or get into cryptocurrencies."  

Mr McNamee became an opponent of Meta as he began to see more misinformation on the platform. He said he is not convinced that the metaverse would be safe with Mark Zuckerberg. He again said that “Facebook should have lost the right to make its own choices. A regulator should be there giving pre-approval for everything they do. The amount of harm they've done is incalculable.

What must be noted is that the metaverse, with its wide usage, will bring people to participate in its virtual interactive spaces, undeniably allowing cultural contact globally. However, this would lead to the arising need for blockchain technologies which would involve a global system of recording information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system run by the company. Meta hence would have allocated the next decade to not only developing the metaverse but also to giving shape to a placeless, stateless system that manages all on its own, internationally. This is, indeed, a tough task to accomplish even for a company as massive as Meta. 

At the Web Summit, Peggy Johnson supported the notion that the metaverse, despite its criticisms, will eventually come into existence. She said that there is no clear, substantive evidence that proves that the metaverse will do more harm than good. These are merely suppositions without proper factual backing. When technology is about to take a huge leap, there is seldom a need to stop the change from coming because to make technology evolve would imply evolving lifestyles, which is simultaneously a welcoming and terrifying thought. Johnson, in the same summit, said that the change is inevitable and that it is foolish to resist it. She said that "Right now we're all looking down at our mobile phones,” but with the use of AR glasses or AR headsets, consumers will be able to transform everything they see, from the name of the person to the review of cafes while walking past them. It will all be visible with such headsets. 

When asked how she imagined the metaverse would seem like in another decade, she answered, I think you’ll go back home to pick up your glasses because you left them at home, the same way you do with your mobile phones today.” 

John Herman, in his article published in The New York Times, said that there are several possibilities as to how the metaverse will progress and affect our lives. According to Herman, metaverse will take up space and become our usual environments, where virtual offices will emerge and we will eventually call it work space. However, what one has to wait and watch is if there would be spaces left for those who opt not to allocate their time and resources to such technologies and virtual realities. The discussions about this mainly move on to the fact that if metaverse does become a virtual reality and soon takes up the room for being essential to the future generation’s technological survival then would the freedom to choose not to use such technologies be a viable option? Or would not using such realities be a major form of shortcoming for those unable to afford it?

A question, as mentioned before, is both terrifying and crucial.


Aniba Junaid

Aniba Junaid is currently an undergraduate student of Political Science at Loreto College, Kolkata, India. She enjoys writing about Indian politics, culture, women and matters that affect one and all.

The Pangean does not condemn or condone any of the views of its contributors. It only gives them the space to think and write without hindrance.