By Ian Ezinga
This opinion column has not been enthusiastic about the possible futures that await us at the end of how things are going now. Something like Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of the metaverse really isn’t all too surprising, but it contains within it all the horror that lies in the imaginations of our captains of digital innovation. Embedded within ideas about creating a vast virtual reality are countless avenues for the further alienation of the individual, the near-complete abolition of a society already struggling to be present in our troubling reality, and of course, further consolidation of wealth amongst a shrinking portion of the population.
Most people who are moderately aware of the sort of dangers associated with social media, tech, and the internet in general, were quick to see this announcement as troubling. But beyond those who have a finger to the pulse on this sort of thing, any piece of media that has Mark Zuckerberg speaking triggers an evolutionary response of revulsion. The strange man even enjoys poking fun at himself as being thought of as inhuman, with unsettling easter eggs sprinkled through the recent announcement material. Before trudging on, I would add that any villain who becomes self-aware of their villainy is far worse than some Joe Schmoe bad guy who partakes in criminal or indecent behavior merely out of delusion.
Whatever camp of people you fall into, I think a starting point for any future discussion of this topic should be one that is hypercritical of the motives for this technology. I hope it’s not a reach to understand the purpose of companies is to make money. Any spin placed on a product insofar as the good that it offers to consumers or humanity at large should be filtered through a bulwark of common sense that makes clear that whatever we are being told is for the purpose of selling an item or a service. With this basic economic toolkit, we can examine the announcement material for metaverse as promising a new, engaging, and safe reality. A reality where everything you see is chosen by you, and although most of it will be for a fee, the promised reward is a space where you have complete control.
This is aimed at humans’ natural drive for control. An artifact of our evolutionary senses that prioritize safety, our want for control is what drives some people to devise entirely new personalities on the internet. It is easy to see the link between filtering what people see of your life through an app like Instagram, to filtering the things you see through virtual reality. In the same way that you can edit out skin blemishes from photos, in the metaverse, you’ll be able to live in an apartment that isn’t a mess or drive a car that isn’t falling apart. School, work, politics, socializing, and much more can all be contained within a virtual reality. And as more threads of our society get woven into the virtual world, peoples’ connections to the world around them will be weakened.
All humans are born with the offer of accepting the challenge of becoming an individual. Some are born into circumstances that greatly decrease their chances, and others look the choice in the eyes and opt for conformity. That challenge will never go away, but for generations to follow, it will become harder and harder to face when a pay-to-play, consequence-free version of that same challenge exists in a virtual reality hosted on Facebook servers. As many have already pointed out, the potential of this project would remove one’s inclination to even leave the house. But in choosing to migrate our trials and tribulations to a set of VR goggles, the real horrors of this world will continue to grow and multiply in the vacant land we leave behind.