Since Facebook announced it would be changing its name to Meta, there has been quite the debate about its future plans. The name change was more than symbolic in nature, in that Meta plans to invest heavily in the future of the metaverse. The metaverse represents what Mark Zuckerberg refers to as the successor of the Internet. (Read more about Bold Business’ exploration of the metaverse concept and its potential in this story.) But many fear this new virtual world is simply another step in the social media giant’s conquest to be all-powerful. Thus, naturally, Meta is facing opposition as it tries to move in this direction. They believe the potential for the metaverse is one that solely benefits those already in power.
Of course, concerns regarding Facebook/Meta are not the only ones when it comes to the potential for the metaverse. Some believe these types of virtual universes are ways to escape current realities. These might involve individuals who want to escape problems in their own lives. Or this could include a way to ignore global issues such as social injustice and climate change. But despite these worries, there’s little to suggest the metaverse poses threats above and beyond those of today’s Internet. In fact, it offers many potential benefits. This is why the future of the metaverse is not something we should fear but instead embrace.
“The meta-verse will be the successor to the mobile Internet, we will be able to feel in the present no matter how far apart you are.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta
Defining the Concept of the Metaverse
In order to consider the future of the metaverse, a conceptual definition is naturally required. In its most basic form, the metaverse is a virtual reality that exists beyond or alongside the physical one. Instead of physical bodies, we become avatars who interact with one another and the virtual world. But beyond this, the metaverse is likely to share many of the same things we experience in reality. That includes digital money exchanges, purchases of virtual property, and an array of social interactions. In essence, the metaverse is simply a visual and 3-D version of the Internet. This is the best way to conceptualize the potential of the metaverse over time.
From this perspective, those who advocate this potential of the metaverse see it as a natural progression. We now interact via the Internet and social media with people all over the globe. We engage in various digital transactions and attend online learning through the Internet as well. And with the pandemic, we now rely on videoconferencing tools to better communicate and collaborate. The metaverse is simply the next step in digital evolution that the world wide web started. The only difference is that the future of the metaverse is more immersive and provides enhanced virtual features. But all the potential harms that exist with the metaverse already exist with the Internet.
“We’re ushering in the metaverse, and we feel it needs to be a place that everyone can access, a place where people can express themselves and connect together.” – Jon Vlassopulos, Global Head of Music, Roblox
The Good and Bad Potential for the Metaverse
Understanding the metaverse as the next phase of global connectivity, it’s easy to appreciate it has some pros and cons. Many who describe the future of the metaverse as a dystopia only focus on the negatives. For example, individuals wishing to escape life’s problems may use virtual worlds as a means to avoid and escape. Virtual activities may also become addictive or even spill over into real-world activities. There is also the potential for the metaverse to further infringe upon our privacy rights. Interestingly, however, each of these concerns about the metaverse can be said of the Internet as well. Perhaps, the added immersive and visual features could make these risks more likely. But this has not been proven beyond a doubt by any means.
In contrast, the potential for the metaverse to offer many beneficial opportunities is tremendous. As virtual reality technologies advance, the interactions we have in the metaverse are likely to be much richer. Meetings in the metaverse will better mirror in-person interactions despite taking place all over the world. Education and learning opportunities will become much more immersive and engaging as well. Likewise, such a world opens up opportunities for those with disabilities to enjoy experiences never before possible. Each of these same areas were enhanced by the Internet, but the future of the metaverse expands these further.
“The possibilities for virtual reality are as broad as the possibilities for physical reality. We know physical reality can be amazing and it can be terrible, and I fully expect the same range for virtual reality.” – David J. Chalmers, Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science, New York University
It’s Not an Either-Or Problem
The debate over whether the future of the metaverse is good or bad presumes that it has to be one or the other. This same perspective also suggests that we have to choose reality or a virtual existence rather than both. As a result, opponents of the metaverse see it as our way of escaping global problems that our world. This is no different than claiming Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are involved in the race for space solely to escape a dying planet. By taking this view, it becomes impossible to see the real potential for the metaverse moving forward. Both reality and the metaverse can and will exists together, and each can enhance the other.
Without question, safeguards must be considered with the future of the metaverse. One company, specifically Meta, does not need to call the shots. Likewise, privacy protections and other policies must be explored in advance to minimize any unwanted effects. But to claim the metaverse is dystopia in the making is really just an inherent resistance to change. Certainly, the metaverse will never be anything close to a utopia, but then again, what is? As always, the potential for the metaverse is what we make it and allow it to become. But whether you like it or not, the metaverse is on its way because evolution can’t be stopped.