The world can be divided into two groups: one that eagerly embraces technological change and another that fears it. While younger generations are encouraged to spend less time on their devices, the future requires the opposite. The metaverse is the next major evolution in technology which will further integrate machinery with society. While no one knows what the metaverse will look like, Mark Zuckerberg gives viewers a glimpse into the technological universe in an hour-long video. However, Zuckerberg and other developers cannot describe the metaverse in great detail because too much about the platform remains uncertain. Despite the many unknown variables, developers have a general direction. Some of the main metaverse developers, such as Apple, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Nvidia, see the metaverse making online activities such as gaming, business meetings, and hanging out more immersive.
Admittedly, I was not this excited about the metaverse when I first learned about it. To my dismay, my stomach churned at the thought of living in a world that resembled “Ready Player One” or “The Matrix”. However, after considering how, with the early stages of V.R. already developed and people spending prodigious amounts of time on their screens, our current world already resembles those fictional ones, the concept of the Metaverse became less frightening. In fact, it became exciting. Although I have warmed up to the metaverse, my anticipation grows nonetheless. Many political, ethical, and moral issues that arise with such dramatic technological advancements prevent me from foreseeing the metaverse fully operating for the next several years.
Despite the metaverse’s potential to make online interactions more satisfying as described in the aforementioned video, the platform faces many challenges. Two central issues are how the metaverse would manage the spread of false information and how it would address the heightened risk of cybersecurity threats. According to a 2014 study by Pew Research, 68% of internet users would argue that governments have not passed adequate laws to regulate user privacy on the internet. With a dramatic increase in internet and social media usage over the last nine years, I speculate that the percentage has increased. A more developed metaverse would make people’s online privacy more vulnerable because people would spend more time online and inevitably put more personal information on websites than before. A possible solution for this would be for the government to pass stricter regulations on businesses selling user information while the metaverse is still in its infantile stages. From an optimistic perspective, there are still many years before the metaverse blooms into its full form, giving governments time to address the discontent surrounding user privacy.
Additionally, members of the general population worry about society becoming disconnected from the real world. However, I hypothesize that those who are worried about such a reality are most likely those who are satisfied with their living situation and interpersonal relationships. Those who look upon life with a grim expression most likely do not feel the need to constantly connect themselves to an unsatisfactory world. The metaverse could offer an escape from reality. Through the metaverse, the lonely will be given more and greater opportunities to connect with other users and A.I. generated characters, and those with humble means will be able to fulfill desires that they could not attain in the real world. Take a herd of cows in Turkey for example. Rather than being forced to stare at a bleak barn during the winter months, some are strapped to a V.R. headset that transports them to a green meadow. This illusion evidently makes the cows happier as those who believed that they were grazing in a pasture produced more milk than the cows who did not. Given the cows’ experiences, it does not take much imagination to see how the metaverse could make people happier. While the metaverse will never be able to fully capture all the benefits of real world interactions and human friendships, the metaverse could serve as an alternative or supplement for those who struggle with finding satisfaction in the real world.
An additional critique of the metaverse is its potential to isolate people from different ideas. If people were to spend more time in the metaverse, where they have more control over being around people and information sources that reflect their beliefs, they will shelter themselves from necessary ideological challenges. This is problematic because this isolating feature of the metaverse can separate people from real issues that shape the contemporary world, regardless of their awareness. Already with existing technology, algorithms skew users’ internet content. For example, in the 2016 presidential election, users received information that was consistent with their political alignments (Gilovich, 261). Thus when Trump won the presidential race, Democrats were astounded. The metaverse would only further entrench users in their personalized feeds, and consequently make people more close minded.
While the metaverse may initially be a playground for the wealthy, as some have already started buying real estate in the metaverse, it may soon become a tool accessible to many, if not all. If and when the metaverse becomes more accessible, an essential question will need to be addressed: should people be allowed to prioritize their life in the metaverse over their life in the real world? This question must be delineated from its natural follow up: will users prioritize their metaverse life over their real life? The former question raises a moral quandary as it challenges the value placed on real world interactions and existence. From my perspective, the answer is unknown because every person’s situation is different. What I think should hold true for my life may not apply to others’ circumstances. The latter question depends on whether people will have the desire to spend most of their time in the metaverse. Judging by how Americans already spend over 10 hours a day staring at their screens, people most likely would. Wherever greater opportunities exist, people will follow. The metaverse will inevitably become so ingrained in what is currently perceived as real life that the answer to the latter question will be “yes”. No matter how one may answer the posed questions, it is an indisputable fact that the metaverse has the capability to further blur the lines of reality and technology.
Textbook Study: Gilovich, Tom. Keltner, Dacher. Chen, Serena. Nisbett, Richard E. “Persuasion.” Social Psychology, Fifth Edition. W. W. Norton, 2018, 261.