By Sadev Parikh
Eric Ravenscraft’s Wired article shows us the difficulty of defining the “metaverse,” which may be better understood through the lens of Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblances than through any attempt at clear-cut definition. Metaverse can be seen as a concept made up of family resemblances that include elements of virtual reality, augmented reality, and haptic feedback. While these technical elements may ground the concept, various metaverses could vary along parameters such as the centralization of power, financialization, and degree of anonymity for users. Armed with this framework, we might predict how the metaverse may manifest in the United States.
Considering centralization of power, we see two competing visions: one concentrated around Facebook (i.e., Meta), and the vision of a “Web 3” that might include worlds like Decentraland built around principles of decentralized decision-making and power enabled by blockchain technology.
A Facebook-driven metaverse could become the dominant mode, simply through its incumbent network effects and persistence as a premier destination for advertisers, as well as customer lock-in stemming from adjacent services (such as Messenger, Groups) that are increasingly essential to participating in modern life. The “Future Threats to Digital Democracy” report captures internet harms directly tied to the influence of Facebook and its business model on the internet.
Digitally impaired cognition is driven by social media content algorithms “engineered for virality, sensationalism, provocation and increased attention.” Reality apathy comes from the diffusion of re-shared negative content that is upranked by Facebook’s algorithms. It’s easy to imagine that a Facebook-driven metaverse is therefore likely to replicate the same features given Facebook’s need to monetize.
Only now, Facebook’s paradigm may disintermediate not only our cognitive lives via smartphones but also our physical interactions, from the mundane like work meetings to even intimate moments like hugging enabled by haptic feedback suits. That said, perhaps Libra’s failure and Facebook’s February stock plummet portend a future where Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams no longer translate inevitably to our reality.Continue reading A Multiverse of Metaverses