by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 19
May 2022
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13:25

Nick Clegg is wrong about the metaverse (again)

He fails to understand that the technology is a step backwards not forwards
by Peter Franklin

Nick Clegg has moved up in the world. He used to be our Deputy PM, now he’s the President of Global Affairs for Meta Platforms — the company formerly known as Facebook.

This week he published a lengthy essay on the future of the ‘metaverse’ — the technology on which his company has staked its future. The basic idea is that before long we’ll be working, shopping and socialising in 3D virtual environments.

It’s not a new concept, but so far the enabling technology has been too clunky to win over a sceptical public. Facebook/Meta clearly believes that’s about to change — and that we’ll able to blend the virtual world with the real world in a way attracts everyone, not just the hardcore gamers. Clegg believes it’s the “next generation of the internet”: “We’ve gone from desktop to web to mobile; from text to photos to video. In this progression, the metaverse is a logical evolution.”

If he’s right about that, then his company is ahead of the game. But he’s fundamentally wrong — and, inadvertently, he himself tells us why. His essay revolves around the “three key factors” that he claims will make the metaverse feel more like real life: “ephemerality, embodiment and immersion.”

By “ephemerality” he means a “shift towards live, speech-based communication that will often feel as transient as face-to-face conversations” — as opposed to texts and emails which aren’t live and leave a permanent record. “Embodiment” means using animated avatars to communicate with our whole bodies, which is another contrast to disembodied text or voice-only communication. Finally “immersion” means that our avatars will have computer-generated shared environments in which to interact. 

Sounds like fun — and in certain circumstances it may even be useful. But Clegg has missed the bigger picture, which is that the internet has allowed us to move away from ephemerality, embodiment and immersion. Our addiction to our screens is not despite the flatness of text, but because of it. The fact that text isn’t live allows as to reply in our time, or not to reply at all. Another plus point is that it doesn’t betray our facial expressions or body language — we need say nothing more than what we consciously decide to say. The third advantage is that text allows us to remain in a space of our choosing as opposed to a sensory environment controlled by others.

That’s not to say text can’t be intrusive — an after-hours email from a demanding boss is rarely welcome. However, the metaverse equivalent would be so much worse. Instead of the annoying message in your inbox, you’d be summoned back into the (virtual) workplace.

Speed is the most obvious benefit of modern communications. But there’s a second kind of progress: towards enhanced privacy and personal autonomy. A phone call is a less intrusive than a visitor; and, in turn, a text-based message is less intrusive than a phone call. 

Nick Clegg has therefore got the evolution of the internet the wrong way round. In mimicking real life, the metaverse is a backward step.  

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Sam Sky
Sam Sky
2 months ago

Let’s be honest we all know that this is arrant nonsense invented by a company led by a one-trick pony desperate to stay relevant against the march of creative destruction.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

LOL. You just summarized pages and pages of labored analysis about the weakness of Facebook (sorry, Meta) into one pithy sentence. Well done.

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 months ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

If only Meta was the only metaverse – there are loads of them and they are growing rapidly

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 months ago

You can place your Metaverse where Apollo durst not go.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
2 months ago

What, Nick Clegg wrong about something? Blimey, glad I was already sitting down.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

Nick Clegg pushing “ephemerality” !!! Another “here today and gone tomorrow” politician with no self-awareness.

Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
2 months ago

A very sound argument. I agree and hope that you are proved correct, although of course the proof is always what happens in real life, with or without coercion.

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
2 months ago

My kids rarely pick up a phone, and won’t use voicemail on their mobiles. It’s all done by DM so we can respond as and when we want. Much better.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

…and I bet they think Facebook is for Granny?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 months ago

Ah Peter, you’re talking like an old man, with a very dated view of communications and interpretation of interactions. As a 60 year old I can appreciate your viewpoint as I used to rely on the old methods of understanding people’s communications.
But younger people are learning that in this new world they have to see the depth in electronic communications, rather painfully at times with all the daft over sensitivity and offence being taken so easily. I learned it in my last couple of years at work – gauging my language in comms carefully; watching the language of others in comms too for signs; taking the p*** whenever I could just to lighten the load for all by pointing out the daftness occasionally.
But I’m retired now, and enjoying my Oculus Quest 2, courtesy of Clegg. I retired because I found remote working less fun than direct interaction in the office – I really am an old man too.

Last edited 2 months ago by Ian Stewart
Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
2 months ago

The last 4 words of the article title are totally superflous. And what makes you think that Clegg actually wrote the essay, he has minnions to do that.