by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 18
November 2021
Response
11:30

The metaverse is doomed to fail

We may be addicted to electronics, but not when they are all-consuming
by Peter Franklin
The Emperor himself. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Late last month, Mark Zuckerberg took a huge bet on the “metaverse” concept. He even changed his company’s name from the familiar “Facebook” to the fatuous “Meta”. 

The idea is that, before long, we’ll all be using immersive 3D virtual environments to communicate, socialise, work, play and shop online. Whoever develops the definitive virtual world — the digital dimension to which all the others connect — will effectively own the future. 

Think of it as a race to control the Matrix — or at least the next iteration of the internet. In making his big announcement, Zuckerberg was trying to signal that his company was in pole position. 

However, the public reaction was muted and much of the media’s response derisive. But what if the sceptics are missing something? An editorial in The Economist this week argues that we are. “Mockery is an unreliable guide to the future”, the authors insist. The first mobile phones were made fun of — but we’ve all got them now. Ditto other mainstays of the digital economy: the personal computer, the World Wide Web, social media, online retail, crypto-currency.   

So is the metaverse the next big thing? The Economist regards the success of virtual environments like “World of Warcraft” and “Roblox” as a proof of concept: “It is hard to argue that an idea will never catch on when, for millions of people, it already has.”

In fact, these success stories prove the opposite. They remain niche products and most of them are computer games. That’s not to say that the gaming is unimportant — it’s a big industry. But even in a context where consumers are most open to moving beyond the conventions of everyday life, there is an enduring conservatism. Despite the availability of high quality, affordable virtual reality headsets, most gamers still prefer to use ordinary displays.

Yes, we love our moving pictures — but from magic lantern shows all the way through to the iPad, we’ve consistently expressed a preference for viewing media through two-dimensional frames. Periodically, there are attempts sell us 3D cinema or TV, but it’s never gone mainstream. We may be addicted to our electronic illusions, but they have to stay in their box.

Another constant is our persistent attachment to text. Despite the super-abundance of imagery, we still insist on reading — even in contexts where it isn’t strictly necessary. This is an increasing, not a diminishing, trend. For instance, new research shows that young people are much more likely than the old to use subtitles — despite having better hearing. 

Our brains are wired to view images and process information in a particular way. Electronic technology has greatly expanded the range of what we can experience. However, after several decades of consumer engagement, we can start drawing some conclusions as to what we’re comfortable with. And the metaverse isn’t it. 

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Martin Dukes
Martin Dukes
1 year ago

The written word enables us to process information at our own pace. Moving images and sound, either of which are prone to incomplete understanding, can then be placed in their proper context by our brains. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but the written word is, in many ways, a more direct, and a more personal route to our understanding.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Dukes

Do the old Silent films convey your reasoning? In that they are interspersed with inter-title cards (I think they’re called) to re-establish the audience’s understanding of the action on the screen. They are always seemingly paused at a length that is twice the length of what the average reader requires to read them. And I wonder if it is so in order for the brain to put the one or two sentences shown into the overall context. At least that would help so.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

If it fails it will be because it will monitor and mine it’s users constantly, which is a precursor to monetizing those users, and users will walk away from that, provided alternatives become available. And I believe it is inevitable that alternative models will come about, which verifiably don’t monitor their users – if evidence is required that this will happen, look at open source software. It just requires someone to invent those models which allow the companies who create them to still make money without monitoring.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The Meta is ultimately (according to Zucker, and to the WEF Danish woman) to be able to read thoughts – it is to work both ways, give you stimulus, and read you so the stimulus you receive may be the most possible you can take and wish for… it is to know you 1000X better than you can know yourself….

Ida Auken of the WEF wrote the definitive article on the Great Reset – it is on the WEF site, it is Dante’s Hell https://futurism.com/welcome-2030-nothing-privacy-life-better

“Welcome to the year 2030. Welcome to my city – or should I say, “our city”. I don’t own anything. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a house. I don’t own any appliances or any clothes.”

“Shopping? I can’t really remember what that is. For most of us, it has been turned into choosing things to use. Sometimes I find this fun, and sometimes I just want the algorithm to do it for me. It knows my taste better than I do by now.

When AI and robots took over so much of our work, we suddenly had time to eat well, sleep well and spend time with other people. The concept of rush hour makes no sense anymore, since the work that we do can be done at any time. I don’t really know if I would call it work anymore. It is more like thinking-time, creation-time and development-time.
For a while, everything was turned into entertainment and people did not want to bother themselves with difficult issues. It was only at the last minute that we found out how to use all these new technologies for better purposes than just killing time.”

Written by Ida Auken, Member of Parliament, Parliament of Denmark (Folketinget)’

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

The virtual world is nice for 30 minutes or so, but longer than that and there are all kinds of health issues: over-heating, tiredness, motion sickness, etc. I tried my friend’s oculus and was crazy about it for two days or so. Once the novelty wore off it got boring very quickly. Moreover, the kind of people that are prolific on Facebook aren’t usually the most technically-minded of people – it tends to be made up of moms and conspiracy theorists.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

As if moms and conspiracy theorists are mutually exclusive!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

I believe (fear) that it will become popular. No-one wanted 3-D cinema etc because it was head-ache making and nausea inducing, if it were not I think it would have taken off. I don’t know much about virtual reality head-sets, I’ve never used one, but I think that if someone were to come up with a “holo-deck” type alternative there would be a lot of takers, cost permitting of course. It might just start as a harmless pass-time, but it could get out of hand much like social media has, so I am far less sanguine than Mr Franklin.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
1 year ago

Write on! and Read on. Let’s keep it real if we can.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

It just is not there yet. Like late 1800s people saying the automobile is interesting, but it will never really take off because it is too problematic, unlike the reliable horse.

No, the Meta will become a hyper-addictive alternative to working and IRL taking our energies. As automation and AI takes the jobs Meta will be the thing used to keep the sheep busy so they do not turn their energies to self destruction and anti-social activities. It will consume the average person, and that will be what the system wishes for you.

‘Idle hands’ and all that. Although the Meta will be completely evil really – living out fantasies will jade people, so they will explore deeper and darker experience is my guess….

I am like the ‘Savage in Brave New World – I refuse to ever have owned a cell phone, I cannot even use one except a filp, and that very rarely, as I immediately saw what it meant. Now I see you sheep with your phone clutched tight in your hand – In London I would look down the train carriage and see every one staring into the phone clutched so tightly, you are half way to the metaverse, and the writer cannot even see himself….

My guess is whole families of drugs are being developed to work in synchrony with these meta games. Brave New World’ was written before the computer, but if Huxly was writing it now the Metaverse would be front and center in his horror of the future lifestyle of living death of soul.
“the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday. How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing every one was! “”

“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…””

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Could you give it a crack? Brave New World Updated?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Drugs are a recurrent theme in Unherd, and always have a mass ‘Legalize’ contingent, and that frightens me is designer drugs (which China is doing Vast research on).

The Meta will know what drug you will respond it – trippy like LSD, Crazed and violent like PCP, (Angle Dust – the frenetic, violent inducing, hallucinogenic), Meth, Barbiturates, MDMA, Crack, and the new ones which will tweak what every part of the brain the Meta Trip will enhance. Want to kill, want sex, want love, want Adrenalin, want fake religion nirvana????

Put on your tactile gloves, your hip wrapper, your ear buds, your goggles, pick today’s thing (zombies on a derelict spaceship, warier elves, unicorn and fuzzy bunnies, or what ever depravity of fake affection/Love you crave for today ———-> hit the line of powder, and your META is on…..

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

I think the article might be correct in observing that 3D tech hasn’t got beyond the niche stage yet, and for that reason Meta may turn out to be a flop – if, crucially, Meta seeks to use 3D tech to replace the sensations of reality. The problem with this isn’t that people won’t be interested, it’s merely that the tech isn’t good enough yet.

This came up a while back in the context of Covid, climate change and the stubborn habit of millions of people of going on holiday every so often, to the eternal disapproval of the climate zealots and Covid fanatics. Anyway, one suggestion was virtual holidaying in which the whole experience is done at a fraction of the resource cost through virtual reality. Now of course at present, the idea that this would be a viable alternative is laughable, but that’s only because the tech isn’t there yet, and crucially, there’s the prospect that the tech might do even better than reality eventually.

The reason is simple: no matter where you go and how much you spend, on a real, physical holiday, you’re still you. For most of us, that’s an average-looking, slightly overweight person of limited means who’s at risk of catching food poisoning and who will certainly get sunburnt. In a virtual reality though, you could be rich, slim, attractive and charming, and the obstacles to realising this experience, though presently insurmountable, are purely technological in nature. At some point in the future, the tech will be capable of feeding all our sensations instead of merely the sights and sounds that we presently experience, and once that happens, the demand for “real” experiences may well start to tank, compared with the limitless possibilities of virtual experiences that require almost no physical resources to deliver.

Will that be Facebook, or Meta? I suspect Zuckerberg won’t be alive to see it and nor will most of us alive today, but it’ll be here one day no matter what brand is on it.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  John Riordan

The end of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” where Murphy has gotten the Lobotomy, which is exactly what Zuckerberg means for you and everyone else not needed as a technocrat or stage prop for the Elites Brave New World – except Zuck means to do it by drugs and alternate reality Meta, hyper addictive escapism, you completely yield to voluntarily….

And in Zuck’s hell there will not be ‘Chief’ to free you, it will be your lot till the end, alive in body, but not in spirit….. Like the phones you sheep clutch all waking moments – soon it will all be in your head, and 1984 ending will be real – not the violent way, but the for ever having your will taken.
‘“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
― George Orwell, 1984 ‘