Metaverse – the dark side of the near future

There has been recent attention paid to the concept of the Metaverse.

During his October 2021 announcement, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook was rebranding to Meta. He declaird that he was investing billions of dollars in the Metaverse.

Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others are working to create a virtual reality world. In this environment, we will be able to participate through avatars, play video games, shop, work out at the gym, and play video games.

Okay, it’s the future… what are you trying to say?

I’ve been studying the topic of digital wellness and creating a healthy relationship with technology for a while now. I am concerned about the potential harm from the immersed digital experience. Most predictions indicate that the already complex, tangled, and unbalanced relationship with the digital world will only get worse in the metaverse.

This is an excellent time to prepare for the revolution, just before it becomes a part of our everyday lives.

Let’s get started.

Metaverse – what is it?

First of all, this is a rather geeky topic (how could it not be?). The term “metaverse” comes from science fiction writer Neal Stevenson’s 1992 book Snow Crash, in which he describes a world where humans meet in virtual reality.

Over time, various developers began developing technologies related to virtual worlds. This technologies incorporates elements of augmented reality. AR merge virtual elements with the real environment in real time. There is also virtual reality (VR), which simulates the real environment, and other concepts and technologies.

The concept has been used for quite some time in incredibly addictive gaming environments. Fortnite or World of Warcraft are good examples. But until now it has only played out at a very preliminary stage.

However, the Metaverse is not yet a finished concept. It is rather a vision being realized by various companies investing a lot of resources into cultivating products and services that will constitute our virtual reality.

Where are we heading with the metaverse?

Those who promote this world believe we will learn, work, socialize, and consume culture through virtual spaces. They see virtual spaces as part of the evolution of the Internet.

Through the Metaverse, we are able to connect to content in the most natural way possible by simulating feelings, emotions, and sights in a realistic manner. 

We already use the Internet to access information, communication, services, commerce, and entertainment. The metaverse is expected to provide all of these in a more tangible and interactive way with virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.

A second aspect that significantly contributes to the theme of the Metaverse is the connection of digital assets to the real world economy. That is, enabling the creation, exchange, and investment of goods and services.

Matthew Ball (entrepreneur and writer worth following) identifies a few basic potential properties of the Metaverse:

Continually moving forward – it won’t stop or reset. 

Synced and alive – will allow for a consistent life experience for everyone. 

Will enable a fully functioning economy. 

Bringing together the digital world with the real world, the public and private sectors, and open and closed platforms. An unprecedented operational integration of data, assets, content and other elements. 

Contributed by a massive number of contributors, this platform will be filled with experiences and content.

What are the potential dangers of the metaverse?

Blurring the lines between reality and virtuality

I recently read an article by Louis Rosenberg at Big Think. Louis is a computer scientist and entrepreneur in the field of artificial intelligence. He writes about the dangers inherent in the transformation of augmented reality into a significant part of our daily lives.

As a researcher 30 years ago, Rosenberg participated in a research experiment that tested a new experimental technology. This technology allowed real and virtual objects to be interacted with simultaneously in a realistic way. It was shown that using augmented reality to improve human achievements was successful. He said the greatest success was that everyone left this revolutionary machine smiling. Not because of improved achievements, but because of an extraordinarily magical experience.

It is claimed that augmented reality has the potential to undermine our sense of reality and damage the way we interpret everyday life. The vision of technology companies is to combine the virtual and the real in such a convincing manner that they blur the lines between the two. 

We must consider the ongoing exploitation of our psychology and cognitive weakness by technology giants. It is logical to fear the new technological tools available to them.

Hate speech, harassment, and bullying 

Violence in online games is a well-known issue, but there are very few mechanisms for reporting it. There are violent incidents every 7 minutes in the VRChat game, for instance. This is according to a report by a non-profit organization called the Center for Countering Digital Hate. 

There is more to the story than this, however.

It has only been a few weeks since the first new platforms opened to the world, but already reports of harassment and sexual assault have emerged. This kind of violence occurs on the regular internet as well, but it is far more severe in the Metaverse.

Especially with the advent of virtual reality, inappropriate contact may be more disturbing and offensive because of sensor technologies that are an integral part of the metaverse.

As Zuckerberg is aware of these potential problems, he has already promised to develop the Metaverse with privacy and safety in mind. However, those who are actually responsible for promoting the project have already said that managing discourse and behavior in the virtual world is impossible.

A violation of privacy

It is well known that the practices of tech giants in regards to privacy are an old source of worry. The information economy contributes significantly to large corporations’ profits. Under its auspices, technologies and algorithms are used to mine and analyze information about us in a clever and hidden way.

In addition to the existing complexity, the Metaverse will introduce a few new challenges. 

In the Metaverse, users will use technological equipment to interact with the virtual world. This equipment can collect information and physical data in ways we are not yet aware of (perhaps we should start asking questions about it).

The information will be used for advertising, profiling, and monitoring employees. It is common sense that governments will use information about us for their own purposes in the future.

Our children will be vulnerable to unrestrained information mining. It might bring ever more sophisticated psychological manipulation due to all of these processes.

We can imagine where this will lead, especially given the controversial history of companies such as Meta, who have shared our private information with other companies (see the Cambridge Analytica story).

As of now, there are no regulations to weaken companies’ control over our data, and yesterday may have been a good time to promote such policies.

Addiction

Considering technology addiction is already an epidemic in the world, we can imagine what kind of behaviours immersive technology will bring. Soon our smartphones will become very old news.

We will be able to experience virtual reality almost realistically through the Metaverse, which will replace our smartphone experience. As such, it will replace the need to leave the house for work meetings, stand in lines, and deal with bureaucracy. It will transform social networks into something much more exciting and alive. Gaming will provide a more sensual, exciting and fulfilling experience.

Do you think this will have a positive or negative effect on our technology addiction?

(We speak intuitively only in the absence of recent studies. They will come, don’t worry).

Our addiction to digital media is the result of deliberate policies designed to increase the profits of technological companies. The attention economy relies on staying connected and addicted to digital platforms.

While economic models will evolve and change, there is no doubt that in the absence of fundamental changes, technology companies’ regulators will continue to prioritize revenues over public health.

Is there anything we can do?

Certainly, challenges of this type require systemic solutions. We are already paying the global price for unrestrained and profit-driven technological innovation even before the Metaverse.

There must be regulatory changes to protect human society from the severe costs of the Metaverse. Laws must be enacted to limit violence and sexual harassment in the virtual world.

The development of humane technologies should go hand in hand with regulation. Many resources must be devoted to making these technologies as safe and secure as possible for users.

Will this happen?

I find it difficult to believe that the regulatory forces will be able to protect us from all the potential challenges of the metaverse world. This is based on the experience of the past two decades. 

Personal responsibility is still required here.

My preparations have begun. What about yours?

About The Author

Gilad Peled

Gilad Peled

Hi! I'm Gilad, a passionate writer about Digital Wellness, Holistic Productivity and Biohacking. A proud dad, digital entrepreneur and life-coach. Happy to share the knowledge I picked up along the way.

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