OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
I’m not meticulously well versed in all things Meta. You could say I have a slow Metabolism. In my desire to cling onto the real world rather than descend into a rapidly Metastasising virtual maelstrom where the worst of the ‘internet embodied’ chaotically and ubiquitously scurries into projection on our Oculus headsets, and in turn, our mushy over-stimulated brains, I have until now tried to silo myself off in blissful ignorance from the true implications of the metaverse. But will the metaverse really create the Scifi-nurtured dystopia we all fear?
Let’s start with what Mark Zuckerberg sees as the rosy upsides of The Metaverse and its effects on global connectivity. Much like his clingy brain baby Facebook, the Metaverse will ostensibly place an emphasis on bringing people together- The Social Network- but in 3D form and with the addition of games, performances, concerts, and almost any form of human entertainment you can imagine. We’ll all be drunk on NFTs. The opportunities are endless. Isn’t this something to be excited about?
However, if what we are confronting is the internet and Facebook embodied, does that not bring us into even closer contact with extreme and unregulated content, hate speech, cyber bullying, and data issues for which Facebook has been broadly criticised? These digital shortcomings are the result of human nature’s inevitable flaws and propensity for vice, you may say. But were the evils of human nature ever so vehemently (and often anonymously) expressed as through the internet and social media? Just as much as the Metaverse will harness positive aspects of human creativity, initiative, and the ethereally masturbatory silicon-valley ideals of technological harmony, so too will it bring us into closer contact with fake news, fraud, trolls and abuse, not to mention the vast array of scientifically attested negative psychological effects of overuse and addiction.
Mark Zuckerberg heralds the Metaverse as a powerful tool for learning. Indeed it is likely that trends of hybrid work which have become the new normal, following the success of this model during the pandemic, will expand in a virtual direction under Meta’s plans to have everyone thriving in the ‘infinite office’. While surveys show employees are not so sure, many employers see the benefit of a virtual workplace. Look at the positive effects of Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Use of these platforms, albeit accompanied by some dry, awkward and severely limited social interactions: “I think you’re on mute”- presented a way for many to adapt to a more efficient work/life balance.
But now that many have been able to return to the warm comforting bosom of the office and real life social interaction has in part been restored, there is widespread division in public opinion as to the desire for a virtual workplace. Meta see the future of hybrid work as something of an inevitability. But do we need to spend more time on screens than we already do? We should admire the possibilities of harnessing human ingenuity, while remaining aware of the entropic decline in necessary human interaction that may be caused by fully embracing the internet embodied.