Technologies on a large scale do not behave in the same way as technologies on smaller scales. I think about it a lot in connection with the evolution of the Internet.
Think of it with Metaverse.
The idea of a new interactive platform for worldwide communication, visibly brought back to life by Meta (aka Facebook), looks like it’s headed for trouble.
Waves of tech layoffs, including thousands at Meta, are creating a sense that the dream may indeed be over. This has happened with the Internet before: the first dot-com bubble, for example. Some ideas died, others survived, and then new ones appeared that no one expected.
But – if the concepts instilled in the metaverse really take off, I don’t think it’s easy to predict developments after that. They must be different. The advent of social media has transformed human communication, as has the telephone. So did the internet.
Different stages and different effects.
The metaverse is obviously made of bits we already know, but I also remember David Letterman’s old interview with Bill Gates where he describes the internet – and every bit sounds like something you could actually get elsewhere. Why listen to a broadcast of a baseball game when there is radio?
I think there is something of that situation now with the metaverse. If it’s a more immersive experience, why not just use a big TV and headphones? If this is the virtual world, why not just play a video game?
I don’t think it’s that easy. Or that simple.
I’ve been covering VR and AR for about 10 years at CNET, or even longer. One of my first blog posts was in 2009 when it started all about augmented reality and magic. At that point, I had already spent decades thinking about virtual reality, all the way back in high school. She has written plays about chat rooms and online role-playing games. The future seemed too late.
In 2022, I’m still mostly looking forward to the future. But other times, I realize that the future has been happening all along, wandering around me. Virtual reality is not the future now. It’s something my friends and I have used for years.
Virtual reality is a concept that most people find interesting or simply reject. They understood or said, “I would never use that, so why would I bother, and why would anyone else?”
I don’t use Meta Quest 2 at my desk every day, or even every other day. But for an hour or so every now and then, it still provides an experience I can’t get elsewhere, as far as I’m concerned.
During a pandemic, VR has become a place to escape for a bit and work on Beat Saber, let loose and feel like I have my own spacious place to be. But it’s not the games or the puzzle-like escape rooms that compel me the most now, it’s the social moments with people I know and meet there. A bunch of college friends—who approached me about playing together in virtual reality, rather than the other way around—began getting together for minigolf, or role-playing games in a desktop app called Demeo. I know their voices and remember their faces. When I play with them as cartoon masks, I project them much like imagining people on a voice call. But I remember them, in retrospect, almost as if I were with them in moments.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to join a few people once a week and explore acting and performing with avatars, using Microsoft’s virtual worlds app AltspaceVR in Quest 2. I’d never met any of my fellow artists before. We talk, explore movement, and notice how our emotions are transmitted to our virtual cartoon selves — and when they are not. We learn to articulate better in these places. I remember every session as if we all came together, on a big empty stage, to really be there.
In this way, VR really warps time and space and plays with the way my memories do. It made me convinced that more would happen.
But the hardware and software being used now, including the new Meta Quest Pro, are not good enough to handle the challenge. However, they do show a glimmer of possibility. Apple’s expected VR headset, along with other devices coming next year, could try to fill the need for better tools. However, in the meantime, the biggest challenge is creating frameworks that can connect all the software and hardware we already use and make better space for these new peripherals as well.
The metaverse is a new term in regards to business strategy, an old term for Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi readers Snow crash. The familiar feel of everything can make it seem like a rehash, or even a scam. Parts of it, no doubt. But, going back to the beginning of the World Wide Web, it was exactly the same. Some websites that were part of the first dot-com bubble crashed and burned. A few of them are stuck.
The Internet has continued to change, evolving from static websites to streaming video, social media, apps on phones, and services that cross-platform. This makes me wonder what the metaverse will really be like in another 10 or 15 years. Just because technology exists doesn’t mean it’s perfect. If this is the dawn of a new era of computing, will we be able to understand it by the time it is widespread and adopted?
when not if
It is no longer interesting to ask: “What if metaverse happen?
Instead, ask: “What’s going on when metaverse happen?
This is where the unknown, and the strange complexities of what may be to come, can bring about the biggest changes we need to attend to. We didn’t expect social media, at the dawn of Friendster and MySpace, to be something that would change the global political landscape. What will the widespread adoption of metaverse apps, VR and AR, blockchain technology, and ever-evolving AI end up with a disruption we never expected?
The metaverse also feels like a quest for a new social media future, or an acknowledgment that the systems we have now may be due to change. Social media, at the moment, seems to be in a state of flux. The metaverse isn’t yet a definitive answer, or even a fully coherent concept, but it may also be an indication that social media as we know it will morph. Perhaps the metaverse is what happens to social media when it expands to a much larger canvas.
I picked up Jane McGonigal’s latest book, can be imagined, which details how to think about the future that lies ahead, 10 years from now. Games that futurists like McGonigal use to question big future changes often involve flipping assumptions on their heads. What do we suppose will be around in 10 years, and what if it isn’t? If the metaverse works, and we end up with the ability to seamlessly recreate objects digitally, overlay simulation and reality, and blend the two in real time, then what?
Could we finally split our identities, living in several personas at once? Will we embody other people from time to time, or find our identities melting together? Will the future be like the nested virtual worlds of Single player readyOr something more multifaceted and fragmented? Will we have enhanced senses, strange superpowers that work at a distance, or will it all look like our lives on our phones, only more all around us and ever-present? Will we find AI and ourselves blending and weaving until we coexist with simulation as part of our daily lives? Are we going to operate the gadgets remotely, or are we going to invent entirely new virtual gadgets that we can’t even conceive of yet? Or will the metaverse just be a slow evolution of the internet and our products as we know them?
Watching the recent Industrial Light & Magic documentary on Disney+, I thought about how the special effects transition from physical models to digital, and then to instant digital performances played on real stages, like The MandalorianThe stage of production is called “volume”. The acceleration between the real and the virtual and the simultaneous overlap is already here.
From now on, this coexistence may turn out to be even stranger than we can imagine. I expected it, because the present is already unbelievably strange.
If so, we’d better start thinking about how to prepare for it — right now.
Scott Stein is editor-at-large at CNET.
#metaverses #biggest #unknown