Opinion: Welcome to the Metaverse, I guess


Jim Glynn/The Madera Tribune

Ragged Inn Resort as seen from the nature trail.

 

Today marks the beginning of a new year, and perhaps we should utilize the occasion to take a peek at whatever lies ahead. Some experts believe that the “whatever” is the metaverse, and its head cheerleader is Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of the corporation previously known as Facebook.


Zuckerberg, the kid who usually gave his lunch money to Bluto and was beaten up on a regular basis in school, just for the heck of it, has announced that Facebook (which has made him a gazillionaire) will henceforth be known as Meta, short for metaverse. At least that’s the corporate name (trading as MVRS of the stock exchange). Facebook, as well as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus, will be subsidiaries under the Meta umbrella.


What does it mean?


“Metaverse” is a term that was introduced by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction book, “Snow Crash.” I tend to shy away from any sci-fi books written after Brave New World and 1984 because they’re just too weird. However, I tried reading the plot summary of Snow Crash. I didn’t get very far.


Apparently, the protagonist is Hiro, who meets Y.T., a pizza skateboard Kourier (courier), and they form a partnership to gather intelligence, which they sell to the CIC, a merger of the CIA and the Library of Congress. Hiro obtains a datafile named Snow Crash, which is written in Sumerian and causes brain damage to another friend, Da5id. (No, that’s not a typographical error.)


I don’t know how much they receive for their intel because the trillion-dollar note has been made obsolete by the hyperinflation of the 21st century. Quadrillion-dollar notes are the smallest physical currency, so major transactions are made via alternative electronic currencies, like Kongbucks. At this point, the needle on my WeirdMeter went off the scale, and I quit.


Classical Greek origin


Upon making the announcement regarding the metaverse, Zuckerberg told CNN that he loved studying the classics in school. The new name for his company was inspired by the Greek word “meta,” which means “beyond.” He said, “For me, it symbolizes that there is always more to build.” He also dumped the old Facebook logo, replacing it with a blue oblate version of the symbol for infinity.


Suffice it to say that the Metaverse, according to Zuckerberg, is the internet which has been brought to life. It’s a virtual environment that the user can view from the inside rather than on a two-dimensional screen. It’s a parallel world of endlessly interconnected virtual communities. People can transverse these areas using virtual-reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, and smartphone apps.


Timing the announcement


Facebook has had a lot of negative publicity lately concerning issues like skirting anti-trust laws, whistleblowing, spreading misinformation, and collecting a great deal of personal data about individuals who use the service. A number of critics believe that the announcement was meant as a distraction from Facebook’s legal problems.


However, Zuckerberg did not address that issue. He said, “I know that some people will say that this isn’t a time to focus on the future, and I want to acknowledge that there are important issues to work on in the present. There always will be. So, for many people, I’m just not sure there ever will be a good time to focus on the future. But I also know that there are a lot of you who feel the same way that I do.”


The experience that we’ve had with COVID-19 may also come into play. Zuckerberg showed a video of his vision for metaverse, like sending a holographic image of yourself to a concert with a friend attending in real life. Or sitting around a virtual conference table with remote colleagues. Neither of which may have been possible during the lockdown.


Era of cooperation


Zuckerberg told NPR that the metaverse will be inclusive, not exclusive. Companies like Microsoft and Nvidia are also working on the concept. Richard Kerris, a vice president at Nvidia said, “We think there’s going to be lots of companies building virtual worlds and environments in the metaverse, in the same way there’s been lots of companies doing things on the World Wide Web.”


Moving from Microsoft’s metaverse to Nvidia’s version to Zuckerberg’s Meta will require a common protocol, one recognized by all participants. Steve Jang, managing partner at Kindred Ventures, emphasized, “We want to be able to move around the internet with ease, but we also want to be able to move around in a way we’re not tracked and monitored.”


Richard Kerris added, “It’s important to be open and extensible, so you can teleport to different worlds whether by one company or another company, the same way I go from one web page to another web page.”


The next evolution


Victoria Petrock, an analyst of emerging technologies, told NPR, “It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all… things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life.” In other words, you’ll be able to take a trip, try on or buy digital clothing, or create beautiful artwork.


The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically expanded the work-from-home trend, and Petrock believes that the metaverse will be a “game-changer” in that regard. Instead of seeing co-workers on a two-dimensional video grid, employees (or really, their avatars) will be able to join their colleagues in a virtual office.


But Petrock also has a couple of reservations about the metaverse. She said that she’s concerned about Facebook trying to lead the way into a virtual world that could require even more personal data and offer greater potential for abuse and misinformation, unless it fixes those problems now.


You won’t see me (or my avatar, if I had one) in the multiverse for several reasons, but chief among them is my ignorance of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), that is cryptocurrencies, including Omana, O AXS, O ENJ, O SAND, and O MVI. I still don’t understand Bitcoins.


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Jim Glynn, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.