OPINION

Metaverse marketing ploy: No chance of real metaverse

Metaverse marketing ploy: No chance of real metaverse

Meta proclaims the metaverse age. But man is not ready for a true metaverse.

So there’s our new buzzword: metaverse. Thanks to Meta, ex-Facebook, this term is arriving in public discourse long before less tech-savvy people even had VR, let alone AR, goggles on their own noses. Of course, with a new, potentially lucrative marketing term, every company with its finger on the Internet pulse jumps right on it.

In addition, there is a flood of opinions from authors of all kinds of large and small newspapers, magazines, television stations, of course YouTube, yes, and finally also from MIXED! Among them are many whose ideas about the Metaverse – or so it seems to me – stem from their consumption of Ready Player One.

Lack of understanding of the Metaverse: This is not an alternative reality

At the same time, Oasis cannot and should not be held up as a vision of a Metaverse. I think the definition of the metaverse as an alternate reality is wrong. Meta means “in formations with nouns, that something is on a higher level, level, is classified above or behind something.”(Duden) This means that there must be a connection to something existing. The metaverse cannot exist without reality, the real universe. It is not an alternate reality that I step into or out of. The metaverse must instead be understood as an extension of reality.

Marketing departments lack the vision to think of a metaverse in a way that advances humanity – not just a single company. This vision is also missing wholesale among tech nerds. Instead, we’ll get different metaverses, along the lines of today’s Internet: Google rules search and advertising, Facebook is king in social media, Microsoft is god over productivity apps and PCs, Apple has its own smartphone empire.

The proclaimed Metaverse will be an equally fragmented entity of disparate corporate networks, only with new technologies: virtual reality and augmented reality, a bit of smart tech, and software often glorified as artificial intelligence that is little more than a few IF-THEN lines of code.

Who owns the metaverse?

The underlying problem with this constant myopia has been the same since the dawn of mankind: the greed of Homo Sapiens prevents technology from being used sustainably and broadly for the benefit of mankind. It is this greed that turns tech companies into money-grubbing small minds. Data is the new gold and those with more data make more money. Under this aspect, absolutely any real progress will be compressed, crushed, and scrambled to a standstill.

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Meta’s Jason Rubin is a vivid example of how snooty competitiveness and financial power-mongering nip the true potential of a true metaverse in the bud. According to Rubin, people should only have to leave the meta-metaverse for basic needs, but otherwise spend their entire working and living lives in it, up to and including getting married. “The first metaverse to really catch on will probably also be the last,” Rubin wrote. “We have to act first and make it big, or risk being one of those wannabes.” Such a world is a dystopia where no one has to worry about reality anymore: Outside, everything can be in ruins, as long as I just don’t notice it in the alternate reality.

Imagination is limited to one’s own horizon of advantage…

Meta is acting first now, and while I think the vision Zuckerberg presented at Facebook Connect 2021 is fundamentally great, I’m always struck by how non-progressive it all is in a social sense. Sure, it somehow involves climate protection, it has social benefits, it brings the world even closer together and it theoretically opens up new opportunities for people who in reality have hardly any options – artists:inside, for example.

But is that all we are capable of imagining? Do we buy into the new marketing fad of the metaverse and accept the rebranding of 3D game worlds or team meetings as the metaverse? Is our horizon so limited that imagining a digital future is limited to gaming mutations?

The answer, sadly, is yes. Even tech nerds who are passionate about VR, AR, and AI keep coming up with Ready Player One whenever there’s talk of the ultimate destination, the Metaverse. This inability to think beyond pop culture hits and focus on people in their reality – not just for corporate-centric marketing – prevents a true Metaverse. What would that even look like, a human-centric Metaverse?

Real Metaverse: A new dimension of reality

The true metaverse is not a substitute for reality as outlined by Rubin. Ready Player One worlds may be a part of that, but the goal can only be to merge digital with reality in the most seamless and helpful way possible. Digital needs to be integrated into reality and add a dimension to our real, physical lives – not otherwise.

In the real metaverse, the web is no longer locked into a smartphone or PC screen, but is all around us, perceived everyday via AR devices and travelled via VR devices. Information, art and culture are interactively integrated into our environment so that we can interact with it intuitively and naturally.

We no longer work only in the home office, but can go from home to the office at any time within seconds as an avatar, where we are seen just as if we were real – only with different, virtual clothes, hairstyles, accessories. As avatars, we take part in congresses, trade fairs, concerts and demonstrations that we would otherwise not have attended, or we discuss with politicians at citizens’ meetings – from home, when we are not there.

We go to a bar with friends in New York and meet new people. In cities, private cars no longer drive, but autonomous and climate-friendly taxis provide smooth traffic, available to everyone within a few minutes from almost any position – thanks to an AI control of the smart city that is fully designed for (energy) efficiency.

Reasons for failure #1: The (A)social society.

Some of this sounds like it was envisioned by Mark Zuckerberg. But is the meta-chief really thinking about a different XR future than the compartmentalized One-Facebook-World postulated by Rubin? Is the guy responsible for Facebook’s hate-promoting algorithm also the tech messiah who will make our world more accessible, easier, bigger and better? Or will we end up bouncing back and forth between fragmented corporate metaverses and their self-interests?

We are unable, despite exponentially increasing crises, to promote renewables to a degree that would make a stable future likely. We continue to have forests cleared to extract coal in 2021. We park our cities with bigger and bigger cars and our politicians fly 20-minute routes by plane. We see our neighbor as an enemy, treat women like dirt, screw over partners and the state, openly doubt science, and behave antisocially in every way imaginable: from flicking butts on the sidewalk to refusing vaccinations that protect us and our fellow humans. And we have still not managed to outlaw violence in society.

But the real Metaverse won’t happen, if only because it would have to be open, like the idea of the Internet used to be before Silicon Valley divided it up among itself. It would have to be progressive. It would have to be designed to let everyone participate seamlessly. It would have to make the real world available in the digital world, which would require a different approach to public space: Millions and millions of cameras, or regular 3D surveying of the world, so that I could stroll past Buckingham Palace under VR goggles, in real time, alongside all those who are physically there.

Who can want that when more and more racism, hatred, corruption is the order of the day in our governments, fascists are sitting in state and federal parliaments, people are becoming more and more radicalized, and blatant totalitarian regimes or disinformation campaigns are destabilizing even within what were originally once open-minded projects like the European Union? Greetings to Brexiteers: how’s life outside been treating you so far?

Reasons for failure #2: Digitization, lol.

I’m only touching on social aspects superficially so far. On the technology side, things are also looking bleak. We hardly manage, or only after endless years, to agree on standards, such as charging sockets for smartphones, electric car charging stations, VR standards, a digital identity card and much more. We do not manage to track and contain the spread of a pandemic in a meaningful way within two years.

In 2021, our government agencies are still using paper forms, printing processes, mailing letters, using fax machines, and transferring digital information into paper files. Our public transportation is becoming more expensive with declining service – many a transportation company now offers ticketing apps that are barely usable. Broadband internet is a barely attainable dream for many people. Publishers and editors stick to their print traditions like garbage on a boot.

Our education is still analog: At my kids’ school, the wifi breaks down as soon as five people log on at once. There’s computer class once a week in a computer lab there. In 1995, when I was still in school, I already had that: a computer room where word processing was taught. The only difference: today the PCs are a bit more powerful, sitting around in the rarely accessible room.

Media literacy? Not taught because politics, schools and institutions are decades behind the curve on digitization. When, for once, deepfakes stray into a political discussion, thousands of women have already been victimized for years with deepfake porn.

However, blaming the digitization failure only on institutions or the state is too short, too reactionary, and too simplistic in its thinking. Because across the board, the unwillingness to allow something new, to change, is prevalent. “We have always done that, if we change that, OhGottogott”, it resounds through offices and executive floors, through Bundestag and Landtag, over the regulars’ table and from the couch at home.

The Metaverse idea today: Marketing bullshit par excellence

No, the Metaverse of Meta, Microsoft & Co. is a pure marketing fairy tale. Of course we will see various so-called metaverses: limited variants, prototypes, expensive premium experiences. The fragmented market will remain, the usual fat conglomerate of opaque goals and vested interests will remain exactly as we have learned it: Growth above all else and to whom has, shall be given.

There will be no true metaverse, no seamless merging of digital and reality across the board, because humans are incapable of looking beyond their own small horizons of advantage. It would require rethinking, cooperation, putting profit thinking aside, and a common goal: to make every single human life more worth living. We can’t even do that in the face of a pandemic or increasing climate problems that are already having a direct and porky impact on us today. Just wait for the next heating bill.

So the Zuckerberg vision is nothing more than that: a nice idea, but in any case just the next big marketing stunt. In the future, every single company will stick the Metaverse on their websites and packaging – even if it’s just because the new smartphone app offers the latest AI filter with funny hats and beards for selfies or because it comes with a video function.

It’s flawless marketing: it looks the same as always. It smells the same as always. It benefits the same people as always. It’s just called something different.