The term Metaverse it first appears in Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel entitled Snow crush published in 1992. What we are witnessing today is the application of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) devices to the interactive logics of social networks and videochat. Will the introduction of these tools on the economic market really determine the “future of the internet”?
Almost a year has already passed (October 2021) since Halfa company created by Mark Zuckerberg, formerly known as Facebook, has released an important and long video available on YouTube on the idea of developing through the latest virtual reality and augmented reality technologies a Metaversethat is a completely virtual shareable space usable through Avatar customizable with which you can move within the digital platform.
The main novelty put forward by Zuckerberg is that in the Metaverse it will be possible to have an immersive experience of the internet able to make one experience the “presence”, that is, the feeling of being in a given place at a given time, like never before.
The high resonance of these futuristic promises, which a year later still seem to be intentions, offers us the opportunity to reflect on the rapid but very important transformation of the very concept of experience through which the managers of the largest companies in the IT sector they are leading us.
Virtual laboratory that breaks down physical barriers
First of all, the illusion of “we”, that is, the fact that the introduction of the operational, communicative and commercial potential of a product by its manufacturing company is transmitted to the general public as the result of a collective enterprise, a true and just a step forward in human progress that, if carried out by one or only a few, immediately becomes mine, yours, ours, even if most of us know little or nothing about the production and development processes of these technologies.
The sense of the collectivity of the discovery, however, is typical of all the great human technical revolutions, it was in fact enough for a single man to land on the Moon to be able to affirm that humanity had conquered space.
However, we must not get too distracted by the fact that producers and developers operating in the digital world, the so-called creatorare effectively the only holders of the effective manipulation and management of the platformwith respect to which all the others can only be identified as more or less technically skilled “users” (Gen Z compared to previous generations) or successful (average user compared to influencers).
What is most striking about Zuckerberg’s long speech is certainly the emphasis placed on the immersive and embodied character (embodied) ofvirtual experience which, according to its creator, will allow you to feel authentically present together with other people by breaking down any physical barrier.
The breaking down of barriers, as well as the promise of a new range of real bodily senses that can be exercised during online experiences, really seems to suggest the possibility of transcending our human physicality to begin to experience the world in other ways as well.
These “new ways”, however, can only follow the already existing and completely natural ones typical of communicative interaction face to face and they are: eye contact, that is, will it be possible to look into each other’s eyes through their Avatars, or should we say having the sensation of looking someone in the eye? Then, the possibility of sharing the same experienceable space, or should we say having the feeling of sharing the same space with someone? Then again, facial expressions and body language, which should restore that sense of reality typical of live interactions to distance communication, whose typical means up to now has been writing, image or video. Last but not least, the feeling of being able to teleport around the world by participating in live concerts through their Avatars or holograms.
In short, the idea behind it all seems to make the Metaverse the new way of using social networks. The goal is therefore to socialize: through games, sports and moments of hang out that open and close windows on the world, fixed on that surface of things which is the vision.
The illusion begins by giving primacy to sight, as the only organ of knowledge in the world. If that were the case, it would hardly distinguish human beings from sophisticated cameras and recorders that capture and store images, the space for reflection would be totally erased and the subject more than acting, in the Metaverse he would limit himself to undergoing the immense beauty of a lucid dream that he himself is able to shape.
The only word that remains to be pronounced in the face of these experiences is “wow” – the expression of immediate and singular amazement par excellence – before and after which there is no history because what is lacking is the exclusivity of a space and of a time dedicated to someone; in reverse, the extremely shareable space of the Metaverse it is a space of total vulnerability of the subject who finds himself naked in front of an anesthetizing bombardment of sensory stimuli, for the most part visual.
Short note on the creator economy
Why does the creation of content on the web? Because man seems to be ceasing to invest his active energies to transform the concrete world around him and is increasingly committed to devoting all his efforts – made of hours to the PC – to share his talent, your passions or your job? The Workplace spaces of the Metaverse will they be the new version of Zoom meetings? But for whose work?
It will certainly be advantageous to have the opportunity to get in touch in an “immersive” way with people who study and work very far from us, or maybe even attend courses and universities on the other side of the world, but we are sure that the integration of Metaverse in work and / or learning environments is it enough to transform a user into an agent? After all, feel present is there to be?
The most likely part of Zuckerberg’s speech seems to be rather the destination of these tools in order to streamline the whole series of the numerous steps of the company work that require the rapid feedback of the supervisor, and therefore that the work in Metaverse is conceived on the model of business logic, which basically has a hierarchical structure.
From this point of view, there seem to be no arguments to admit even the plausibility that this new way of “inhabiting” the network can somehow favor democratic processes or the democratization of society, for the simple fact that the organization and management of digital platforms are devoted to organization and control, typical elements of the top-down structure of corporate IT giants.
It is reasonable to imagine that the CEO of a multinational in a few years, to supervise the branches of the company he works for around the world, instead of traveling by plane, will find it much easier to virtually connect with his collaborators to carry out a inspection or meetings using platforms such as the Metaverse.
The so-called moments of briefingwho in person need a lot of organization, collide with their need to be brief and will probably be entirely delegated to this new opportunity to teleporting virtual, which is considered, by Zuckerberg himself, as a way to reduce the environmental impact of actual travel – assuming that all the energy to power our devices is Green, when we know that it is not.
Wisely renounce excessive and often superfluous travel by plane but categorically reject, at the same time, the limits that the here and now corporeal imposes, it is an idea that nevertheless feeds the conviction that the fluidity of communication on a global level will result in a greater consolidation of the human community, and that therefore more interactions or more “vivid” interactions, to use the term of President Zuckerberg, they necessarily translate into time of quality and mutual enrichment.
Starting from establishing a decidedly questionable equality between dialogue and interaction, or between information and views probably arises the dominance ofhang outliterally that “going out with friends” that the Metaverse it should allow users to provide them with a completely different atmosphere of comfort, able to involve some of our sensory faculties.
Last note onvirtual learning. In this case, in order to exercise their technical skills, before carrying them out in a real way, the Metaverse it seems once again to be a tool for the benefit of the army of technicians that today’s corporate world requires.
Even in the medical field, the disproportion between technical skills and the practice of care, which involves the need for a relationship with the patient, will become evident when treating will mean more and more almost exclusively knowing how to use certain technological devices.
The question remains: is this enormous freedom of choice, creation and personalization of digital environments placed before the eyes of users real? Or the Metaverse will complete the transformation of Internet in a large digital shopping center on which the capitalist global economy will focus to try to escape from recurring systemic crises by opening up new marketing spaces and inducing virtual needs that are increasingly distant from the little colored and customizable urgencies that reality imposes on us?