WTF is the Metaverse?!

easyDNS is pleased to sponsor Jesse Hirsh‘s “Future Fibre / Future Tools” segments of his new email list, Metaviews

Can reality converge in spite of polarization?


It may no longer be a cliché to argue that we live in different realities that themselves appear to be diverging. The obvious example being the expanding gap between those of us who have taken the science behind this pandemic seriously, and those who have indulged and succumbed to conspiracy.

Ironic then that at the moment it feels our society is dissolving into conflicting entities, we now see the ascendance of the Metaverse metaphor.

The Metaverse means different things to different people, however it is designed to evoke a plurality of realities.

This might be in a metaphysical context of multiple universes or meta universes. However it might also be in a digital context, referring to virtual and augmented reality, and the means by which these potential virtual worlds interconnect and interrelate.

Many of us associate the phrase Metaverse with cyberpunk and specifically Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. This means it evokes not just a technical vision of multiple realities but also a political context that might weave said discordant systems back together again.

After all what kind of entity or digital platform could connect multiple realities to each other?

The future of the company would go far beyond its current project of building a set of connected social apps and some hardware to support them. Instead, he said, Facebook would strive to build a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences straight out of sci-fi — a world known as the metaverse.

The company’s divisions focused on products for communities, creators, commerce, and virtual reality would increasingly work to realize this vision, he said in a remote address to employees. “What I think is most interesting is how these themes will come together into a bigger idea,” Zuckerberg said. “Our overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life.”

Chairman Mark loves to couch his political ambitions within the guise of technological innovation, but the two are inseparable.

Facebook sees an opportunity in the apparent rise of the Metaverse, and this is not just an opportunity to help make it happen, but to contain and control it.

There is an intuitive logic driving newfound interest in the Metaverse. Our current relationship with technology does not necessarily serve our human needs and interests.

This is no accident but rather the purpose. Digital platforms serve advertisers not users. Arguing that mixed reality technology will do a better job of serving humans is a bit of a leap.

While it might make sense from an interface perspective, the interface is just a manifestation of the underlying logic.

The current resurgence in Metaverse interest and argument stems from an essay written by a venture capitalist who has an agenda in seeing the concept set in.

The irony is that while the Metaverse is presented as a kind of technological achievement, it is entirely conceptual, and more importantly political.

It requires a range of assumptions from interoperability to a kind of meta governance that allows the Metaverse to not devolve into a kind of meta war.

Assumptions that are in themselves huge logical leaps, that would not be possible if they were not also surrounded by other huge logical leaps.

Hence why the current enabler of the Metaverse is not an interface per se, but rather currency, and the ability to conceive of speculative digital real estate.

MANA is the currency of a virtual world called Decentraland, where in March plots of digital land were going for the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars. (After two years bouncing around 10 cents, MANA briefly broke $1.60 in April, pushing the combined value of all the tokens past $2.4 billion.)

By size, Decentraland is more of a commune — as of July, just a few hundred people are logged in at a time, down from a March peak in the low thousands — made up of user-generated NFTs. Its creators have described the platform less as a place than as infrastructure upon which to build a place. (Decentraland’s currency and land contracts run on the Ethereum blockchain.)

Denizens of Decentraland are constantly creating scenes and experiences for other users, like concerts and art exhibits. There are casinos where you can gamble in MANA, with croupiers who are paid in MANA to show up for work. The sense that Decentraland is a work in progress pervades the sparsely populated grid of half-developed plots and themed zones. Between events, users are mostly left to wander and wonder: What now?

Speculators seem less confused; after all, Decentraland is first and foremost an experiment in scarce digital property. This month, Republic Realm, which calls itself a “digital real estate firm,” purchased an NFT of a 259-parcel virtual estate in Decentraland for more than 1.2 million MANA, or, at contemporaneous exchange rates, more than $900,000.

It should come as no surprise that it is greed rather than creativity that is currently driving interest and fueling speculation.

Perhaps this engine doesn’t matter in so far as it is creativity that is being fueled.

Although as with all things issues of control and governance, “relationships of ownership, they whisper in the wings”.

“To those condemned to act accordingly and wait for succeeding kings.”

“And I try to harmonize with songs, the lonesome sparrow sings. There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden.”

There are of course skeptics who wonder what the ultimate goal of this Metaverse is. Words like Matrix are used, not just due to the potential wonder that such a platform might hold, but also due to its potential dystopia.

Alternatively we could just regard all of this as empty hype, cursed to never arrive, rather be promised in perpetuity.

Either way, now that you’ve been primed, expect to see mention of the Metaverse increase in frequency and cliché. #metaviews

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