Imagine a world where you can be anything you want; where you can meet your friends from everywhere in the blink of an eye; where you have a constant stream of dopamine hits; where you can attend your favorite events, travel to anywhere you want, and where all of your desires and wishes will be there for you to take—all digitally by machine and from the comfort of your own living room.
To some, this sounds exciting, like humanity is crossing onto a new frontier. A digital universe where our wildest dreams can actually happen, and it feels real. You are not looking at things through a screen; you are “there.” To some others, it sounds like we are on the verge of destroying humanity, it sounds like we are headed to a dystopia. Like we are pushing ourselves further away from what it means to be human. We will be in a reality where we will refer to “real” life as the “offline world.”
This reality seems to be fast approaching us, through Mark Zuckerberg’s new creation of “Meta.” A world where he says you will be able to go anywhere, meet your friends from all around the world for a pool game, choose whatever outfit you want your “avatar” to wear, among many other things. It is going to be an all-encompassing world controlled by Facebook. Russell Brand refers to this as the “colonization of the mind.”
Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, bluntly admitted years ago that Facebook overrides the free will of its users. He said that when engineers first designed Facebook, the first point of focus was “How do we consume as much of your time as possible?” Parker also said that the social media platform changes our relationship with society, and “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Many people will hear this and dismiss it as superfluous, but isn’t it true that we have now become dependent on our phones? That many people are now actually addicted to their smartphones and social media platforms? We question how could the “metaverse” change this, or even exacerbate the problem. Just like any addiction, people often overestimate their control over their usage.
It is estimated that people spend between 5 and 6 hours on their phone, and 4 hours on their computer; if they sleep an average of 8 hours, that leaves 6 to 7 hours when we are “offline” and awake. To Zuckerberg, that is most likely “untapped” time that we could be spending on his platform. Why? Because users on his platforms are the products that Facebook sells to advertisers. Spending more time on it allows Facebook to strategically design algorithms to keep us there even longer.
Dr. David Reid, a professor of AI and special computing at Liverpool Hope University, believes that this incoming immersive virtual world will change our lives immeasurably in the same way the internet disrupted the world. The professor argues that “the metaverse has huge implications—it comes with fantastic advantages and terrifying dangers.”
“Because if you think about the way it works, the metaverse’s ultimate aim is not just virtual reality, or augmented reality, it’s mixed reality (MR). It’s blending the digital and the real world. Ultimately this blend may be so good, and so pervasive, that the virtual and the real become indistinguishable.”
Many millionaires are now expanding to new frontiers; Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk expanded to space, and Mark Zuckerberg is expanding into a different reality. A reality where all your movements, everything you see, hear, and feel, will be under his dominion.
Of course, there might be other smaller companies creating their own virtual realities, but will any of them be able to compete with Facebook? In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus for 2 billion dollars, the company that controls 75% of the virtual reality market. How long before they expand to that remaining 25%?
Yes, this is exciting. The idea of reuniting with our family and friends living all other the world without expensive plane tickets sounds incredibly appealing. The technological advancement may be awe-inspiring, but we need to consider the consequences of jumping into this new world. The Matrix may appear to be an unreasonable comparison, but the more and more time we spend on this virtual reality, is the comparison really that absurd?