How Culture & AI Cancelled the Metaverse


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The hype pf the metaverse in early 2022 was quite something. According to all the tech pundits, investors, news media, futurists and tech industry analysts, we’d all be flailing about our living rooms with headsets on for the entire workday and deep into the night in the metaverse. A new economy would arise, wealth would magically appear, all would be decentralised, creators would have all the control. Techtopia folks, was, finally, at hand. Then culture, with a little help from AI cancelled it. Why?

On the one hand it’s the fault of the Tech Giants who thrive on hyping the next big thing. On the other hand, it’s a society that’s tired of the hype that doesn’t live up to the promises and has become very skeptical. Then there’s culture.

Culture is the code that humans have been using for hundreds of thousands of years to survive and thrive. Culture is far more than music, art and literature. It’s a coding system that includes economics, social structure, politics, family systems, norms, traditions, social behaviours and more.

Ultimately, it is culture that decides what technologies get accepted, how we adopt them and how we shape them after they too, shape us. But culture, like some sort of “hive mind” or the economic term of the “invisible hand”, is the final decision on how a technology evolves. At both micro and macro levels in a society.

The Obvious Failure Reasons.

The real reasons, culture, follows. This is for some added context.

Tech Giants like Meta, originally Facebook, knew that they’d failed when it came to delivering a product that people loved. That they couldn’t fix it based on the current business model. That no, not all technology can solve societal problems. Especially on a global scale.

So Facebook became Meta and they pitched us the metaverse. The public relations machine kicked into high gear. Suddenly, all the other Tech Giants (sans Apple), jumped on board. If they weren’t making a metaverse, they were supplying the hardware or software to connect to it.

Then the financial capital turned on the taps. Money flowed. Major brands piled on too. Even WalMart went full throttle, McDonalds too. Can I have virtual fries with that?

But no one showed up. They still haven’t. The digital tumble weeds whistle through digital ghost towns.

The gaming platforms are doing okay. But they were doing fine before the marketers decided to call it a “metaverse.” But not many of those people use a VR headset. They’re accessing the platforms through phones, tablets, laptops.

The cost to do just about anything in VR is still expensive. This is evidenced by Meta dropping the price of its VR headsets. Most require additional investments in a PC or gaming platform.

The Cultural Reasons the Metaverse Went Bust & How AI Helped

The deeper reason is that culture hasn’t seen enough value and not enough people understand the metaverse. It’s too abstract. It is intangible. Certain niche areas, such as gaming folks, do. Broader society is still trying to understand the time/place shift of our digital lives.

In the knowledge industry, with working from home during the pandemic, we discovered Zoom-Fatigue. Our brains can only handle so many video meetings in a day. It’s not a form of socializing and communicating that our brains can handle for extended periods. So it’s the same with Virtual Reality.

We do a lot of talking when we hang out in groups, but we also do a lot of non-verbal communicating. Signals that indicate interest, boredom, frustration, anxiousness. We need these subtle cues to navigate work and play activities. You can’t do this in VR. Especially if no one has legs.

Look too, how quickly the backlash ensued over people using AI generated avatars of their own headshots.

In sociocultural terms, the metaverse is not seen as relevant. This is where Generative AI (GAI) comes into play. Where society couldn’t see much value beyond playing games with the metaverse, the potential impacts, good and bad of ChatGPT and DALL-E 2 were quickly seen and understood.

GAI sent chills down some peoples spines and thrills up other peoples. The metaverse was seen as a commercial land grab by a brand that already had low consumer trust.

While proponents of Web3, crypto, NFTs, Blockchain and decentralisation saw all kinds of exciting opportunities, they represent about 1% of the potential market. For the other 99% of the consumer market, they don’t have a clue what any of that means.

The metaverse in its current proposed ideology, holds minimal sociocultural value. Perhaps in the distant future, it will. One can guess that Meta and others with metaverse things, will try to lure people in with claims of using AI. That will fail.

Socioculturally, the metaverse was already in troubled waters. GAI slammed down and hit the pause button. How long that pause will be, no one knows. But brands have pulled away. Because the consumers weren’t interested but they didn’t bother with the research. The headlines and hashtags were enough.

The collapse of the metaverse should serve as a cautionary tale to the Tech Giants and startups that rush into an idea without understanding how cultures accept and reject technologies first.



Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Foresight Analyst | Innovation Architect | Celt