The Two Biggest, Silliest, Tech Ideas of 2021
Just like digital technologies that are increasingly exponentially, so sometimes does hype in the digital world. It’s great for the dopamine receptors and creates lots of clicks and shares and opens up all kinds of exciting science fiction writing. Usually, there’s a rush of hype around certain technologies every year, but usually they’re limited to a product or two. This year, two technology concepts burst onto the digital scene. You’ve probably already guessed them…the metaverse and web3.
I only say they’re silly because one is largely science-fiction and also, to some degree already exists. That is the metaverse. The concept of web3 has been around a while, it is noble, but the concept misses some nuances of market forces and human behaviours. But within each also rest some very exciting opportunities. What does actually come out of both could have huge benefits to global society and markets and may be essential to shaping our future societies. So I’ll look at both, in a short way from the silly side to the more practical side.
The Silly Side of the Metaverse
If you aren’t sure what the metaverse idea is, you can check out this article. What most pundits proclaim is that the metaverse will be decentralized and enable incredible new ways of creating content and usher in new economic models, it will not rely on big corporations and have freedoms to shape an entirely new virtual world. This is both correct and incorrect. The hippies invented the first ideology of the internet. It too was going to be free and amazing. Until it wasn’t. It became centralized as companies figured out how to make money. Nothing wrong with that. Well, some aspects are. The silly thing that is missed by metaverse evangelists is the fundamentals of market economics and how humans behave.
The metaverse, to be truly decentralized and open like people hope, would have to ignore the cost of data centres, internet infrastructure and the associated costs. While the activities within the metaverse may have some degree of freedom, they will be constrained by the requirements of the infrastructure. That infrastructure is being designed by the likes of meta (uh, Facebook), Apple, Google and Amazon and a few other lesser players. This also brings in human behaviours and market forces. Humans always, always, form social groups. We have never not done that. The metaverse offers a chance for all kinds of distributed, decentralized content, but inevitably, someone will curate that content and create a search engine so things can be found. Anyone remember Yahoo! and AltaVista? This will happen again. One could go on.
The silliest thing about the metaverse has been the gold rush of pundits saying it exists. It does not. And that it is inevitable and saying exactly what it will be like. They don’t know. They can’t. The hype far outweighs the current reality.
The Practical Side of the Metaverse
Enough of the silly side. A lot of really good things will likely come out of whatever this metaverse becomes in reality. Don’t forget, Alexander Bell invented the telephone to share opera music, not to connect people. The use of Social Tokens and environments where ideas can be tested could lead to breakthroughs in improving manufacturing and surgeries and much, much more. Imagine creating a digital twin of the human body to test surgical procedures? Manufcturers are already using digital twins. Economic models could betested as well, faster and better than today. New approaches and ideas for environmental approaches to deal with climate change.
The reality is that the metaverse like almost every other technology before it, will not be like we describe it today. But it is cool to see the ideas flow. My hope is that humans, outside of mega corporations, play more of a role shaping it. Right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Silly Side of Web3
Those who weren’t around for the rise of web 2.0 as it was then called, have some inyeresting notions of web3 and likely have forgotten the idea of web3 is quite a few years old. It was a hype thing that fizzled on the very altar of hype. It is being resurrected. The idea is that web 1.0 was read-only, then web 2.0 was read and write and web 3.0 is read, write and own. The “own” part being things like NFTs and cryptocurrency and greater ownership of digital artefacts. It is decentralized and holds the hope of the hippies of 40 years ago. It is an admirable notion and one that must be pursued because it will drive innovative ideas and new approaches. It is also silly in that it is far from being mainstream right now. For most consumers, Web 3.0 is difficult to comprehend, let along understand how to use.
The silly aspect of web3 is that the pundits have written what it is before we know what it is. The hype far outweighs, again, the reality.
The Practical Side of Web 3.0
Like the metaverse, the ideas and innovations that may come out of the notion of web3 are and could be, incredibly valuable. Cryptocurrency could, for example, enable newspapers and magazines to offer articles at fractional pricing or use NFTs, thus supporting investigative journalism and ensuring good content is both copyright protected and can generate long tail revenues. Music and art that is created can ensure ownership control, even when it moves into centralized spaces. There are similarities between web3 and the metaverse. Neither will come to pass as they are idealized today. And with blockchain being a fundamental underpinning of web3, it will have to crawl out of the dark, dank shadow of cryptocurrency first. So far, it has not been able to do this.
Both of these technology concepts, these systems of operating, should be fostered. Such ideas and thoughts will yield interesting new systems, ways of operating and solve problems.
But what the pundits often forget, as many do, is that someone needs to pay for the massive data centres, the energy to run them, the millions of miles of undersea cables, the routers, hubs and satellites to connect it all together, the computers, smartphones and tablets on which things are created, the goggles, glasses and wireless WiFi systems and the people that must keep all these little things running. They are manufactured and owned by very large companies who will not go softly into the night and nor should they. And they, at the end of the day, determine what runs on their networks. It’s important to remember that Facebook, oh, right, Meta, sees itself as leading the charge in the creation of the metaverse. Meta is a business. The purpose of a business as Peter Drucker said, is to make a profit. This is fine, capitalism is good. It’s the best system, alongside democracy, that we’ve ever invented. But Meta does not serve consumers, its product is the dividends it delivers to shareholders. This is bad capitalism. Good capitalism creates and delivers products to consumers first. It is another reason that consumers/citizens must come together shape the metaverse and web3, not industry. If industry designs the metaverse and web3, it will not be designed to the benefit of consumers, it will be designed to the benefit of shareholders.
Within both lie great prospects, but right now, the hype is just silly. But also what humans do.