Why Are We So fascinated With The Metaverse?
In 1902 the first (arguably) science fiction short film by Georges Méliès, “A Trip to the Moon” or “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” hit the silver screen. It was followed by “Around the Moon” which was based around a small group of astronomers who go to the moon launched by a cannon (naturelement!), explore the moon and escape from the moon’s underground inhabitants (Selenites) and return to earth with a captured Selenite. It was largely inspired by Jules Verne and H.G. Well’s late 19th century science fiction novels. It could be said this was our first attempt as a species to visualize an alternate reality. As the 21st century opens, we are visualizing another alternate universe…the metaverse.
Although today the metaverse is largely an idea and a wonderful hallucination between Meta, companies like Roblox and Microsoft and the technology media, it is a visualization of something different. It is, for now, largely science fiction. Whether or not it becomes “reality” is left to be seen. As with any such massively large idea, history shows us that whatever becomes reality is not what we imagined at the start.
So why are we so fascinated with the metaverse? What’s driving this hallucination, this mutual delusion?
From a digital (cultural) anthropologists view? Because humanity has been creating alternate universes for many thousands of years. From Celtic mythology to Norse and Icelandic sagas, Sumerian and Mythraic tales and Neolithic cultures and the stories we told. We’ve long created stories to explain our being and place, our environment and to take us away from the daily grind. Bards travelled the ancient lands telling poems and singing songs to not just carry the news, but to also give us a break from the drudgery of life. And we’ve long projected futures with social and cultural ideals that we felt we could not achieve in our present time. This is why as humans, across all cultures, we have rituals of story telling, singing and dancing, theatre and arts. These are the rich artefacts of a culture and help give us the knowledge to navigate our daily lives.
The metaverse today is a series of stories. Ideas. There is no single, universal metaverse, no “one place” like in a movie that you can “go to and be there”. Maybe there will be. Maybe there won’t be. Today, there are a bunch of mini-metaverses that can be accessed through VR goggles or on a computer screen. Most are gaming oriented such as World of Warcraft or Second Life, Minecraft or Sims or various Roblox worlds. They are places we go to be entertained.
Much of the hope for those talking about the metaverse is also for new ways to create content, art, music and other digital ventures. That it will be “decentralized” (it will not be) and there will be entirely new economic models (there won’t be) and it will be the next level for humanity.
Essentially, what we might say, is that today, the metaverse is an ideal, it is a story we are telling of a future as we have told such stories for millennia. Stories are always based in some degree of reality and we use them to help us navigate the world, today and tomorrow. When humans are unhappy in their present world, or feel they need a little escape, we tell stories. They give us hope, courage and strength to carry on. It’s why we’ve been telling them for millennia. They are an incredibly important and valuable part of the many cultures that have, currently and will exist on our planet.
Some stories we tell, become true. A startup entrepreneur who is pitching her brilliant idea tells a story to get funding and then her marketing team tells a story to get customers. If people like the stories, they buy products and a reality comes into being.
Today, the metaverse is a story. It’s a good one. Telling it is important because something will evolve from it. We can’t be sure what, but it is a cultural element. Someday, our ancestors may see the metaverse elements in the ancient data stores they find a way to access and may think we communicated with aliens, much like some people think ancient Egyptians and others drew spacemen and helicopters on hieroglyphs (shh, they didn’t. That’s lousy TV stuff.)
What story would you tell of the metaverse?