It does sound like something from the
Marvel films but the Metaverse is a real idea that is in the pipeline for our
increasingly tech shaped future. Most people only became aware of it this week
when the news that the company was set to hire 10,000 people to work on it albeit
from the EU rather than the UK. Which says something about Facebook’s politics
and let’s not forget one Nick Clegg is the company’s head of global affairs. Indeed
the news story has been spun with a Brexit twist. However, most people’s reaction
was “Yeah but what is the Metaverse?”
I suppose an avalanche of negative media
headlines in recent years has led to a collective suspicion of every move Facebook
and other social media make even though most of us use some of them. It seems
that this latest wheeze is an online world that seems to be based on gaming wherein
people use Virtual Reality headsets to immerse themselves in a war against
giant insects on Pluto or a platoon in World War 2. Only in the metaverse we
will be similarly immersed when working or seeing friends or going to the
cinema except it wouldn’t be a cinema or the football. You could try on clothes
without really trying on clothes. If you see what I mean. I know it does sound
a bit like being spending your whole day in an upgraded Zoom meeting!
Those who understand all
this- and advocate it- say it will free us from devices so it wouldn’t be how
we imagine spending all day sat at a laptop or tablet or some other physical device.
The headsets – which presumably will be more comfortable than the current
iterations- will allow us to walk about in this virtual world. Imagine
`headsets` that are no more irksome to wear than glasses or sunglasses. Yes,
you can have that kind of experience in the current VR headsets but from what I
can tell the idea is that the metaverse’s VR topography will be far more immersive
than anything we can even imagine now. We’ll probably be on 16G by then of
course. The vision is that screens, holograms, VR headsets and
augmented reality glasses will allow fluid "movements" in physical
places, a process Facebook big cheese Mark Zuckerberg called "teleportations"
even if, physically, you would only move by walking or running about.
Like any newly public
idea its not actually a new idea being very much based on gaming technology and
various virtual reality developments. Games like Fortnite and Roblox already
use the concept. I suppose the closest fictional analogy would be the Holodeck
from Star Trek - The Next Generation where characters walked around in a
virtual world with which they could properly interact or become Sherlock Holmes.
Is it so far fetched- after all Star Trek `invented` the mobile phone in
the Sixties. There are plenty of films that use the concept in one version or
another from The Matrix to Free Guy. Looking ahead you can see
how it could especially help older people still have some sort of experiences if
they have serious physical issues. Imagine at the age of one hundred being able
to run about and feel as it you are actually running about. Now that would be a
positive. Technology can sometimes be wasted on the young!
The one aspect of the
all this that everyone is rather coy about is the cost. It is said that
Facebook will pour “billions” into the project, presumably the money they’ve
saved from their reluctance to pay anything like a fair amount of tax to national
governments. It is worth remembering that for all the bile poured on them at
the end of the day Facebook is free “and always will be”. So will the Metaverse
be free? We are used to being seduced by some amazing idea then years later discovering
we will have to pay rather a lot to actually use it. Perhaps advertising will
pay for it? Imagine being able to interact with adverts so you too can stand in
the rain singing “Where is the Sun?” or try and un-nerve the Money Calm Bull.
The other question is
whether we actually need a Metaverse at all? It suggests an escape, a balm, a
hiding place from reality itself. We all need that sometimes but the striking
vision outlined by Facebook suggests we might spend most of our time ensconced
in this enclosed place distracted from what is happening beyond. Its probably too
soon to reach conclusions about something that’s a way off yet but perhaps we
can, for once, check out both the good and the bad aspects of it before falling
for it unreservedly?
"Number One, I think we should sue Mike Zickenburger. Make it so."