Except, of course, that’s not possible. Virtual reality has been on the brink of success for decades now, never quite able to catch the masses. In an essay written for WIRED just before Facebook became Meta, writer and academic David Karpf describe how the earth-shattering promise of virtual reality has repeatedly failed to materialize, despite major advances in hardware and software. “Technology is always on turn a corner, on be more than just a gaming device, on to revolutionize fields such as architecture, defense and medicine. The future of work, entertainment, travel and society is still on the brink of a huge virtual upgrade,” he wrote, saying the problem comes down to the simple fact that “swinging a sword virtual quickly becomes tiring”.
Zuckerberg’s particular metaverse can barely deliver the expected number of members, let alone feel like those members are somewhere they aren’t, growing closer to their distant loved ones. Far from feeling “deeply present,” people currently traversing Horizon Worlds must do so wearing a clumsy headset that requires frequent charging, which means they not only don’t transcend the “small window” of a screen, but they are also physically connected to a charger.
Sure, it’s early days, and maybe there will be major innovations that will make it more plausible to feel physically present with other people in a virtual space 20 or 30 years from now, even if that seems unlikely. (Matrix pods, anyone?) But even if that happens, there’s a much bigger hurdle to overcome: if people want that in the first place. Do we really want to drop our bodies, ignore bodily existence, and instead spend a good portion of our wild and precious lives in a corporate-controlled simulacrum? Even the coolest virtual sword loses its shine.
Big Tech leaders, Zuckerberg in particular, have made a bold bet to be able to profit from the metaverse. That doesn’t automatically make it something people want. The madness of Meta’s quest, in particular, is tied to the scale of her ambitions. The most successful current metaverses are gaming platforms like Roblox and Epic Games’ Fortnite. But Meta has no intention of becoming the next Roblox or Fortnite. He wants to gobble them up, then spit them out in the corner of a much larger world, a world where people go to work as well as play, hang out, read, stream, scroll and, of course, buy stuff.
This more ambitious view of the metaverse – the parallel world in its own right – is misguided. It’s based on this frankly weird assumption that people yearn to go deeper into a digitized facsimile of the real world, complete with housing bubbles, art speculation, and Zoom meetings. This is a hypothesis that has many proofs against he. It’s not like society is turning away from the internet – people really spend too much time both online and playing video games – but there’s not much to be said for a new more intense version. On the contrary, especially after the pandemic has pushed a wide range of urban professionals towards extremely online lifestyles and remote work, the cultural appetite is for in-person events, face-to-face conversations and reality. not increased.