Opinion | Metaverse is not the future


Photo courtesy Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Mark Zuckerberg announces the plan to make Facebook more private at Facebook’s Developer Conference on April 30, 2019. Senior columnist Matthew Krauter believes that the Metaverse will not live up to expectation.

By Matthew Krauter, Senior Columnist

The year is 2035. Rubbing your eyes as you get out of bed, you put on your virtual reality headset for your daily exercise routine of playing “Beat Saber” or “Supernatural.” After a — hopefully — VR-free shower, you put the headset back on to watch a show as you eat your breakfast until a notification from your boss pops up, reminding you there’s a meeting in five minutes.

No worries, you switch VR apps and suddenly are in a conference room surrounded by the digital avatars of your coworkers. When work ends, you hang out in a VR cabin with your friends for the evening before finally taking the headset off and rolling into bed.

This is the metaverse future Mark Zuckerberg envisions — and it should scare you.

The company formerly known as Facebook unveiled their grand design for the metaverse alongside their rebranding as “Meta.” Their metaverse is a planned online, interconnected virtual reality space where people work in “Quest for Business,” socialize in “Horizon Home,” consume entertainment, learn, exercise and more. 

Moreover, it’s an ironic twist of fate Meta pledges a $10 billion budget to the metaverse this year as “The Matrix Resurrections” graces theaters.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Dystopian virtual realities have become their own genre with blockbusters such as “Ready Player One” and “The Matrix” series. Contrary to Big Tech’s vision, a common motif of these films is the insufficiency of life in the virtual world.

Frightened to yield a monopoly over the modern “Matrix” to Zuckerberg, Microsoft entered the metaverse arms race with “Mesh” as a direct competitor for the VR workspace. Both companies recognize the widespread Zoom fatigue ensuing from the pandemic and market the technology as so immersive “you’ll forget you’re not actually in the office.”

Putting aside the fact their “immersive” VR avatars currently resemble Xbox Live’s from 2007, it’s delusional to pretend as if virtual office spaces are equivalent to corporeal ones just because they’re more immersive than the low bar of Zoom.

There’s a uniquely human element in relationships that can’t be replicated online. Coworker camaraderie, going to lunch and the daily commute are staples of life best left unfettered by Big Tech.

Likewise, the Americans have been less than enthralled about uploading their lives — 68% saying they’re not interested in a Morning Consult poll. However, the keenest demographic is Gen Z, with 46% interested. It’s only natural the generation that came to age online would accept this technology to a degree, but the rise of TikTok has proved their stamp of approval is seldom indicative of quality.

Technological innovation can change the world for the better, as in the case of the car replacing the horse and buggy. But innovative technology has bounds and ought not to overstep its purpose — the car didn’t replace walking in all circumstances.

If the metaverse resulted in an isolated, remote existence it is not truly a second life, it is your new imprisoned reality.

Regarding video games, VR is a perfect peripheral for the industry as it is the sole form of entertainment in which you assume the agency of another rather than spectating. The ability to experience that new agency from an immersive, first-person perspective is revolutionary.

Where gaming differs from reality, nonetheless, is that it is a fantasy. You can never experience flying an X-Wing in real life but you can through gaming. You can lead a conference meeting in real life, and the synthetic VR experience adds nothing to the activity.

Though this technology is far off, as Meta concedes, and given how we’ve come from the flip phone in a decade, the metaverse appears more likely in the short-term than the Jettsons’ flying cars. The question we ought to ask then is not will the metaverse happen, but should it.

Human interaction’s future is real human relationships — unless it’s over a Star Wars-style hologram of course. Aside from the astronomical aesthetic appeal, if Meta rebrands into a galactic empire, we have bigger problems.

Matthew Krauter is a senior in LAS.

[email protected]