A few months ago, Mark Zuckerberg stood in front of a large audience and declared the presence of the Metaverse, at the same time rebranding his company to “Meta” because it was so darned important. (And possibly to avoid all the horrific negative press from Cambridge Analytica, but what do I know…)
The Metaverse: a virtual world where we can … um … all look like characters from Animal Crossing … and engage in … meetings (I guess?), all the while wearing a clunky headset.
Suffice to say, this was underwhelming when it first came out in the late 80s. Yeah, this is nothing new.
Virtual reality has been a trope in science fiction since the early 1970s, appearing in many forms (good and bad) in the years since. Video games picked this up in the late 1980s with the Virtual Boy, the first real attempt with a consumer-grade VR system. In the years that followed, multiple attempts at virtual reality were attempted, though with limited fanfare, let alone success.
The problem with virtual reality is that it’s often unisensory – the eyes are tricked into seeing something that’s not there. Rarely is it coupled with audio, almost never with touch or smell or taste. And while we might not necessarily want to taste or smell a virtual experience (yet, at least), not having auditory or tactile experience is limiting at best, confusing at worst.
I’m no psychologist, but I think it’s fair to say that without a complete sensory experience, humanity cannot comprehend a fully virtual experience, and as such, the Metaverse – at least as Zuckerberg predicts it – must fail. I say this knowing that I’m a prime target market for the Metaverse: young(ish), technology-savvy, an early adopter, willing to try something new.
But I’m also one thing that Zuckerberg didn’t expect. I’m cheap. I don’t want to pay $500 for a pair of small screens that weigh my head down. I don’t see the value in it.
And that’s where the failure comes: no value. And not just for me, but for the vast majority of people. This isn’t the early states of Ready Player One where the world has turned to such a state that people escape to the virtual world. We still have abundant nature, we still have the real world of physical contact, we still have our wonderful universe to understand and explore.
Assuming our reality isn’t all a simulation, that is.
Meta is too early, still. The world has proven that it does not want a virtual reality over our prime reality, and no amount of pressure from the technology industries will force us in that direction. Even Apple and Google have been quiet on the matter, which strongly suggests they don’t see the value in it, either.