How Stupid is the Metaverse?

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

It’s easy to scoff at “the metaverse,” and the older you are, the more likely that reaction. After all, we already have this beautiful world that we all get to share, why would we want to create different worlds and interact there?

This is the question I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while, and while I’m in my 30s and am therefore naturally a bit skeptical of new technical paradigms, I’m more positive about it than I was a few months ago.

People like to hate on the idea because Facebook (sorry, Meta) is talking about it now, but it would be foolish to suggest that this is an idea they alone are pushing. For example, some teenagers play Fortnite to win, but most use it as a time to chill with their friends. Fortnite’s major events often aren’t even battle royales, they’re concerts and other excuses to hang with your friends in a digital world. See also Roblox, just with a younger general audience and a bigger focus on creating your own worlds.

Or look at how many of us have been working for the past year and a half. As of 4 months ago, my work has fully open offices, and anyone who wants to go back to the office and work can do it. I go in twice per week, which means I spend more time in person with my co-workers than 95% of the company. The story seems to be similar all over the place…people are choosing to work remotely and interact with their colleagues digitally.

Hanging with friends is one things, but this idea of buying things in a metaverse that have no physical value is stupid too, right? Well, a few months ago I spent $80 on a font for my terminal and code editor. This font provided zero physical benefit and does not make me more productive, but it does make me enjoy my time in a few apps more, so it was worth it to me. See a million other things we buy for our computers (phone, laptop, etc.) and how much of it is really just to make ourselves enjoy our digital spaces more?

If you’ll permit me to mention AR quickly, which I feel is related, when it comes to augmenting the world around us, we keep waiting for something like AR glasses or chips we stick in our heads, but I’d argue we’re well into the augmented reality future already. Smartphones are a paradigm shift in human history, as they’ve put something in our hand that can get us any bit of information from anywhere we are. Have a question you don’t know? Search it and know in 5 seconds. Not sure what you’re looking at? Hold your camera up to it and see what it is instantly. Hell, you can hold your phone up to a phone number painted on a wall, tap the number, and call it right away.

And what about smart watches? I’m getting real time data on my heart, my breathing, my blood oxygen, my activity, and there’s a little voice assistant on there who can tell me basically anything I want to know (your results may vary, but it ain’t bad). And of course your wireless earbuds are announcing things to you as they happen so you don’t even need to look at your phone or raise your wrist to see what you’re friend just texted you.

I don’t think a world where we spend all of our time in a digital world is good, nor do I think Facebook (damnit, Meta) is the best company to sheppard this concept forward, but I do think that we’re further down this road than many people think we are.

Or, as Casey Newton put it:

So to sum up: Meta’s vision for the metaverse is ridiculous and terrible; but it’s also extremely boring; but also it’s vaporware; but also it has already been built by video game companies and Facebook is late to the game. No offense to these writers, but I know a collective grasping at straws when I see it. And it’s a kind of straw-grasping that feels familiar from Facebook’s early days.