The Metaverse is Not Utopian or Dystopian

Everyone is talking about the metaverse and it feels so similar to when I first started my project in the summer of 2017 in the crypto / defi space and suddenly by the end of the year everyone was talking about it.

As they say: History doesn’t repeat but often rhymes. Music to my ears because I know what to do with a bit of repetition and systems. And, per usual, the usual suspects are showing up and they’ve got most of it wrong.

Hmm. Okay.

But, the biggest mistaken narrative is one about what the metaverse will be like and most folks think the choice is binary: Either it’ll be utopian and everyone will be super-happy all the time or it’ll be dystopian and it’ll be bad whether we like it or not.

Here are a few highlights that came up recently:

Okay! So the metaverse is for light shows, people tired of existing on the space-time continuum, and mass murder. (Come to think of it, this sounds a bit like the extant internet, or just Fortnite.)

Finally, it should be noted that there is an entire class of people, users derisively known as gargoyles, who become so hooked on existing in the metaverse that they rig themselves to be permanently plugged-in, and are permanently disfigured in reality as a result. In the years since Snow Crash’s publication, gargoyles have been viewed as a prescient commentary on the pitfalls of screen addiction.

via VICE

Yikes.

In this way the Metaverse is actually a unifying force for Stephenson’s dystopia: there is only one virtual world sitting beyond a real world that is fractured between independent entities. There are connections in the real world — roads and helicopters and airplanes exist — but those connections are subject to tolls and gatekeepers, in contrast to the interoperability and freedom of the Metaverse.

via Stratechery

Mmmm. Oh, and look! More titles with “dystopia” from big name / game publishers:

Ah, got it.

The list goes on and on and it’s become the “default” option, a talking point, when folks communicate and discuss the metaverse. The metaverse is about art, business, and community — the fundamental building blocks of society and culture, business and economics — and rather than being utopian or dystopian it’s atopian where everyone has “a topia” that they can build, manage, cultivate, and grow.

In many ways the metaverse is more of a feeling, a spectrum of options that we all can choose from; an infinite game.

Now, if you want and desire to create a culture within your own universe (or yeniverse) that is more dystopian in feeling, culture, and behavior then that’s fine; no one’s going to stop you. The entire Web 2.0 system was built on a dystopian ideal where centralized organizations profit from their user’s art while reducing privacy and control — without their permission! — so you should have more than enough inspiration and (current) modalities.

L(° O °L)

The metaverse is ideally going to give more folks more options on how they want to live, work, and play on the internet. If that happens then more folks will be productive and happy and that does sound a bit utopian.

But, maybe not.