Yes, I value my new phone with its better camera, with its longer-lasting battery, with its sleeker shape, with its extra storage space for more podcasts. But is that the world I want to live in? Hardly. It’s a tool I use to enhance my experience of what is really out there, what I really see, feel, and experience. And sometimes, it can’t even capture the moment with as much clarity as the real deal.
If you’re listening to the news these days (which to be honest, I tend to avoid), you’ve probably heard about the Metaverse – the next iteration of a virtual life – one that could stand to change our lives as we know them.
Mark Zuckerberg claims that this new technology will provide more “presence” and a “shared sense of space” (from The New Yorker), but what he doesn’t seem to care about is that this presence will only be drawing us deeper and deeper into a world controlled by comparison, competition, facades, and general disconnect from our fellow people.
It should come as no surprise, really, given the number of folks who now work at home, shop at home, order their food through apps to be delivered to their home. Our world has been trending towards this lifestyle for decades – it was horribly predicted in the Disney/Pixar film Wall-E (though thank GOD we aren’t that far gone just yet) – and the pandemic only hastened this shift.
As someone who lives in the country, who had to work a part-time in-person job to get through a job loss initiated by the pandemic, work at home and food delivery were pretty much a non-negotiable for me. I’m used to – and often embrace – the need to drive 20-30 minutes to retrieve my food, my clothes, my entertainment. I like driving. I like seeing the world, being out in it. And after nearly two years of being cut off from it in one way or another, I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t.
Personally, I kind of hate living online. I want to see the things I’m buying – touch them, feel them. I want to look my friends in the face, in person. I want the environment of a restaurant – the smells, the sights, the sounds – not just the food in a cardboard container. I know this now, with such certainty….why would I ever choose to continue my life in a way that contradicted it?
They claim that the Metaverse will allow those who participate to enter 3D simulations of workspaces, concerts, and businesses….for a cost, of course. Virtual transactions will allow for the purchase of virtual food, virtual clothing, virtual pets, virtual tools….all of which have no purpose or meaning in the real world. So, literally, people will be spending their money on nothing. Nothing they can touch, feel, or deeply enjoy in the visceral sense that the real world provides.
Back in September, I visited family in Las Vegas. It was my first trip there, and I truly loved seeing the old hotels, the artistic structures, the massive attention to curation and details. What I didn’t care for? The casinos. The thing that most people seem to go there for.
To my surprise, that old casino vibe of pulling down levers and laying down cards was nearly irrelevant. I watched as players sat in front of a screen, mindlessly pushing buttons, waving their hands over touch screens. For minutes, for hours, it was hard to tell how long they’d been there. But what was most shocking of all was that – of the many people I observed – few looked as if they were actually enjoying anything that they were doing. They were in flow, but not the good kind. In fact, it was almost like they were stuck, frozen, on repeat, like a broken record skipping over and over again.
I don’t say this to be judgmental. I mean, we all have our vices. But I can’t help but wonder what it all says about our capacity to live. To truly live in joy and wonder and experience. Call me old-fashioned, but if this is the future, I don’t want any part of it.
Today is another snow day, and I’ve spent the majority of my morning sitting in wonder, just watching. I think about what the rest of middle Tennessee is doing today – if they’re stuck on the roads, if they’re staring at their TVs, if it’s just another work-from-home kind of day, because every day is a work-from-home kind of day. I’ll be honest – I struggle to find enjoyment in times when I have nothing to do and nowhere to be. (Unless, of course, it’s snowing outside.) I seek solace in the scroll of my phone, in the perusing of online shopping, in the droll of a reality TV marathon. But on days like this, I can’t help but appreciate the reality of the world. Of my world – the one right at my fingertips. The chill of the air on my nose. The crunch of the snow under my boots. The softness of a sweater against my skin. The warmth of a raging wood fire.
How could the Metaverse possibly replace all of that?