Facebook made the metaverse a kitchen table topic when it changed its name to Meta.
What is the metaverse, exactly? It’s a virtual world where you can be Snoop Dogg’s neighbor without physically living next to him — yes, you can buy virtual property either in Snoop Dogg’s compound or in the same virtual neighborhood right now (but hurry, the best properties are already being bought up). The metaverse is also a place where new and unknown threats have serious real-world consequences.
In short, the metaverse is a virtual world where you can experience everything “just like real life,” only filtered, mediated, and perfected to utopian standards.
Maybe that’s the point — it’s a sort of “second chance to create utopia.”
What makes the metaverse an $8-13 trillion opportunity? The metaverse doesn’t seem much different from the properties, houses, and hotels on a Monopoly game board. Only we’re playing with real money.
One possibility is the amount of data the metaverse will be able to collect. As Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard professor who studies the Digital Revolution, says, we live under surveillance capitalism: social media companies turn data into behavioral excess and sell behavioral excess as the ability to control people at the margins. Immersion in the metaverse will mean exposing more information — emotional states, heartbeats, and even the proverbial blink of an eye.
Is there another $8-13 trillion to be made off the additional data collected through immersion? Like any other physical asset, data is subject to the law of diminishing returns. The more you have, the less value any additional piece of data adds. The world is becoming awash in data; almost everyone knows more about me than I do (including the cybercriminals increasing breaching every database and service connected to the internet). If data is the new oil, we’re getting close to drowning.
Maximizing attention capture might be worth $8-13 trillion, though.
There are only so many hours in a day you can pay attention (unless you stop sleeping), so attention is a finite resource. The only variable is how engaged you are or how deeply you pay attention. Are you paying attention to the screen, or are the birds outside distracting you?
People spend more time in more immersive environments — like a metaverse. Just like watching a movie in a theater is a more immersive experience than sitting in your living room, putting on a set of virtual reality goggles blocks out the real world.
The metaverse brings the immersive experience of a theme park ride — or the casino floor — into every moment of our lives.
Why is controlling attention worth these vast sums of money? Every moment you control someone’s exclusive attention, you gain more control over their choices. Knowing more about a person can help you predict what they might do in reaction to a particular stimulus, allowing you to control their actions at the margins — but only at the margins.
However, immersing a person in the metaverse allows someone to control the entire flow of information that a person needs to make decisions. The owners of the metaverse (and their political allies) will control the flow of information, mediate every relationship, and structure the choices presented to each user.
The point of the metaverse points to a solution: stop paying attention.
It’s okay to spend a little time in the metaverse, just like it’s okay to spend a little time on social media. But not all your time — or even a lot of your time.
Go back to real life, real people, and real things. Go outside, go to church, go to a friend’s house for dinner. Read a book, listen to music on vinyl.
Do anything other than give these companies your attention.