Over recent times, the buzz surrounding metaverse has exploded exponentially. It’s oftentimes regarded as the future of the internet, nay, the future of humanity itself. It’s also quite ironic that people who advocate for this “revolutionary technology” are unable to define what it exactly means. Instead, they use fancy lingo that’s intentionally vague to make it sound futuristic. Metaverse is a unified, immersive virtual platform of the future, they say.
Metaverse is an exalted term for a virtual reality world that facilitates user interaction. An accurate pop culture depiction would be Ready Player One, 2011. But as a marketing ploy, they shroud Metaverse in mystery by associating it with decentralized technology like Cryptocurrency and NFTs. From a technical perspective, Metaverse offers nothing new. It uses the same technologies that have existed for more than a decade and attempt to rehash them, practically scamming investors into funding their projects. Rudimentary knowledge of computer science is enough to understand the impracticality of the tech associated with this. For instance, the fact that people are advocating for decentralization despite it being considerably slower than traditional server systems and being centralized eventually, the case of Bitcoin, shows how ignorant the Metaverse advocates can be.
However, there is an interesting philosophical question at stake – if the Metaverse were to exist, would it be a moral form of living? Assuming we have an immersive virtual world that we can partake in, would it lead to a good, or bad, life if one were to live there? There is definitely a metaphysical difference between physical reality, the lowest abstraction of reality we can comprehend, and digital, which is an abstraction over the other. However, the difference in metaphysical nature doesn’t necessarily dictate that one is morally valuable over another. For that, we must examine the implications of life in the Metaverse.
Online spaces are, more often than not, consequence-free zones. Particularly considering the fact that complete anonymity is possible online. The ability to interact with people however we deem without facing any consequences, and by extension any responsibility allures us. Possibly because almost all of us have faced substandard parenting which instates a defense mechanism for preventing hurt, hence, it’s generally hard for people to get into meaningful, healthy relationships. They are simply afraid. In contrast, online spaces help power zero-consequence relationships. These are meaningless by nature.
However, this critique is not unique to Metaverse itself. Any other online space, a prominent one is Discord, could be characterized as such. That’s where, in classic Virtue Ethicist fashion, telos i.e. purpose arrives. When Facebook was launched, it was marketed as a social platform to rediscover old friends and find new ones. The idea was that you still had a way to find that high school friend you lost touch with. That can be extended to understand the telos of social platforms. It is to enhance real-life communication. Remember that the difference between real and digital solely relies on the existence of consequences in the former and the lack of them in the latter. This gives the social platform an ethical wiggling room since the users are primarily responsible for their proper usage.
Metaverse, on the contrary, promotes the telos of actively living in the virtual world. The goal is to transition to a completely virtual world powered by Oculus rigs and decentralized networks. This advances zero-consequence spaces to their maximum and hence is wrong. Relationships shouldn’t be treated as meaningless distractions to cope with personal trauma. People aren’t to be used like that. Humans strive for meaning more than anything else in life. Despite whatever claims Utilitarians, who are nothing but overeducated hedonists, may put forth. The reason why the Metaverse is wrong is the same reason it’s getting buzz: the telos promoting zero consequence interactions, stripping out the meaning from human relationships as a coping mechanism.