The metaverse is consuming conversations about technology these days. But, what is it? And, is it something we should welcome?
What is the metaverse?
I can’t pretend to offer a definitive definition of the metaverse – I certainly haven’t been able to find one. It’s one of my concerns in all this talk about the metaverse – many different definitions seem to be floating around so it’s not clear what we are talking about.
My best guess about what most people mean when they talk about the metaverse is that it is an immersive and persistent three-dimensional virtual realm, shared with many users, that brings together virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It integrates many different technologies, including augmented reality, the Internet of things, virtual reality, and blockchain. Blockchain provides an opportunity to use cryptocurrencies and NFT’s to create a fully functional virtual economy in the metaverse where you can buy and sell any virtual asset.
The metaverse can have a significant game component, where participants compete to achieve certain goals and win prizes for their efforts. In fact, I would suggest that the video game world is rapidly evolving into the metaverse and may lead the way for other metaverse initiatives. However, the metaverse can be much more than a game.
The term “Metaverse” was first coined by the great science fiction author, Neal Stephenson in his book, Snow Crash, published 30 years ago. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. In this book, Stephenson basically presents the metaverse as a virtual reality-based Internet populated by user-controlled avatars.
So, if this is what the metaverse is, is it good or evil? Well, the answer is – it depends. Like most technology, it’s not good or evil in itself. It all depends on how we use it.
The evil side of the metaverse
In a world that’s increasingly dominated by fear (see my book, The Journey Beyond Fear), there’s a significant risk that the metaverse will evolve in ways that limit our potential as humans, rather than expand it. What do I mean by that?
The metaverse is an artificial world that can provide an escape for those who are finding the real world very scary or limiting. If we’re driven by fear, it can draw us out of the real world and offer us a place to hide. If we’re consumed by boredom, it can provide us with an irresistible opportunity for excitement.
Temporary relief may be OK, but the metaverse can be designed to be addictive. Participants will find themselves spending more and more time in the metaverse, leaving the real world behind. Of course, for many metaverse designers, that’s what they’re seeking – make the metaverse an all-consuming experience.
The good side of the metaverse
While understandable, that misses the real opportunity of the metaverse. The metaverse can become a launchpad for all of us to achieve much more of our potential in the real world, but that will require a very different design of the virtual worlds we’re creating.
It requires a fundamental shift in focus in how to measure success. If the metaverse is designed to be an escape, the measure of success is how much time participants spend in the metaverse. If it’s a launchpad for impact in the real world, the measure of success is how participants are increasing their impact in the real world as a result of participating in the metaverse.
How could the metaverse help participants to increase their impact in the real world? It could begin by embodying the core elements of what I describe as opportunity-based narratives – a really big and inspiring opportunity out in the future and a call to action to address the opportunity. While the metaverse can present the opportunity in the virtual world, it would need to be clear that the opportunity exists in the real world as well, and help to motivate participants to pursue that opportunity there. Similarly, while the metaverse could provide an environment for action to pursue the opportunity in the virtual world, participants would need to understand that the real potential for impact is in the real world.
To help people address these opportunities, the metaverse could provide ways for people who are inspired by these opportunities to come together and discuss approaches that would have the greatest potential for impact in addressing these opportunities. These groups might even become what I call “impact groups.”
But it wouldn’t be just about discussion. In the metaverse, participants would be encouraged to take action. Initially, that action might be in the virtual world of the metaverse where it could be pursued perhaps more quickly and with less risk and more rapid feedback than in the real world. But, once again, participants would need to understand that this is simply a vehicle for learning how to have more impact in pursuing the opportunity in the real world. Designed appropriately, the metaverse could become a powerful learning platform that helps participants to learn faster through action together.
In short, the metaverse could become a vehicle for helping participants to overcome fear and boredom that they may be experiencing in the real world. It could do this by providing participants with the tools and connections that can help them address some very large and inspiring opportunities in the real world. Rather than providing an escape from the real world, the metaverse could motivate participants to return to the real world, excited about the potential to have much greater impact that is meaningful to them. Of course, they would regularly return to the metaverse to connect with more people and find ways to have even greater impact.
So, why did I include metapsychology in the title of this blog? Of course, one reason was that it blended so well with metaverse. I may be using the term inappropriately, but it struck me that there’s an opportunity to explore the relationship between psychology and the metaverse.
In particular, it highlights the importance of understanding much more deeply how different design approaches to the metaverse could shape or influence the psychology of its participants. It’s also important to explore the relationship between the psychology of participants in the real world and in virtual worlds.
My view of the untapped opportunity is how the metaverse can help more and more people on the journey beyond fear and boredom. It can help to draw out hope and excitement in the real world that will motivate all of us to achieve much more of our potential.
Of course, we need to be careful about manipulation of emotions. From my perspective, manipulation occurs when we create environments or contexts that draw out certain emotions that are not in the best interest of the participants, but serve the interests of those who are creating the environments. In contrast, I am focusing on creating environments that will draw out emotions that we all as human beings have a hunger for – hope and excitement about an opportunity to have more impact in the real world that is meaningful to us and to others.
That’s ultimately where the money is. Many organizations seek to manipulate the emotions of others in order to serve their own interests. That may work in the short-term, but the key to generating long-term revenue and benefit comes from cultivating emotions that help us to achieve more of our potential.
Like all technology, the metaverse can be used for good or evil. It’s up to us. As an optimist, I see the opportunity for enormous positive impact from the metaverse, but I’m concerned that there are strong incentives for metaverse designers to provide escape vehicles for participants and reduce the potential for positive growth in the real world. Once again, it’s up to us. How can we create more incentives for metaverse designers to provide us with launchpads in addressing very large opportunities in the real world?