Virtual Reality

The Potential Dangers of the Metaverse

Facebook appears to be now on the verge of launching its new platform, the metaverse, which many experts are already identifying as the next major computing platform; the idea being that it would function as a type of extended reality which includes a combination of augmented, virtual, and mixed reality. Put succinctly, the idea is that virtual, 3D environments will become accessible and interactive in real time, in effect becoming transformative mediums for social and business relationships.

Similar to the way that video games now operate, the metaverse, according to experts, will allow users, rather than to just download information on the Web or to visit various apps, to actually enter virtual worlds that can be applied to real world contexts. And even though the possibility of actually entering virtual worlds on the Web may in fact be exciting to many, this new platform, as new technologies often do, may present some unforeseen difficulties; some of these being:

Instead of just potentially connecting with information that is false, there is the danger that people will actually begin to live inside different false realities which others have created for them. Therefore, the critical distance which one needs to determine the veracity of certain facts and information might begin to disappear.

People’s emotive and sensorial lives may be inevitably dulled simply because personal connections to the details of one’s world or to other people are never as strong in the virtual world as they are in the real world, particularly as people begin to mistake virtual reality for reality itself.

As people begin to live more and more inside some type of virtual or enhanced reality, there will be an even greater danger than there is today, because they are actually inside some alternative or augmented reality, that they can be manipulated into believing falsehoods simply because they won’t have the same critical distance to information that they now have when they simply download information on their computer screen.

There is increasing evidence that the Internet and the tools of our present digital age are creating dangerous forms of psychological, even potentially physical addiction which are affecting our attention spans, the stream of our thoughts and our working memories. With the new, exciting enticements of the Metaverse, those forms of addiction are almost certain to grow exponentially.

When people become more passive in receiving information as they begin to increasingly actually live inside the virtual world, rather than simply download information on their PC or phone while remaining the sort of active participants that they now are as they search the Web, the sort of active participation necessary for meaningful connection with information and knowledge might begin to significantly disappear. In particular, this might have negative implications for schoolchildren in their formative years who are using the Metaverse as part of their curriculums.

As the virtual and real worlds are increasingly fused in the forms of virtual reality, extended reality, or even an alternative reality where the real and virtual worlds are combined, it will become increasingly easier to confuse virtual reality with reality itself. This could potentially have enormous implications for people’s sense of self, the possibility of authentic relations with others, or even their grip on reality.

As the late Neil Postman – media critic, communications theorist, and long-time professor at New York University, said many times: Whenever any new technology comes into the world there are two important questions that need to be asked. What present problems does the new technology solve? And what new problems does it create? In this new age that seems to now be teetering on the brink of becoming fascinated with the new virtual realities which have come to call, we might be wise to consider Neil Postman’s prescient admonition.

Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published December 9, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.

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