Enter the Metaverse
Unlike the Internet, the dawning digital environment promises autonomy from the physical world.
by Bruno Maçães
It is no coincidence that the metaverse as a practical project emerged out of the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. The concept is older, tracing its origins to such science fiction classics as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but the last two years have transformed it into an actual business proposition, capable of dictating a name change for Facebook (now Meta) and moving billions of dollars in capital markets.
The great migration to digital during the pandemic showed the enormous advantages of being able to work and live within an artificial, secondary universe. In this universe, the laws of space and time no longer apply, or at least they can be bent, enhancing human powers in ways still to explore: an end to long commutes and the achievement of measurable increases in productivity; the ability to participate in meetings and conferences on different continents and on the same day; and children still able to attend school, even amid the worst public-health emergency in a century.
Unfortunately, the limits of digital experience were no less apparent. A lot gets lost when human interaction takes place on a screen. The results of remote schooling have so far proved mixed, at best. A digital work environment soon revealed itself as considerably more exhausting than the real counterpart. Human beings are built for the kind of immersive interaction that takes place in the physical world, where all five senses get involved. Some of our mental abilities, including memory, suffer markedly when we are reduced to disembodied egos on Zoom. As for entertainment, digital experiences are still so far from the actual fun of going to a restaurant or a music concert that nothing one tried on the Internet during the lockdowns measured up.