Ready Player None: The Meta Ain’t Betta

Xera Britt, contributor

Originating from a term coined in the novel “Snowcrash” and concepts seen in works like “Ready Player One,” the Metaverse is a new project being undertaken by Facebook parent company Meta and supposedly, it’s the natural evolution to the modern day internet. Users log in with their VR (Virtual Reality) gear into a virtual world using their own avatars representing them. From there, Meta plans to include nearly everything in the physical world into the virtual one. Right now, that includes workplaces and shopping centers, as well as private plots of “land” that users can purchase. 

According to the website Retail Prophet, virtual items purchased within Metaverse will soon be just as valuable as their real-world counterparts. They implore readers to imagine shopping with celebrity icons at their favorite stores or owning a digital plot with spectacular views. They also predict that, alongside cryptocurrency and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), the Metaverse will become extremely popular and profitable. 

This system may have practical applications for people incapable of physically reaching worksites or schools. The pandemic has taught us that there will be times we won’t be able to reach either. This could streamline the process of teaching, working, ordering food, items and more. But doesn’t it seem too good to be true?

Well, that’s because it is. The Washington Post delves into one of the many issues that arise with the concept, namely the invasion of privacy that most assuredly will come with the Metaverse. The Post highlights the already prevalent issues the internet faces when it comes to privacy, of note the lack of protections we currently have. Companies already mine tons of information from our everyday lives – where we click, what we read, what times we turn on the computer, how we type, how we interact. Sounds paranoid, but the truth is that both companies and the government have a hoard of information at their fingertips, and the Post foresees this problem only getting exponentially worse with the Metaverse. A project headed by a huge company that has already been under scrutiny for misusing information gathered on Facebook is not what I would call “trustworthy.” Additionally, the article illuminates the ability of VR to gain more information easier, like tracking eye movements and being capable to “look over the shoulder” of users–tracking employee attention and productivity during work hours for instance. 

Then, we also have to consider that this will likely not have a positive effect on those in poorer demographics. Cursory searches place price ranges for VR headsets anywhere from 300 to 1400 dollars by themselves, and it’s reasonable to believe that there will be a number of subscriptions to operate in Metaverse in the first place. This isn’t even mentioning purchasing virtual items and “plots of land,” where some have paid $400,000 to have a virtual plot next to Snoop Dogg. Not to mention the fact that, according to CNBC, the Metaverse is also block-chain based and if these are anything like cryptocurrency and the recent fad of NFTs, then Metaverse might give us a virtual world at the cost of our physical one. 

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The Metaverse is a scam masquerading as a neat idea. Sure, it could be used for good, for accessibility. But will it? Probably not, especially when it’s headed by people with profit in mind. The only ones that’ll benefit from this service are people who are already well off, and mostly the ones who are too well off for their own good. The idea is novel, and I think that’s where it should have stayed – a warning in the pages of a book.