The Metaverse, a question of sovereignty [1/2]

What is “metaverse”?

That ” metaverse “, sometimes translated” metaverse » in Molière’s language is a word built on the terms «meta» (around) and «vers» (universe). A term that therefore roughly means “parallel universe” or “alternative universe”. By implication, a digital world where people end up living and interacting; a world superimposed on the physical world.

that metaverse still has a very vague definition. But we can empirically identify at least three key and structuring criteria:

  • The first criterion metaverse must mimic the real world. That is, try to imitate it, but without being an exhaustive or realistic copy. ONE metaverse can therefore allow users to develop in fictional worlds or with fictional characters, but all this while retaining some of the codes of the real world.

  • Second criterion, the metaverse can be accessed quickly and intuitively by computer (smartphone, computer, television, etc.).

  • Third criterion, the metaverse is persistent, i.e. this alternate world exists continuously, just like the real world. When a user logs out, will metaverse continues to develop without it. This is arguably the most important criterion as it creates addiction and mass adhesion by causing a FOMO effect (Fear of missing outliterally the fear of missing something): the user stays connected or reconnects regularly because he is afraid of missing something during his absence.

that metaverse is therefore a term that denotes a very broad set of possibilities. In reality, this term covers more of a concept than a technology, more of a social ideal than a real breakthrough innovation, more of a form of social organization than a technical or scientific creation. The idea is simple: Let people live more and more in a virtual world. Even to replace the virtual world with the real world.

In the computer world, the idea of ​​creating a parallel digital universe is quite old. Since the beginning of the Internet, more or less successful attempts have appeared, the most famous of all probably remains Second Life, a kind of realistic cyber-republic, which numbered up to 1 million users. In a very different genre, the video game EVE Online has offered a persistent world for years, where players compete for control of entire galaxies. In yet another category, World of Warcraft was already a kind metaverse medieval-fantastic, allowing to develop in a wonderful fictional world, to organize into guilds, to trade with other players, to fight, etc.

In addition to these evocations, which will do some millennials nostalgically, there are also very recent examples that will speak even to high school and college students. Minecraft and its thousands of persistent servers, GTA Online and its “role-playing” servers that tend to replicate the real world, Pokemon Go and its augmented reality… A rapidly growing phenomenon in an increasingly connected world. But above all, a phenomenon that exploded with the COVID-19 crisis.

Due to successive lockdowns, the vast majority of the world’s population has been locked in cramped spaces for days or weeks. Virtual worlds then emerged as a quick way to escape, to see friends from school or work, have fun and get away from the real world, which is so anxiety-inducing and uncertain. During the prisons, in Europe as in the rest of the world, the use of online games and social networks has therefore exploded, to levels that have not fallen since. The less informed observers will be moved by the fact that part of the world’s population escapes into video games and artificial worlds. But the problem is actually much deeper and more serious than that.

The marks and ”metaversification” of the world

Until 2020, the aforementioned virtual worlds remained de facto simple worlds of video games. Admittedly, players spent a significant amount of time there, to the point where they forgot about real life for some. But the line remained very clear between the virtual world and the real world. But since 2020 and its successive lockdowns, some companies have gone even further, seeing in these virtual worlds a means to establish a power they can no longer exercise in a world under lockdown. So real world companies are slowly taking over parallel universes and whatnot metaversesand thus helps to constantly blur the boundaries between the game world and the real world.

For example, the phenomenon Fortnite has organized real-life events within the game itself: in April 2020, rapper Travis Scott gave an in-game concert in front of 12 million people. Again, the game Roblox has entered into a collaboration with major brands such as Vans and Gucci, to offer players access to the clothes they would buy in real life; and vice versa to gain access in real life to a replica of the clothing they purchased in-game. Likewise, the company has Atari paid several hundred thousand euros to buy land with his image in the metaverse: The sandboxa metaverse that use technology blockchain governed by decentralized cryptocurrency TRUE. Similar examples abound, with companies willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire virtual display ads, virtual land or virtual objects. In other words, to take control of these digital worlds.

These parallel worlds are apparently taking off at an astonishing speed, a phenomenon encouraged by the health context, which tends to promote the digitization of the world and human relationships, a phenomenon that some brands are therefore already surfing. Admittedly, observing all this, we could be tempted to see it merely as a fad or delirium of a few out of phase and ultimately very marginal users. But this “rush” to metaverse raises both ethical and political questions.

If it is true that until now all these parallel universes were built as support and beyond the real world, this trend is reversed as the first takes precedence over the other. Experiences and relationships from real life then become goods to be digitized. For some users, it is now the real world that supports their virtual lives. Players work the day to have enough virtual money to spend in their games, users ofInstagram thinks about their life in order to stage it on their social media timeline etc. Physical life becomes the vehicle for our virtual life. Digital is no longer a means, but an end in itself.

From there, there is only one step to cross to confirm that in the world of tomorrow one will marry metaversethat children will entertain and study in the metaverse that parents will work in metaverse and help their children with their homework i metaverse. There is only one step to confirm that tomorrow we will work in the real world to raise enough to buy branded clothes for his virtual avatar so that he is well dressed for the company meeting that takes place in the metaverse. There is only one step to confirm that tomorrow we will work in the real world to have enough money to go on vacation or to a concert with our friends in metaverse.

It seems absurd. However, the question will not arise tomorrow. It originated yesterday, in the time of Facebook, and society as a whole has stuck to the model proposed by social networks. In other words, humanity is ripe for metaversethat is, the fashion to see formalized in a strict and technical way, which is already the case in practice: We live in virtual bubbles, a digital existence mixed with physical moments.

that metaverse is therefore only an extension of a way of life that has already been registered, but which until then was unfinished for technical reasons. that metaverse, it is this promise of being able to continue to be entertained without limits while the real world loses more and more flavor. that metaverse, it is the promise of being able to continue consuming indefinitely even if resources run out: buying a car or flying in the “metaverse” is just a line of code for users. Companies can therefore endlessly sell objects that they no longer have to manufacture themselves, which they can generate via lines of code. Travel agencies can sell road trips and cruises without having to manage their customers’ movements and without having to anticipate possible repeat entrapments. As long as people value their virtual double, this digital economy will work and reap colossal profits. This is ultimately what metaverse, formalization with technology of a reality that already existed in power through social networks and the digitization of the world. Now this is truly the fundamental key to understanding this entire subject: the page metaverse is only the end of a long process, the actors of the current digital economy are in a good position to maintain their dominance and establish an even more total form of supremacy.

that metaverse is therefore not a space, but a moment. This is the time when our virtual life will be more valuable than our real life. A moment in time when the integration into the web of all elements of our lives, through connected objects, will give birth to a new way of consuming, working, having social relations and ultimately having an identity. We are already giving more and more attention, and therefore energy, to our digital lives. that metaverse is therefore the moment when our lives will switch almost exclusively to the virtual world, which can only be a process (already underway) over several decades.

Matthias Hauser

Part 2 : The Metaverse, a question of sovereignty [2/2]

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