Midnight at the Oasis: Thoughts on the Metaverse


The Metaverse will be the cultural, financial, and artistic extension of ourselves, the digital representation of the human race. It will be, perhaps, the last or permanent state of the internet and all the quasi-realities which spiral around it. Web 2.0 is the social participation Web 1.0 never was. It’s about dumbing down and ripping away the raucous sound of the building up, ripping away and tearing away the building away from the world of fake news and fake tits.

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“I’m looking forward to the day when my daughter finds a rolled-up 1,000-pixel-by-1,000-pixel colour screen in her cereal packet, with a magnetic back so it sticks to the fridge”Tim Berners-Lee – 1995

We sit as the only enlightened beings on the throne of experience; the pinnacle of consciousness and the only representative of a curious, creative and intelligent mind in this, or any universe. Until there is proof to the contrary, we are heading into the future alone, the architects of our own existence.

That future will be technological, the blurring of multiple realities; the fusing of the digital – accessible via our devices – with the physical world.

Consequently, it will be omnipresent.

It will be, perhaps, the last or permanent state of the internet and all the quasi-realities which spiral around it. It will be known as the Metaverse, and it will be the cultural, financial, and artistic extension of ourselves, the
digital representation of the human race.

Get used to the hyperbole, the Metaverse doesn’t do anything by half.

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How We Got Here: The Transition From Web 1.0 to 2.0

In the minds of some, the Metaverse is the end game for the internet, for others, just the beginning. Regardless of your standpoint, the reality is a long way off. We’re still in our internet pyjamas, the Sun barely over the terracotta horizon. Make no mistake, the Metaverse is in Utero. How did we get here?

The internet you are using right now, in November 2021, is the enlightened, active offspring of the passive interaction of its forbearer: Web 1.0, the comical and out-dated dial-up genesis of the world-wide-web.

The opening bars of the internet were static pages and questionably looking content. It was populated by a small number of techno-maniacs who, most likely, had no real idea what they were doing, and even less clue about where they were going.

Do you remember Tripod and Geocities, Encarta, Altavista, and Lycos?

Good for you.

The rest of us weren’t born or were too busy watching MTV and 24-hour Rolling News, becoming familiar with a new culture that was dying before it was born. The internet was taking shape behind our backs and most of us were oblivious.

As the US rolled into Iraq for a second time, Myspace was deploying its own weapon of mass distraction. Brad Greenspan, Chris DeWolfe, Josh Berman, and the celebrity face of Myspace Tom (Anderson) opened the doors to user content and information sharing. Facebook, of course, barged past them, ransacking the entrance hall and painting the walls a colour you would never dream of.

Evolution and technological ambition had a love affair with UX and Web 2.0 sprang forth. Blogger, Medium, Twitter, Wikipedia, Email, Chrome, Docs, Flickr, Slack, and a militia of distraction-laden, focus-killing apps followed. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates exploded onto the keynote stage. Blogging, podcasting, auctions, streaming, and MMORPG’s swept through in its wake, mutating the notions of culture and entertainment.

And it wasn’t even 10 a.m.

Coffee?

“The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.” – Flaubert

Web 2.0 is the social participation Web 1.0 never was. It’s the first refrain to the opening bars of the Metaverse. It is easy to operate. You’re familiar with it; you have told it your darkest secrets, typed your biggest fears and tried to unravel your biggest regrets in its dopamine rigged search boxes.

Web 2.0 is about misspelt words (hodl, Tumblr, Flickr, Bickr) and emojis
and shared platforms and networking and email and docs and easy
access to the world of cinema and TV and illegal streaming and rampaging
news sites and auctions and fake news and fake tits and fake lives
projected against perfect backdrops for all the world to see.

It’s a quagmire of genius and confusion, complication, and widespread simplicity. It’s about the dumbing down and the building up, the ripping away and the raucous sound of creativity.

It is a reflection of us all.

All our foibles in a 180 characters.

But who saw it coming?

Surely someone saw it coming?

.

.

.

Didn’t they?

Predicting the Metaverse from The Confines of Web 1.0

Predictions from the 1990s on what the internet would fuse into ranged from bat-shit crazy to enlightened sage. Such is the clarity of hindsight, we
can attribute such descriptions.

From the absurd to the sublime, predictions roared around internet 1.0.

Robert Metcalfe (the inventor of Ethernet) wrote an article for Info World in December 1995.

“I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

In 1995, astronomer Clifford Stoll said,

“The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no
CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

Not everyone was so reckless. Anthony Rutkowski said,

“These technologies are going to profoundly affect the way we perceive
our humanity. We all have ideas to share and stories to tell and now we
really can.”

Thankfully, Sherry Turkle was around to show the men how to successfully think about the future.

“People can get lost in virtual worlds. Some are tempted to think of
life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion.
It is not. Our experiences there are serious play. We belittle them at
our risk. We must understand the dynamics of virtual experience both to
foresee who might be in danger and to put these experiences to best use.
Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the
virtual, we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real. If we
cultivate our awareness of what stands behind our screen personae, we
are more likely to succeed in using virtual experience for personal
transformation.”

Wise and admired they may have been, but Clifford and Robert couldn’t predict the future because there was nothing to base prediction on. And all prediction comes from experience. That, or imagination and some kind of animal insight mixed up in the blind chaos of luck.

It’s absurd to think you can predict the future, but in order to explain the Metaverse, or give you examples of what the Metaverse might be, you have to predict the future.

Fortunately, whereas in the 1990s we were clueless about the what lay ahead, when it comes to the Metaverse, we aren’t starting from scratch.

So, let’s cast aside the broken glasses of hindsight and look at what the Metaverse is.

The tired old tropes: What is the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is an internet of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces where
people work, play, and socialize together.

Admittedly, that is vague and stolen from Wikipedia. I feel it needs elaboration. How about:

The Metaverse will funnel both virtual and augmented reality. It will fuse the digital with the concrete. It will be instantaneous and indistinguishable.

It will take web 2.0 and expand on it exponentially; polish, mutate and advance it until it houses everything humanity does both inside and outside the internet, only bigger, brighter, faster, decentralised, instant, and everywhere.

It won’t be virtual reality – distinct, separate, over there. Instead, The Metaverse will be very much a collection of worlds and experiences. A bona fide Matrix; a digital utopia where all is possible, everywhere, all the time, in high definition clarity. Infinite, vibrant, alive, and buzzing with art and culture and shopping and finance and sport; always on, mutating and merging, expanding and changing as the desires, ideas, whims, and curiosity of the population catapult around the imagination of the human mind.

It will be complex and sublime, peaceful and raucous, foreign and exciting.

It will be like life, only more.

It will be a blast.

“I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth,
the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After
nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

That kind of jazz.

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What does the Metaverse look like today?

In 2021, there are proto-Metaverses, the dust which will one day come together and build the Metaverse star.

First up are the decentralized platforms where players can buy virtual land and then build, create and design the foundations of the Metaverse: Decentraland, Axie Infinity, Cryptovoxels, Realm and The Sandbox. However, unless you live in a crypto-news echo chamber, they are the epitome of niche, on a global scale.

Then there is Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite, the games your kids play. These centralized platforms are mainstream, massively adopted, thunderous experiences with hundreds of millions of players fighting, dancing, exploring and dying.

5.2 million people are playing Fortnite as you read this.

1.8 million people are playing Roblox as you read this.

3.5 million are playing Minecraft.

Then of course, there is Facebook and their newly minted ‘Meta’ vision. Zuckerberg has ear-marked 10,000 Meta jobs for Europe, re-branded the company as a Metaverse platform and brought real mainstream ears to the conversation. The reality is stark, interesting, terrifying, and curious: Mark Zuckerberg is Metaverse committed and he is coming for the control tower, brandishing a particularly weird-looking avatar (himself). We should underestimate his ambition at our peril.

We crave a decentralized Metaverse, but Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, and whatever hell-scape Meta comes up with, are bringing about the Metaverse in the minds of our children, advancing the technologies as they do it and shaping where the narrative goes next. Whether we like it or not.

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The Metaverse Cultural Shift

Gaming is driving Generation Z into virtual worlds. Generation Alpha will follow, they are not going to leave. Their children will join. Then it really will be Goodnight Vienna to Web 2.0. Not in any evil nefarious way, the Metaverse won’t cackle a villainous laugh as the youth of tomorrow is pulled unwillingly into a voracious, virtual, alternative dimension. (I wrote that last sentence before Meta. There will be evil cackling.)

Just as you didn’t choose to use email and social media and video streaming and online news and never read a book again, neither will the next generations choose the Metaverse. The logical progression, based on the mindset and technology which permeates both gaming and humanity, will make those decisions for them.

Hey, I didn’t write the rule book. The future always scares the comfortable status quo.

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Option 1: Culture For Everyone

Outside of gaming and the financial returns, what else will the Metaverse be good for?

Access to the worlds culture and art is very limited. There are only 55,000 museums in the world. 31,000 of those are in the USA.

Of those 55,000 how many house the world’s masterpieces? How many of these museums are worth a visit?

There are only 32 museums in the world which house significant dinosaur fossil collections.

There are less than 20 original Da Vinci’s in the world and they are housed in a handful of galleries.

All the Monet’s are stashed In Paris, London, New York, Copenhagen or the underground bunkers of a horde of private collectors.

The Metaverse will take this distribution bias and eviscerate it. You will be able to view art anywhere. From a field outside Lyon, Wuhan, Rio,
Addis Ababa, or The Mekong Delta. And it will be immersive, real, 3D.

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Option 2: Gatekeepers, GAFFA, and the end of civilization

Yes, the Metaverse could follow the path of utopian tech ideologists and become a decentralized wonderland where it’s possible for everyone on Earth to participate in the culture, thrive in the economy, and travel to the far reaches of their own and others’ imaginations in a Metaverse devoid of central power, bereft of gatekeepers and autocracy.

Alternatively, Meta could create it and suck in (zuck in) a billion souls to their own bludgeoning Metaverse, and have humanity staring down the barrel of a Metaverse which is exponentially worse than parts of the internet that exist today. Polarised, opinionated. Ugly.

A downgrade in a universe of upgrades.

Decentralization Collaboration

To reach the former, to create a Metaverse that changes humanity for the better, which takes civilization into the next century and beyond with real utopian aspirations, we must collaborate. Openness as we have never seen before. Open-source multiplied.

Fledgling Metaverse platforms must have access to the protocols and blueprints of existing platforms, the curiosity and creativity must be shared and shared and shared again. Interoperability must be a priority, the first item on every roadmap, the starting point from which all else flows. Only then can the Metaverse be from the people, for the people, to use a worn-out analogy.

Previously published here.

This article is part of The Gaming Metaverse Writing Contest hosted by HackerNoon in partnership with The Sandbox.

Submit your #gaming-metaverse story today for your chance to win up to $2000.

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