The Metaverse We Need but Probably Won’t Get

Thoughts on the Seven Rules of the Metaverse
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Author

Ryan Straight

Published

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

In my ongoing effort to become more involved with the Web3 education community, I’m engaging in the ED3 NFT 30 Day Challenge over at Ed3 Educators. I decided to write up my thoughts longform. Also, I want to point out that I appreciate Tony Parisi for putting this list together, as it is a fantastic way to begin discussions and generate new ideas. My notes below may seem mainly critical but these are intended to expand the conversation.

The Seven Rules

Week 3 focuses on the metaverse and what it is (and is not), starting with Tony Parisi’s The Seven Rules of the Metaverse: A framework for the coming immersive reality (2021), the question is then, “What was surprising or interesting when reading about how the metaverse is defined?” Let’s address some of them not so much as a refutation to the ideas, themselves, but by taking these rules to their logical conclusion: implementation.

Rule #1: There is only one Metaverse

Hard to critique this in the abstract. If, by definition, metaverse includes “the sum total of all publicly accessible virtual worlds1, real-time 3D content and related media that are connected on an open global network, controlled by none and accessible to all,” then there is only one. That said, the caveat, “controlled by none and accessible to all” complicates the matter: in practice, this is not and will likely never be the case. Oppressive government regimes, bandwidth deserts, digital redlining, barriers to technology acquisition like financial or accessibility issues, all make this difficult to realize, which brings us to Rule 2:

Sidenote: I refuse to ever use the term “multi-metaverse.”

Rule #2: The Metaverse is for everyone

The text of this rule (emphasis mine):

The Metaverse is for everyone, as defined by our most broad societal rules of inclusion. This is not a political or socioeconomic statement; it is an ethnographic one that has political and socioeconomic implications.

A wonderful goal with a tremendous number of assumptions behind it. First, who is the us when referring to “our most broad societal rules of inclusion?”

While the rules are described as being “axiomatic,”2 it seems more appropriate to describe them as aspirational. The metaverse being defined by the rules is something closer to a pure, perfect Platonic form, in that the implementation of the metaversal concept is necessarily limited, even corrupted, by those involved in its manifestation.

Again, as noted, I understand these are not suggestions or requirements for how the metaverse can or should be designed, rather statements that, were these rules untrue, would disqualify that thing as the metaverse. And again, since we can’t actually engage with a theoretical metaverse, considering its implementation is worthwhile.

Rule #3: Nobody controls the Metaverse

I’d point toward Louis Rosenberg’s Regulate the Metaverse: Why regulation is important and urgent (2022) here, and his assertions that the metaverse absolutely does require regulation (and, thereby, control). While this is not the kind of control Rule 3 is most concerned with (that clearly being commercial and market-driven, addressing issues like which industry giants have sway over metaversal spaces) and relinquishes itself from needing to deal with governmental interference (“Attempts to control the Metaverse by government entities are another matter, and outside the scope of these Rules.”), the rule smacks of technological utopianism. If we’ve seen anything in the past year or so, it’s that if a scam can be perpetrated, it will be.

Even the widely purported panaceas of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and smart contracts are subject to the same vulnerabilities as algorithms: they’re designed by people and people can come with biases, ulterior motives, even malicious intent. Oversight and regulation with accountability for both the regulatory body and the rulebreakers is essential for a safe, realistically usable metaverse.

Rule #4: The Metaverse is open

I find this rule to be spot-on and a phenomenal goal. The metaverse should be “built upon interoperable technologies and tools, connected via rigorously defined and broadly agreed-upon free and open communication standards.” On a practical level, it points towards the need for legislated principles like net neutrality3 to protect average users’ safety, access, and livelihoods. To wit,

It is not always ill intent that puts us on a path to market domination by a small few; sometimes it is simply convenience and consumer value that only large-scale platforms can provide. We hang on a knife edge in the Web 2.0/mobile computing era, having to continually choose between convenience and autonomy; there is a significant backlash against this in the emerging Metaverse.

I’m reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville stating that Americans will never again submit to revolution as they will not be willing to sacrifice their possessions.4 Inaction is as or more devastating than malice, in many cases, and I’d wager convenience is a much more effective driving factor than autonomy going forward, as it has been in the Web2 era.

Rule #5: The Metaverse is hardware-independent

While I don’t disagree with the notion that any sort of metaversal interaction should not be limited or determined by what sort of hardware someone has (not to mention what was addressed under Rule 1 above, like whether there’s sufficient bandwidth), my concern here is a prominent focus on commerce. Throughout the Rules of the Metaverse, there is an underlying (and sometimes overt) focus on commercialization and consumerism. On a fundamental level, I believe this does a disservice to the intent behind describing what the theoretical, ideal metaverse could be.

Rule #6: The Metaverse is a Network

From a technical standpoint, the Metaverse is a network of computers delivering and presenting digital information. Its novel power is in the ability to present that information to its users in the form of 3D spaces, places, objects and characters, to facilitate communication for a wide range of uses.

Beyond the technical considerations for what entails the metaverse, this seems to miss one key thing: a metaverse without users is meaningless, so the inclusion and influence of and on those users cannot be overstated. The metaverse, then, is not simply the conceptualization of networked platform that allow particular functions (engaging with X experience or purchasing Y content), but rather it includes and even requires the fundamental notion of what it means to bring everyone and everything together in an extended reality.5

Rule #7: The Metaverse is the Internet

Again, we find ourselves more concerned about the content involved with the metaverse, and less about what it does and how it impacts our reality. Essentially, currently, the internet describes a destination or a method for accomplishing something. We “go online” to find information. We stream content “from Netflix.” We buy devices that are connected “to the cloud.” There’s an inescapable transactional nature underlying the current internet. While I agree that it is what the metaverse will be built upon, “The Metaverse is the Internet” frankly seems to lack imagination, though it may simply be a case of creating the steam engine and then trying to imagine nuclear power without the intermediary steps.

Perhaps we should begin speaking of the metaverse as something that has grown or emerged from the internet, rather than something built on top of it. I’m reminded of the language used by the Lens protocol.

Closing Thoughts

I don’t have rules, per se, but I do have thoughts.

Thought 1: We should redefine the metaverse as something like, A reality borne of foundational, fundamental, and universal integration of the digital and the physical.

Thought 2: The metaverse is less about the technology and more about the core ways in which our experience of reality will and continues to change due to the technology, mediated by it, with heavy consideration needed on who’s controlling that mediation, how, and why. Imagine the shift in how we experienced the world pre- and post written word. I envision the metaverse being along those lines.

Thought 3: Framing the metaverse first or even mainly as a place to do business or play games is inappropriate. The metaverse is a concept, a new way of living with access to virtually anything–knowledge, communication, history, entertainment–at any time.

Thought 4: A well-regulated metaverse is crucial for a safe, humane, open experience, regardless of the platform, technology, or user capability or skill.

Finally, it is unfortunate at best and detrimental at worst that Meta (nee Facebook) has co-opted the language here and used it as its own to the point of actually renaming itself with the term, all but guaranteeing when the term “metaverse” is used, it will end up right there with Kleenex, Xerox, and Velcro, as a branded replacement for a general concept used interchangeably.

References

Parisi, T. (2021). The Seven Rules of the Metaverse. In Metaverses. https://medium.com/meta-verses/the-seven-rules-of-the-metaverse-7d4e06fa864c
Rosenberg, L. (2022). Regulate the Metaverse. In Predict. https://medium.com/predict/regulating-the-metaverse-7c893ed00865

Footnotes

  1. We may need to revisit our language when discussing the metaverse in more than just the ways I’ve outlined in this piece, as “virtual world” conjures memories of Second Life and World of Warcraft, rather than notions of spaces that exist beyond our physical one–ie, anything digital.↩︎

  2. That is to say, self-evident.↩︎

  3. See NordVPN’s Net neutrality pros and cons: what you need to know for a recent breakdown with pros and cons, some more convincing than others.↩︎

  4. For the life of me, I can’t find the actual citation and it’s driving me crazy.↩︎

  5. I don’t mean “extended reality” here like a VR headset; it’s mean to describe the physical and digital space we already inhabit, raised to another degree.↩︎

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Citation

BibTeX citation:
@online{straight2022,
  author = {Ryan Straight},
  title = {The {Metaverse} {We} {Need} but {Probably} {Won’t} {Get}},
  date = {2022-06-22},
  url = {https://ryanstraight.com/posts/metaverse-we-need},
  langid = {en}
}
For attribution, please cite this work as:
Ryan Straight. (2022, June 22). The Metaverse We Need but Probably Won’t Get. https://ryanstraight.com/posts/metaverse-we-need