The Future of… Metaverse

Lenslist asked me, Denis Rossiev, Hali Hoyt and Ben Desai for our thoughts on the future of the Metaverse. I will publish my answer below, but follow this link to read all responses!

At first, people will imagine a metaverse as a place, and most of us will design it as if it was an extension of our own physical environment. It will have clothes, roads, flowers etc. This will make sense from a cultural point of view, as we like to create reality by duplicating what we now believe reality consists of. It also makes sense on a commercial level: what is sold in real life, may be sold through a metaverse. It may even become easier to sell it that way.

And that gives us a clue: a metaverse is not a place, it is a means of exchange: a means of communication. So while we think we are learning to build a metaverse by designing objects, as if it was an architectural quest, we are actually learning a new language. And this new language is not going to extend reality as we understand it, it is going to change it beyond the comprehension of our current view of reality. This language will then start to shape how things look, instead of the other way around. Digital clothes will not have the same meaning any longer, and nor will digital roads and flowers. But we are not there yet. Perhaps if we try to design as poetic and open as possible, and try to not fill too many new gaps with old solutions, we will start to get a feeling of this new reality.

Standing In Front Of A Map

A perfect language is like a perfect map. But then when the map is finished, what to do there? And would you have anything to say in a perfect language? You would be superfluous. Maybe you would try and force yourself into an awkward position so that you and the map can be in a picture together, as if you really are there, somehow.

A Roman marble head of Venus, ca. 1st-2nd Century A.D. & a selfportrait in AR

Perhaps a more meaningful image of the world would be an image in which the world and the self are not so awkwardly divided. This image is one that can never be completed as we and the world constantly change over time. This image is far from perfect. It is the image of your experience of the world, while it is happening. It changes and morphs because it is influenced by things it does not know, cannot see or did not predict. It does not simply spread a perfect white terra incognito over them, as yet to be conquered. The unknowns are not exactly there to be pointed at. Instead you experience them as fear, excitement, curiosity, desire… as the announcement of the new.

Unfortunately we are still stuck with all those maps. And while we can’t find ourselves in it, collectively we do place all and each person as ‘a kind’ onto the map. And while a map that incorporates more ‘kinds’ in an equal way is better than one that defines less, we may likely find it lacking. And although we must fight any map that does not represent us, the fact remains, we should also ask ourselves what or whom the map is useful to. Its use is to categorize and organize, which can be done in more or less fair ways, but it offers no inspiration whatsoever about what to do in a world that looks like this perfect map. So we may be tempted to draw in some enemies, maybe an exciting unknown wilderness and other opportunities for adventure and conquest, so that we feel we take part in this world.

But of course we are not on this map, and while such a map may be very consoling, in the end it is nothing but a sign of existential poverty. And so is the perfect language: such a language would organize, but it would not express. If the world it describes would uncontrollably change, what would then be its use? Instead of painting a perfect picture and then maneuvering ourselves in front of it for a selfie, we may find ourselves intimately joined to the world, and better visualized in an imperfect patchwork of unrelated thoughts, limbs, desires and half finished sentences. Because we make sense of a world in movement, of a world onto which every little act may lead to unpredictable results and changes. Language helps us to invent ourselves and the world as we move along. Its goal not to organize and fix. Instead it constantly organizes and re-organizes in order to move about. In this second more practical approach, we have no need for universal truths in order to make a move.

Categorized as Metaverse