MDE#03 The Metaverse's Arrythmia
When there is no match between expectations and reality 💥
Hi, I´m back! I am travelling quite a lot recently. Therefore, the rhythm of posts for now will be every 3-4 weeks. Same quality & standards. Let´s go!
⏳ 6 min read
The metaverse has entered into arrhythmia: an irregular heartbeat.
Painful news came recently after a reduction of 11,000 jobs at Meta (13% of the company). The news came after Altimeter Capital published an open letter with an aggressive plan to get the company back on track.
In the letter, Altimeter Capital Chair and CEO Brad Gerstner states that Meta needs to focus on its core business and limit investment in the metaverse to no more than $5 billion per year (roughly cut more than half of the $10–15 billion budget initially planned). A painful situation for the company and its talented employees some of whom had found their identity at Meta.
Sadly, since Facebook´s rebranding to Meta a year ago, the HYPE (yes, in capitals and bold) over the metaverse has skyrocketed. 🚀
As an anecdote, the day after the rebranding I remember my parents calling me excitedly and telling me: “Andrea, the metaverse is here!”
I asked myself: “Uhhhh, what´s happening?” Then I understood how this rebranding had looked to the mainstream population.
And the hype expanded and expanded… Fueled by the trillions, the alliances, the reports, the promises, and mainstream population not even fully understanding what the metaverse is. Check the video below to see where the collective mainstream understanding of the metaverse is. Confused?
Do you believe in the metaverse?
The cherry on top of the cake is when people ask me with either glowing or skeptical eyes: “Do you believe in the metaverse?”
I take a deep breath. And pause: “What is going on?” It’s as if the metaverse is something that has to do with belief, like if it was a god or a supernatural being.
I reckon the metaverse may seem obscure from an outsider perspective, but it is NOT about faith or belief. It’s a scientific fact that computing is heading towards AR/VR.
It is a fact that AR/VR is the next wave of computing. Big tech corporations are well aware of this fact and are putting their efforts into that direction.
Then, why the arrhythmia? Because of the huge expectations for and huge misunderstandings of the field, at a very profound level.
The metaverse is a vision powered by AR/VR technologies.
A vision that started in 1965…
The vision for the metaverse
The great computer scientist Ivan Sutherland stated the vision for the first headset in “The Ultimate Display” . His vision set the basis for the invention of the first headset: “The Sword of Damocles” . That was back in 1968. Yeah… who said AR/VR or the metaverse is new?
“The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked” (Sutherland).
The term “metaverse” is more recent; it comes from Neal Stephenson´s science fiction novel Snow Crash from 1992. But words evolve through time and get followers, as well as haters. With the current beat of the metaverse, I even wonder if the term “metaverse” is going to stay here for long. Ever heard about the term metaworse?
What matters, after all, is the vision. Vision is the power to shape reality. Vision is the power to shape the world around you—with the corresponding action, of course 😉
So, what is the vision that we should set for the metaverse?
A vision that fosters BOTH human needs and business opportunities,
A vision that aligns innovation with human well-being and sustainability.
However, “innovation that truly serves us is in scarce supply” as Shannon Vallor, Professor at the University of Edinburgh outlines in a great article for MIT Technology Review. In the mass-production era we live in, technology is producing more and more inventions that rarely add value to our daily lives.
Is there a solution to this? Where does the metaverse fit in?
The solution would be a humane metaverse that aligns economic opportunities, human physical and mental well-being, and sustainability. In short, a solution that serves our planet > people > business interests.
Maybe this solution is an ideal vision, but wasn´t Sutherland´s vision of the first headset highly idealistic? It was. And he made it happen.
Setting the road for a humane metaverse
As innovators and technologists, each of us has the power to shape at least a bit of the metaverse.
As technologists, we tend to focus on small things. Let me explain: hardware engineers, for example, focus on the components that will enable new inventions. We talk about milliscale and in some cases even nanoscale. Software engineers create the apps and solutions that we interface with. The unit is code.
Code is a small unit that materializes when deployed. It is kinda magic. The scale, at the moment of creating it is small and very abstract—which makes relating it to the real world difficult.
In these times when the world is more messy, crowded, interconnected and interdependent than ever, what is missing is taking a complementary approach that zooms out and looks for the impact of the product/feature/solution in the world. In other words, seeing the world through a systems perspective is essential.
Beyond any hardware or software, there is the system where it will be inserted. Society is one such system, and the adaptation of the product into a system will determine its success or failure. A systems perspective acknowledges the interconnections created when a new product/feature/solution enters an ecosystem.
So, what can we do?
When building technology, zoom out as much as you zoom in and reflect on what/who your solution serves. Some recommendations:
Check for the system. What is the effect of your solution when you zoom out?
Put the system first. Does your solution benefit the system or a few elements or individuals? Go for the good of the whole.
Be creative and courageous.
📝 TIP: INFORMAL CHAT AT THE END OF THE WEEK WITH THE PRODUCT TEAM. This is an excellent time to set an informal discussion to zoom out and check for the impact of what the team has engineered over the week. For example, a good time to do so would be before or during the Friday Bar, an informal event on Fridays where the team meets over a drink. Do share some feedback in case you implement this tip. ;-)
These are just some ideas inspired by Donella H. Meadow´s Thinking in Systems book. A brilliant example of how to start thinking with a complementary perspective that will hopefully set the path to a more humane metaverse that thrives with a healthy beat.
That´s for all today. Thanks for reading until the end!
 Sutherland, I.E. (1965). The Ultimate Display.
 Sutherland, I. E. (1968). A head-mounted three dimensional display. Proceedings of AFIPS 68, pp. 757–764.
AND NOW, A PALATE CLEANSER. Some pictures of the Nordic VR Forum I attended at the beginning of November in Hamar, Norway. The two-day event outlined the advances of AR/VR in the Nordics. It was great to meet some of Norway´s metaverse shapers! I also participated in a panel discussing the metaverse´s future avenues together with Meta, Microsoft, CapGemini, and Spello; and presented the Metaverse Data & Ethics community. Yay!
Just click below 👇 to keep updated on the next ones. I am looking forward to having you as part of this expanding community.
Insightful, entertaining and informative. Thank you!