The digital divide will lock huge swathes of the underprivileged out of participation in the metaverse.
The next generation of the World Wide Web is being portrayed in some quarters as a battle for the future of democracy and justice. It is being positioned as a chance (perhaps our last one) to remodel the division of labor into something more equitable. The idea has taken on almost El Dorado proportions among those who believe that the metaverse and Web3 can be used to shake off the chains of capitalism and deliver us into a “techtopian” ideal of social and economic equity.
Giles Crouch, who styles himself as a digital anthropologist, punctures this bubble. In a blog post on Medium, he points out that we still haven’t figured out equal access to the internet:
“Only Norway has enshrined access to the internet as a human right. Autocracies provide access, but under strict rules. If a metaverse does come to exist, the ideas its proponents put forward would only suit those who can afford to access it. This is why it’s an ideal and hard to become a reality.”
But it’s not just high-speed internet access that makes the socially democratic metaverse vision inherently flawed.
“To play in the metaverse today you need a fairly powerful computer and ideally, expensive VR goggles and a fairly decent knowledge of how this all works and the ability to afford the games and entertainment offered there,” he argues. “Lower middle to lower income people cannot play in this space.”
The vision of the metaverse and Web3 is being driven at the moment by companies like Meta, Roblox, Epic Games, and venture capitalists like Andreeson-Horowitz, who are — let’s face it — not exactly altruists.
“These companies and venture capital firms are not driven by any sense of social responsibility. If they don’t see a route to profit, they simply won’t play.”
Crouch contends there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the path to universal metaverse suffrage.
His second argument for why the techtopian metaverse won’t work in practice is because of the underlying and unavoidable centralized systems that are needed for it to work.
“Someone needs to pay for the energy to power it (and it’s not very ‘green’), the cost of laying fiber optic cables, routers, data centers, satellites and launching them.”
So, there’s that.
“If we want a metaverse that truly is open, a Web3 that is actually decentralized, it would need to be operated not by corporations, but some kind of structure that is more independent in nature.”
Crouch suggests a governing body, “maybe the United Nations? Perhaps that isn’t a viable idea?”
In fact, this tussle for the soul of the next-gen internet is a proxy for the wider and far more serious conflict facing humanity: Capitalism is broken and people are waking up left and right.
“Cultures and societies around the world are already pushing back against the current system of capitalism,” says Crouch. “That cat is out of the bag and it’s clawing at the fabric of our global systems in a fight for its very life.
“Talking about the metaverse and Web3 are an argument between old capitalist ideals versus new ideals that want a better system, just at a much larger scale.”
Does Web3 offer the promise of a truly decentralized internet, or is it just another way for Big Tech to maintain its stranglehold on our personal data? Hand-picked from the NAB Amplify archives, here are the expert insights you need to understand Web3’s potential and stay ahead of the curve on the information superhighway:
- The Web3 Dream vs. Digital (and Economic) Realities
- What Needs to Happen for Web3 to Go Mainstream
- Web3 and the Future of Work (Oh, Guess What? It’s Decentralized.)
- Web3, Free Will and Who Will Own the Future
- Taking Those First Steps Into Web3
Overwhelmed by Technology? It’s a Human Thing
By Adrian Pennington
From the fear of AI taking over our jobs to autonomous vehicles, military drones to cryptocurrencies, and augmented reality to global CCTV, technology everywhere just seems to overwhelm us. Why is that?
It could have to do with our ability, as a species, to adapt.
“Culture has helped us evolve faster as a species than any other animal,” argues self-styled digital anthropologist Giles Crouch. “As we began to combine different technologies to further exploit and survive in our environments our societies were able to evolve faster and faster.”
However, earlier human societies and cultures had time to adapt technologies and adapt to them. This is no longer the case.
“We’re in a time of exponential technological development, especially when it comes to digital technologies. Our brains and our sociocultural systems are struggling to figure out how to adapt these technologies and how we can adapt to having them in our lives. We no longer have the time and space we once had to debate, discuss and evolve.”
There might be a second reason we find technology so overwhelming just now — the clue is digital.
Crouch maintains that advances like the smartphone, artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology are all part of a complex combination of technologies being driven exponentially because they are digital.
Another significant change to prior technical advances is the number of citizens who can now leverage digital technologies. Anyone can learn code and experiment with all kinds of materials for both physical and digital technology innovations.
“While there have always been inventors, now it’s about scale due to the accessibility of technology and the ability to communicate via the internet,” he says. The net result is that we feel overwhelmed because there are more novel technologies coming at us at a global scale than ever before in human history.
“Our cultures don’t yet have the skill sets to adapt at such speed, nor do our societies. Our current systems of bureaucracy, government and industry are struggling to keep up and to adapt themselves and those systems are made up of humans.”
Wait, did he say, “don’t yet?”
Crouch insists humans are incredibly adaptable. “We are masters at exploiting niches and figuring things out.”
Even if our generation won’t be the ones to enjoy the benefit.