Be honest, have you ever seen any virtual reality you’d actually recommend to anyone? And yet VR and its extension as the gateway to the metaverse continue to command breathless excitement among the Technorati.
Two recent articles offer contrasting sides of the argument. In one, self-described futurist and influencer Bernard Marr, attempts to show that all our experiences will be touched by the virtual sooner rather than later.
In another, Sean Monahan plays devil’s advocate and pours water on the whole Metaverse project as being the singular ambition of megalomaniacs (with Zuckerberg playing the part of Sauron).
Both are right. Here’s why.
Marr argues that we are moving inexorably closer to a future in which the virtual and real worlds become inseparable, and one in which entertainment plays a key role in the transformation.
There are dozens of examples, he says, and selects a couple. The first are VR visitor experiences. You can’t visit a museum or gallery now without being offered a virtual tour which varies in complexity from simple 360-degree walkthroughs to highly immersive experiences.
There are VR tours of the National Gallery in London, virtual zoo experiences, virtual safaris like the Illuminarium, and, of course, VR theme park rides.
Marr also points to the use of VR in live sports. The IOC offered a 8K VR feed from Tokyo. BT Sport is to stream curated feeds of UEFA Champions League soccer matches this season in 8K VR. Marr says this type of “best seat in the house” application will skyrocket in the future.
“VR is already being used to improve the viewing experience for fans and create realistic training simulations for athletes, and now innovative developers are working on VR-based esports,” he says.
“VR — and AR after it — have run into a continual problem: people mostly like reality. My question for metaverse boosters is this: what does the metaverse add to everyday life?”— Sean Monahan
While caveating that VR is unlikely to entirely replace traditional forms of entertainment in the near future, Marr predicts, “Very soon, anything you currently do for fun — including cheering on your favorite sports team, visiting the Mona Lisa, or playing a game of frisbee with your friends — could be possible in the virtual world as entertainment and VR become more integrated.”
I agree — these options will increasingly be made available. But whether people will actually want to engage with media, learning and other experiences this way is another matter.
That’s the central point made by Monahan in The Guardian. The LA-based writer and trend forecaster predicts that the metaverse won’t happen.
READ MORE: Techies think we’re on the cusp of a virtual world called ‘the metaverse’. I’m skeptical (The Guardian)
He points out that the technology and the concepts for the Metaverse and VR have been around for decades. Neither had taken off, despite billions of dollars being pumped into the gear, for the simple reason that we all prefer actual reality. The gear is clunky, the experience tedious and uncomfortable after more than a few minutes.
“VR — and AR after it — have run into a continual problem: people mostly like reality. My question for metaverse boosters is this: what does the metaverse add to everyday life?”
“Very soon, anything you currently do for fun — including cheering on your favorite sports team, visiting the Mona Lisa, or playing a game of frisbee with your friends — could be possible in the virtual world as entertainment and VR become more integrated.”— Bernard Marr
Coming out of the pandemic, “which has reminded everyone that a Zoom call is very much not the same thing as hugging your mom,” Monahan is skeptical that Zoom-fatigued workers will be interested in leveling up to working in the metaverse.
He is more sympathetic to the crypto community’s nascent interest in the metaverse. The promise of crypto, it seems to him, is its potential to spark decentralization in an already overly centralized world.
“The question that crypto seems to face most pressingly is: Why should crypto matter to everyone? If crypto is to be truly revolutionary, then it will have to give an answer that formats digital life down to a human scale, not up to a megalomaniac’s.”
There’s no doubt the virtual — augmented or total simulacra — will overlay an increasing amount of our experiences from learning to entertainment to work. The tech and the experiences will improve. But there is a huge gap that should not be underestimated between the jargon and aims of tech leaders and media futurists and VR’s grass roots appeal for whom an actual real world experience is infinitely superior.