The Metaverse: A diverse and inclusive utopia?
Part of the lure of the Metaverse is the creation of a new, digital world free from hate and bigotry. Much like the promise of the new world to nineteenth century explorers, the Metaverse promises boundless horizons where everyone is free to build a place for themselves, their families, their friends, and to create, explore and interact as they please. But are we in danger of sleepwalking into a toxic, abusive Metaverse that takes all the problems of today’s internet, and then dials them up to eleven?
A brief history of the internet
In the beginning there was Web 1.0, the earliest form of the internet, where a handful of people created content and web pages for everyone else. This allowed those fortunate enough to have access to a computer with dial-up internet, access to a wealth of facts, information, and content. But Web 1.0 was “read-only”, with little or no option for users to communicate with content creators.
Web 2.0 changed all of that, by allowing users to interact with creators and their websites, as well as other users. This “read-write” internet is the internet we know best, it is the home of video sharing and social media, shopping, online banking, and video conferencing. But it is also the home of cyberbullying, troll factories, misinformation and, perhaps worst of all, echo-chamber inducing centralised algorithms and online bubbles that help to reinforce biases and create division.
Like the Metaverse, the early days of the internet promised a digital utopia, where people would be free to exchange new ideas and contemplate the views of others. But we find ourselves somewhat removed from that ideal. So, how do we prevent the third iteration of the internet, the Metaverse, going down the same route as the second?
It’s a four-step process (at least)
The first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one. We need to recognise the very real risk that the Metaverse could end up as a divisive and dangerous place, and we need to put safeguards in place to avoid this from happening.
The second step is to ensure that the Metaverse is available to everyone. Virtual environments will reflect, and be shaped by, the people that make them and spend time in them. If the Metaverse is only open to those who can afford terabit internet and a cornucopia of Meta-wear, then it is very unlikely to be diverse and inclusive.
Step three? To ensure that the engineers of the Metaverse reflect every facet of modern society, every race, religion, colour, creed, and sexual orientation. Web 2.0 development has been driven by a small number of companies led by tech billionaires.
And Step four.To ensure that the Metaverse remains a diverse, inclusive, and tolerant place, free from abuse and toxicity, it must have in place a means to protect users and an effective moderation process that deals with the reporting and removal of bad actors.While there are some out there who see the future of the Metaverse as a fait-accompli and have given up already, here at The Metabite we remain optimistic.