The Metaverse is Here. And it’s Unreal.
Perhaps the most dangerous driver fueling the looming Black Swan event our schools, children, families, and country will face is the trifecta of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Social Media (AI/ML/SM). It has literally created an alternate reality for children, and it is actually endangering their freedom. Fake news, misinformation, and disinformation are all distorting truth. Deep fakes are especially worrisome. And truth is freedom. Take away children’s access to truth and you take away their freedom. Show children how to arrive at their Justified Belief and you set them free.
The coalescence of AI/ML/SM has created a technology platform from which what is being labelled the Metaverse has begun to emerge. An ersatz, virtual, augmented Hyperreality that continuously blurs the lines between what today we understand to be our physical universe and the new, virtual/digital/programmable universe. With the addition of Virtual Reality capabilities, an alternate reality is here. AI/ML/SM/VR = the Metaverse.
The idea for this Metaverse has been around since at least 1916 when Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J. sat in a French Army trench during World War One and first wrote about an idea he called the Noosphere. He postulated that just like the Atmosphere surrounds the Biosphere, which in turn surrounds the Geosphere, one day all human minds and spirits will combine to surround both of them. Teilhard viewed the Noosphere as a long-overdue synthesis – physically and spiritually – of all humans into a Singularity based on our common Goodness.
106 years later, Teilhard’s vision is now partly with us. The infrastructure is in place. A web of invisible filaments is draped from orbiting satellites connecting wetware (us), software and hardware, and all their information is being beamed up and down and across the Globe via terrestrial dishes and fiber optic at close to the speed of light. The common good Chardin prayed for is still not within reach, however. In fact, early indications are that the opposite of coalescence is happening due to the technology.
Teilhard’s Noosphere is now being rebranded as the Metaverse, and its importance is so great I believe future historians will look back and divide time into what happened to humanity before the Metaverse (BMv) and after (AMv.) Just like historians divided human chronology as pre-civilization and civilization; before and after writing was invented. Culture is fragmenting.
In 1981, Jean Baudrillard another French philosopher and sociologist built on Teilhard’s ideas but went a step further and predicted the emergence of Hyperreality, a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. He called it, “the generation by models of a real without origin.” I believe the initial hyperreality models we currently see will only be a launching pad for many other reals, but this time their origin will be the über-advanced hardware/software architectured platform we are putting in place in today’s Metaverse.
Imagine if all of us could create our very own ‘real’ tailored to our selfish needs and you can see the opportunities – and problems – your children will face.
The Metaverse allows the co-mingling of physical reality with virtual reality, and human intelligence with artificial intelligence. This is not theory. It has arrived, and it proves once again Arthur C. Clarke’s prophetic 1962 Third Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
“For the first time in history, we have managed to move society or at least a large chunk online. Many people have established new-found habits built around the digital world. Under these conditions, the virtual world begins to compete with the physical world for time, resources and attention.” Kian Bakhtiari. Forbes Magazine. And there is no going back. There will be good and bad unintended consequences, just like there were after Columbus set foot in the New World.
I had the pleasure of attending an eye-opening lecture in 1992 by Jaron Lanier, a co-founder of the field of Virtual Reality and a philosopher of computing. He spoke of his early efforts to create Virtual Reality illustrated with photos of 1970s, 80s VR headsets that looked like a deep sea diver’s helmet held in place by rope and pulleys. Three decades later, it is with us.
In his 2017 book, Dawn of the New Everything, Lanier asks a very pertinent question of VR, “Who is it who is suspended in nothing, experiencing these events?” His answer is unsettling, “It is you, but not exactly.” He is implying, correctly in my view, that our interaction with the Metaverse via Virtual Reality is a kind of two-way osmosis. This is a first for us. We have a two-way membrane to exchange information with our physical spheres, now we need to develop one to interface with the digital realm. This is at the heart of my book, Hybrid Learning.
Lanier then asks about a future powered by VR, “What is left of you when you can change virtually everything in your body and the world?” I do not know the answer, but that is the quandary your children will face every time they wander into the Metaverse and live in Hyperreality. Are they prepared do you think? Could we do a better job of readying them? Do they have the right membrane?
Lanier points out in his book that there is good news: in this constantly changing, hyperreal world the child is the only fixed point. That particular claim makes me very uneasy. We have already seen children’s behaviors change as a result of interacting with the primitive technology already deployed as of 2022. Children have already committed suicides and murders because of digital phantoms created by their imaginations and enabled by malign actors.
What happens to the idea of a child’s fixed identity when the brave, new, and hyperreal world they inhabit is modified by the child to suit her ideas, and she begins to suffuse her physical entity with an alternate one? Is that the same child? Is she still a single entity? Is she still independent? Is this all real or surreal? Is it her but not exactly? A mother of a fourteen year old girl recently told CNN that she found her daughter curled up on her bed crying, “I don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not on Instagram and Tik Tok.” Focus on the age of this girl. She is already overwhelmed and dependent at 14, and technology is only going to make her more and more vulnerable. And we are letting this happen. They need help in the form of a structured methodology, not memory tests.
What should certainly cause concern is the fact that we humans, especially children, are by nature pain-avoiders and pleasure-seekers. And the coming Metaverse/Hyperreality is not a non-profit. Its owners, who will continue to piggyback on our taxpayer-funded backbones, know that we seek pleasure and avoid pain. And they will make sure that there is very little pain in their new magic kingdom and a lot that appeals to children’s sense of pleasure. And it will be simple to do this. And seemingly free.
Intentional or not, the obvious strategy of the Metaverse is to make your children ambivalent or fluid about where their Being stops. At their skin, or not? And children are already under pressure to ignore or reframe definitions of identity. Realism is its end goal; fantasy is its means. And the purveyors of the Metaverse no longer take Hollywood as their inspiration, now they take their cues from Disney theme parks and Las Vegas, because these analogs have been using total-immersion escapism as a business strategy for decades, much to the delight of shareholders and visitors. Not so much the employees or families, especially parents.
The philosophical questions all this poses are profound and consequential. Are we here just to avoid pain and seek pleasure? Do humans have a purpose beyond seeking pleasure? And if so, do we have the agency to achieve that purpose?
I have spent hundreds of hours in classrooms in the past two decades, and I believe that this incipient Hyperreality is already inculcating a mentality of risk averse, narrow thinkers who are focused on the sensual delights of the developing Metaverse and not worried about the downside: undifferentiated personalities, homogenized populations, less social diversity, less curiosity, more passive consumers, communities lulled into a false sense of euphoria. Stoned on fantasies. Comfortable with lies. The same person who wandered into the Metaverse, but not exactly. And profitable for the vendors. And the worst possible outcome would be that children only employ their creativity when it comes to satisfying their own needs. For the first time in history, this makes those with the strongest imaginations the most vulnerable to exploitation.
If the shareholders of the Metaverse are rewarded with yet more money in direct proportion to the amount of pleasure they provide to their Netizens, which will be the case, that will cause a worrisome effect by reinforcing our existing tendency towards self-gratification at the expense of others and weakening our bonds with reality.
If a child spends all day removing herself or himself from the real world and identifying with an avatar and living in their make-believe echo chamber in a jungle/ocean/sky/spaceship/dinosaur park/Alice-in-Wonderland domain of their own design, and less and less able to distinguish between artificial reality and their neuro-organic-spiritual reality and community, and preferring artificiality, then they are being encouraged to ignore their duty of service to our common humanity, which is how we have survived for millions of years. The human mind and emotions can be hijacked by experts; and will be. Is enslaved too strong a word?
“I almost see the Metaverse as an extension of humanity and creativity,” says Cathy Hackl, the ‘godmother’ of the Metaverse, at LinkedIn anyway. She goes on to say, “It’s about technologies converging and setting us free from the limitations of screens and have the internet all around us.” That is way too slanted a viewpoint seen through rose-colored glasses.
I think she sells the Metaverse short. She makes Hyperreality sound like another public-good utility such as the electric, water, or phone companies which once set us free from wood and water gathering and walking to a neighbor to ask for help. This is different.
Actually, the real goal of the Metaverse is to have the internet inside us so that we will be able to be somewhere without being there, or even travelling there. Simultaneously on the couch and in a Starship, even piloting it if we wish. Fantasy will literally know no bounds. Previously, make-believe was only possible through your child’s imagination, and limited by it and by the physical constraints imposed by those pesky laws of physics and biology. Hyperreality now means imagination is limitless. The laws of nature are suggestions in the Metaverse. This can be good and bad. And that will depend on how well children are prepared. Again, that is the purpose of my book, Hybrid Learning.
Boundaries between imagery and reality are fast disappearing. Simulations of reality and the creation of alternate realities already seem more real than actual reality. And these realities will seem even more true because the child’s brain sees more than just what the eyes convey. Eyes process as well as see. Soon it will be true to say that if you can imagine it, you can make it real, or seem so real it is indistinguishable from the physical universe. Children’s consciousness surely will be eroded to the point where they are less able to distinguish between reality and fake or simulated reality. They will still be same person but not exactly. And that should worry us all.
During its Neolithic period, Facebook used the word Wall to describe its User Interface. It was displayed on a flat screen and wall seemed like a good choice of metaphor. People hang pictures on walls. Like Friend it too was soon subsumed into the tolerant English language. In the new world of virtuality, Facebook has another metaphor for Wall; it’s your child’s cornea. And that is a mirror not a picture; and educators are supposed to turn mirrors into windows for a reason. Narcissists get humanity into trouble. Do we really want generations of them?
And what happens when the current versions of Virtual Reality, especially headsets which are still in the clunky mainframe-computer stage of development, are replaced by micro-engineered, quantum sensors implanted in children’s corneas? Augmented reality will be replaced by Extreme Reality and certainly will be indistinguishable from magic. A child will literally be able to ‘live’ in their bespoke reality in which they can not only avoid pain but can focus on satisfying their needs for sensual pleasure. This makes Jaron Lanier’s philosophical question and answer well worth debating. Again, “Who is it who is suspended in nothing, experiencing these events? It is you, but not exactly.”
When a child looks into the eyes of another human, another person looks back at them. When they look into a VR headset, who looks back into their eyes? This is new to our species.
How do we prepare them for this? Unleash their Hybrid Skills. There is no other solution. They need a sword and shield to carry with them when you are not around. And knowing how to take a multiple-choice test is neither sword nor shield.
Even in a movie theater looking through 3D glasses, one is still aware of the 2D screen and the other people in the theatre. In this new reality the only screen children will actually see and not look through will be the backside of their cornea, nine-tenths of an inch away from the Retina which can see a candle flame one and a half miles away. This could be very isolating, especially if there are game elements, which there will be.
If a child is looking through a VR headset, who are they seeing? Who is looking back? Their own eyes, but not exactly. Also, the eyes of real people they invite, but not exactly. And what happens if the Metaverse takes over the role of the one looking back, or even becoming their companion, or mentor?
Children naturally put themselves at the center of whatever mise en scène they build or someone else creates. It follows that if a child looks at hyperreality it will see a forgery of their self and put it at the center. They will only see an extreme close-up of an illusion. We are not used to that. At the movies the screen containing illusions is surrounded by contextual reality, and we don’t admire a painting by standing with our noses touching it either. There are borders. Boundaries disappear in the Metaverse.
The trouble begins for all of us if children want better metaversions of their self and environment. And they will, continuously. We are by nature never satisfied. If the tools offered to children include computer generated imaging (CGI) – and they will – the child will always try for improvement and render an ever more idealized or better – but not real – version of their self. Keeping themselves center stage; the same person but not exactly.
The moment may arrive when the creator is overcome by her creation. In effect, children in a hyperreal situation are mostly looking at a reflection, not keeping them anxiously fixated on their own persona, like Narcissus.
In the Metaverse of the not-too-distant future, a child may think they are choosing to add objects to their virtual field-of-vision. The truth is that the purveyors of the early-stage Metaverse already track the digital profile of Netizens and make suggestions about which objects we should like. We assume this kind of control is done benevolently. The evidence to date suggests that the purveyor’s needs and the Netizen’s needs are diametrically opposed, and the playing field is already at an obtuse angle in favor of the Metaverse. And what happens when the Metaverse’s algorithms – initially built by humans – begin to show hyperreal objects it wants to display on behalf of the purveyors of the Metaverse? They are already doing that in 2D.
There might not be an actual there there in the conventional sense in the Metaverse. But its reality is undeniable.
In the 18th century Bishop Berkeley, an Irish philosopher, decided that Descartes was wrong, and that matter – reality – did not in fact exist except in our perception – or idea – of it. Samuel Johnson dismissed the bishop’s idea by forcefully kicking a stone and saying, “Thus I refute it.” Three centuries later, we seem to now have a reality which is indeed just an idea and cannot be kicked. If we cannot kick the Metaverse/Hyperreality, does it exist? Is it matter? Does it matter? It is not matter, but it exists, and it does indeed matter.
According to the laws of physics, if something takes up space and has mass and volume it is matter, and thus can be kicked. If not, it is not matter and cannot be kicked. If it is not matter it must be immaterial, and that means it must be mind or spirit. If it is mind, then whose mind is it? If the Metaverse is spirit, then whose spirit is it?
I do not know at what age your child should be told, but she should be told at some point, that the major difference between digital reality and physical reality is that digital reality has been programmed by humans, so far anyway. And because it has been coded, theoretically at least a hacker could break into the programmable hyperreality a child is experiencing and change it without the child knowing until they are even further confused. And if a child is living mostly in a hyperreality, their perceived reality will inevitably be changed to suit the goals of the hacker, not the goals of a child or the original developer.
On the other hand, the child’s real world cannot be hacked. Imagine if the world your child sees in the Metaverse begins to looks like a Kaleidoscope or one of Escher’s surreal images. What happens when they disconnect? That would make one heck of a movie script.
After the rapid proliferation of the internet and computer technology in the last couple of decades, we all began to spend large amounts of time using electronic devices but existing in the real world. And that was the goal of technology vendors then 25 years ago. I know, I was one. Nicholas Negroponte the founder of MIT’s Media Labs called what was coming Continuous or Ubiquitous Computing. And the vendors achieved it sooner than predicted with the advent of smart phones.
Now the goal of the Metaverse or Hyperreality is what I call Saturated Computing. This will be achieved, probably in record time also. There is too much money to be made. And in a decade or so, the advent of Quantum Computing, Quantum Communications and implantable sensors will make today’s binary smartphone and 5G internet look like an abacus computing a result and then mailing it via the Post Office. And the Turing Test will be a historical footnote.
The gargantuan appetite for all this media is obvious as we watch children already being marinated in early-stage, computer-generated, alternate, and immersive realities that they believe they created and can govern and loving it. Think Minecraft, Forge of Empires, or Fortnite video games with their complex alternate worlds, but now VR-enabled worlds and beckoning your children. There will not be just one alternate reality either. There will be millions more for them to escape into and become themselves, but not exactly.
Is escapism the goal of humanity? It was for the aristocracy. It still is. Reality was and is messy and for those who can afford it escapism is wonderful. The new aristocracy based on wealth is repeating the pattern. Guarded compounds of privilege are everywhere there is a view. The Hoi polloi will once again see this and think why not me. But instead of calling for more equity through action even revolution, they can now escape by building their slice of heaven in Hyperreality at very little cost to themselves except the real-world privacy and data they give up. A price they have been shown to be more than willing to pay.
And what happens to aesthetics? With an infinitesimally small number of exceptions, no one but the child and a narrow circle of invited ‘friends’ will see what the child creates. Sharing ideas has always been our killer app. Aesthetic onanism might become a pathology recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Creativity is for primarily for sharing. Poets, artists, and architects only feel fulfilled when there is feedback.
All this begs this question: What happens when children who are not trained in thinking and the ability to discriminate between fact and fiction derive as much meaning from a virtual world as they do from the real world? They become less exactly like their original self. The same but getting less so all the time. And if enough do this it will affect all of us. We will all be the same but less so.
All this could have huge societal implications. Will people who have grown up in this hyperreality be more or less likely to engage with others who have been similarly raised? What happens to what we today view as the normal institutions of society? Politics, family, faith, mental and physical health, friendship, travel, leisure, and entertainment and especially schools will surely be affected. We are already seeing eye, sleep, posture, mental health, and weight and behavioral problems associated with today’s relatively low-immersion technology. Surely all of these will be exacerbated by Saturated Computing.
The odds are stacked against children. The Metaverse is not at all permeable; it only shares or rents its wares; it does not freely give; it has no empathy; no charity or love; no conscience; it is agnostic; it has no purpose, no raison d’être. It is opaque. It is cold. It is incomprehensible to a child. But it is fun.
What is the justification for its existence? It does not share in the same transcendentals which make us human and give us purpose: truth, beauty, and goodness. And that is the design goal: to single mindedly make money for the shareholders from anyone who can pay. It has no public spirit. And it currently has the same legal rights as the companies that control it – for now. What’s next, granting Human Rights for technologies that best replicate humans?
On the other hand, the human skin and mind are very permeable and very vulnerable. It’s part of our design. We have free will. We can choose to beneficially use both our internal and our external environments, not be actually used by the external environments. Now the external, digital environment can use us for its commercial benefit. This is a first. It’s just never really been a choice before. Now it is.
Children in the near future will be able to choose to totally avoid the problems the external world presents by surrendering to the delights other people willingly feed them. This will mean even more problems might go unsolved.
If the Metaverse stays as a product and does not become a hindrance to human development, or worse, all should be well. But greed and competition for resources by a few has turned things sour many, many times before. Plastic and nuclear looked really good in the last century.
This is different. We could potentially be squeezing our children into a different kind of consciousness, without preparing them for it. Not since Zeus and Medea have we eaten our children. By dumbing them down in the face of Hyperreality we might as well be, just slowly and imperceptibly. If a child is in a hyperreal environment and has a choice between brushing up on their math skills, studying the Constitution, or engaging with a dragon, villain, or sexy bot, what might they do? Avoid reality by habitually creating a new, comfortable reality perhaps.
Psychosis is a mental disorder causing people to lose some contact with reality. Because of this mental illness, sufferers might see or hear things that other people cannot see or hear (hallucinations) and believe things that are not actually true (delusions.) Psychotics create their own reality which prevents them from dealing with actual reality. It is not a stretch to think that children living in a lush hyperreality with easy editing tools will wish to alter their reality and escape too.
If you have never tried a Virtual Reality experience and you are a parent or teacher, perhaps you should. It is still quite primitive, but it will jolt you into realizing where it is headed and what is driving it. When immersed in it, think about why Facebook bought the best Virtual Reality headset company – Oculus. Cha-ching. Not to be left behind, Microsoft is betting big on the Metaverse by plunking down $70B to acquire Activision Blizzard. They know things you should know. Hence this chapter.
I have even wondered if the real goal of the Metaverse is to turn us all into Edge computers; each one of us a commodity; just one more network router? Or will that just be a byproduct? Either way we run the risk of our children becoming nodes on a distributed network, which has goals that may be at odds with our children’s human nature.
There can only be one sure-fire way to market this datamining-engine masquerading as the Metaverse to children: appeal to their sense of pleasure. In other words, make them dazed and confused, wanting more, and that can lead to addiction. What’s more, it’s free! Not really.
Imagination or ideation got us to this point. We have adapted to problems in the past and evolved into the apex of creation – so far. The Hybrid Skills especially Ideation, can still be the skills that help children to keep on adapting and evolving. I worry, however, that once a child can summon up a bespoke, AI-enabled, scenario on a whim then their gift of imagination will be stunted simply because they only practice it to create more pleasure for themselves, and not for the benefit of society at large.
And then there is this: in the not-too-distant future we will not even need to do anything quite so laborious as click a mouse for instant gratification, we can simply think about what gives us pleasure and implantable brain–machine interfaces will do the rest. These devices are being developed with the altruistic goal of helping physically impaired people function. Laudable, but how long before they are used to enhance our pleasure-seeking, selfish, lazy, and narcissistic side? And which market is larger?
Narcissism in a sense is interacting only with oneself and for one’s own pleasure often at the expense of others. It is grandiosity based on illusions of self-importance and not healthy for the person or for society. The Book of Jonah warned us against it 2700 years ago. Encouraging narcissism by offering free tools that will enhance pleasure for billions just by someone at the Metaverse HQ pressing the Send button once has pretty obvious drawbacks for society at large. Worse still, maybe it is not a person hitting the Send button.
The only downside for the Metaverse shareholders is – well, I can’t think of one. Unless they grow a conscience. In this free market society, they know they have the better armies of lawyers and lobbyists so the law will be difficult to change in meaningful ways. This means educated consumers – enlightened thinkers – are the only vaccine that can also spread through the same Social Media networks that are causing the problems. We can think. This means Inoculation through Ideation is our only advantage.
The Terego Ideation Method™ is designed to inoculate against Ignorance Based Thinking. See this narrated video.
Pornography has a long history with technology and is a good analog for what could happen to coming generations. Porn websites have rapidly adopted Virtual Reality technology so that its consumers can be saturated in erotica 24/7. Unsurprisingly, of the top-trafficked VR sites over sixty percent are vendors of pornography. This has terrible downsides for boys and girls.
Psychologists have warned that VR pornography can disconnect people from reality, increase isolation, and dangerously stoke discontentment with actual reality. I do not see any reason why this warning should not apply to any Hyperreality experience which allows individuals to avoid the hardship of life, and then replace it with a world perfectly calibrated to their own tastes and pleasures.
One of the most insidious effects of drugs or alcohol or any addiction is that they rob the user of free will. Is something similar likely to happen to those children who are addicted to escaping reality by bolting down a rabbit hole into a hyperreal fantasy which they can endlessly tailor to their own tastes? Will their free will be eroded? How exactly will they be the same but different? Do we as a society want that for our children? Can we and should we be better ancestors than that?
And what happens to empathetic collaboration, the gift that allows us to solve big problems, when companies force-feed narcissistic tendencies? Sapping the will of billions does not solve large problems.
Hyperrealism certainly has wonderful possibilities for humankind. Rehearsing what it will be like to live on Mars or performing surgery will be so simple. And one of Jaron Lanier’s definitions of VR is that it is, “instrumentation to make your world change into a place where learning is easier.” But when he wrote that, the AI/ML/SM trifecta was in its infancy. And what is spent on EdTech dwarfs in comparison to the money to be made by turning the Metaverse into Disneyworld. So, parents and teachers Caveat emptor. There is nothing wrong with entertainment, until it is too much and prevents human growth.
In an unrepeatable and irreversible power shift, Social Media giants have begun hijacking the autonomy and agencies of parents and children, and civil society. Of most concern is the fact that our children are choosing to follow Social Media’s ‘advice’ over their parent’s and teacher’s guidance. That is the very definition of authoritarianism.
We are rightly worried as autocratic leaders in China, Russia, India, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, and in so many other countries undermine democracy in the physical world by limiting freedoms, abrogating human rights, and concentrating power in the hands of elites. Should we also be worried about the authoritarian tendencies of the emerging Metaverse and its elites? It is much more subtle than a police state, it exerts its influence by controlling our emotions, like the 14 year-old girl who already believes her emotional health is tied to the machinations of the AI/ML/SM trifecta and its needs and can’t go to sleep unless she is on Tik Tok. She is a valuable commodity in the Metaverse.
This has profound ramifications. Detachment from reality for extended periods, or a reluctance to return, and even a prevention from returning to actual reality, is the definition of isolation. And in the real world, isolation is the first tool of those attempting to spread or begin cults or begin grooming other people. And once isolated, children especially become targets for brainwashing. And the providers of Metaverse/Hyperreality experiences can now takeover and gain their trust, and easily become the sole provider of information by using simple editing tools or advanced tools that feed confirmation bias. Do we wait for the vendors to do the right thing and set limits? Or wait for the government to act? Or do we help children face this new reality with the right tools?
Data has already been weaponized by large corporations, so microtargeting is now easier than ever for them. Their ability to reach out using focused, personalized, and persistent messaging is only getting better and will soon be perfect. And children’s ability to be judicious, discerning consumers is weakening. Judicious consumption should become a habit in all children, like fastening seat belts. They need to know a great deal more about the providers of incoming data. Data is the new oil and children have almost none and the Metaverse has it all – and then some. (See the chapter on Infoliteracy in my book Hybrid Learning.
In the past, a great deal of raw, new, data has been created and subject matter teased from it. In the future vast amounts of raw data are going to be created. If we want new subject matter to be teased out again, this time by someone other than the tech farms, we need to teach children how through Ideation.
Virtual Reality/Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning + Social Media = Metaverse. And it is here to stay. This makes some level of human cohabitation with the Metaverse a certainty. The level depends on what we do or fail to do.
If we do nothing, a shift in the balance of power will ensue. And both nature and the free-market abhor vacuums. And Big-tech and the culture surrounding it is designed to occupy ungoverned space at just about any cost, strip it of data-assets, and ship the profits back to the Mother Ship. It used to be colonial empires, sugar, and fossil fuel companies that did that. No longer. VR/AI/ML/SM are colonizing territory through economic means as surely as the British East Indies or Hudson’s Bay Companies did and China now is. The only difference is that the competitive feuds in Silicon Valley are now over empires of the mind.
Recent events have indicated it will be tough to focus a lot of minds collectively. But the reality is that if we want to act and become good ancestors, it must be done by using the collective will of as much of humanity as possible. Kind of an intellectual herd immunity.
So, a good start would be to go back to doing the very same thing that once separated us from the other hominids and made us Homo sapiens – wise persons. And that would be thinking, especially in groups. We did not suddenly become wise; we somehow acquired the tools and choose to become wise. It took free will and altruism to ignore appetites and distractions and become wise, and it turns out that questioning – especially in groups – was the key to that.
We must begin to think in groups again. It’s what humanized us. We wised up as a tribe. That was the beginning of an arc leading us towards creating a questioning culture. We are losing that. Our Earth needs people who have questions not just answers.
Staying wise and growing in wisdom would unleash all our interpersonal, creative energies in collaboration not competition. And that will be necessary to counter the magnetic attraction of that same VR/AI/ML/Social Media Black Hole Metaverse. Its event horizon is tempting us to isolate, ponder our own reflection, and mistake it for other people. After a while, focusing solely on intrapersonal creative energy is a drain on us all. Helping one another thoughtfully is our only defense
True wisdom is knowing our united personhood.
I believe we are at an inflection point. The trajectory of human experience is altering as time compresses and change accelerates. So, the definition of what it means to be human is rapidly changing too. And we need to rethink everything except the eternal transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness, but we need to rethink the fourth transcendental – Learning.
Whether we like it or not, the immersive, embedded, virtual Metaverse/Hyperreality is going to force us to rethink humanness. This will happen because our skin only partially separates our biology from our environment; it is porous. Our mind seems to be less confined to the body, but it is also porous. Physically and mentally, some form of mutually beneficial osmosis is going on every time we interact with reality. Information about material and immaterial objects gets shared in a series of feedback loops. The question is one of control. Does the cold, data-driven Metaverse rethink and control what it means to be human for us? Or do we do that for ourselves?
Whatever has changed for us over the millennia, has done so because we are social beings. Some of these changes are good and should spread. Other changes are bad and should be prevented from spreading. The Coronavirus highlighted this choice. Its spread was assured because it is in our nature to congregate together, and we were largely unwilling or unable to modify our nature. So, the pathogen hijacked the self-same networks we need to function as communities.
But the Coronavirus highlighted another side effect which is almost as dangerous. The ignorance-based thinking which drove a great deal of the pandemic response became a major hindrance to the vaccine’s adoption, and to the necessary and ethical behavioral changes.
The same scenario is true of the digital viruses that have also been unleashed and are spreading once again by virtue of the social nature of society and the changed nature of communications.
Malicious data and virtuous data spread quickly, but as Mark Twain said in the aftermath of the laying in the 1860s of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Again, a vaccine against untruth and behavioral changes are our only weapons. If the ‘Ignorance-based-thinking Virus’ is allowed to spread, then our mutually beneficial osmosis between us and the worlds in which we live will be reversed even more in favor of the digital world.
Congress is well aware of the monopolistic and ethical problems posed by Social Media, Facebook especially since its shareholders own four of the top five Social Media companies in the world with over 7 billion monthly users. And one 38 year-old man dictates Facebook’s policy towards billions of us through his control of a majority of all its voting rights. Your children’s future is literally dependent on the nobility of one powerful man.
Congressional committees are rightly pursuing legislative remedies because those are the only remedies available to them of course. But Facebook has armies of lawyers and lobbyists. Worse still, Facebook’s current attitude is that they are blameless for all the misinformation problems and are pushing back. In late November 2021, Andrew Bosworth the Chief Technical Officer of Facebook flatly stated that it’s their customer’s fault if they consume inaccurate information even if it is not labelled as such, he said “Facebook is a fundamentally democratic technology.” Adding, “The onus should be on the individual in any meaningful democracy. It would be wrong to stop people accessing and sharing false information about the vaccine.” This is the kind of cynical, situational immorality practiced by Roy Cohn and his clients. Never settle, never surrender, counterattack and counter sue, never admit defeat, never surrender, shift the blame, and never ever admit wrongdoing; in fact, double-down. Is it really noble to prey on us and then blame us for allowing ourselves to be preyed upon?
The conundrum might get worse. If Congress does manage to break up Facebook, then they will have done so in the name of encouraging competition, which sounds good. But do we really need still more competition for children’s senses, hearts, emotions, and minds; still more platforms enticing children with ever-improving, addictive experiences competing to get them to check their emotions and intellect along with their valuable data at the door? Remember, data is the new oil, and worth a lot more long-term because unlike oil its supply is increasing. And the datagrab is mostly over. Claims have been staked and I don’t think they have a time limit.
We cannot control the metastasizing of the Metaverse. The opportunity is eye-watering for investors who will insist on blitz-scaling the experience by making it ever more irresistible by offering solace and intrigue.
My book Hybrid Learning is about how there could be an opportunity for a grassroots solution to all this. (See the Featured article Blue Ocean Schools). Let us help children unleash their Hybrid Skills so they can decide for themselves what is and what is not misinformation. That way we do not have to rely on the humanitarianism of a few elites.
The Metaverse landscape will inevitably change. Its purpose will not. If we want our children to survive this sea change, then there is only one real response to the problems posed by the Metaverse and its Hyperreality. It is the same antidote that got us through other troubled parts of our history. And that is willful cognition via the multiple Hybrid Skills we all possess. Now would be a really good time to try polishing those gifts.
We probably cannot stop children from becoming Netizens of the Metaverse, we can help them become better consumers. We can help them to know their rights and know how to form Justified Beliefs.
I am not saying all this will come true. I am saying that I have lived a long life in many, many cultures, I taught school, I still do, and I participated in most of the tech developments from mainframes in the 1960s until now and I am certain that some version of this chapter will come true. And drawing my own conclusions from a close study of recent technological history leads me to believe our children are being sucked into ever more tightly-coiled vortices controlled by fewer and fewer individuals. And very little escapes a vortex. And the next generations need to be prepared to be protected. (See the featured post on Blue Ocean Schools.)
If you are a parent or teacher who thinks that the Metaverse should not be allowed to monopolize most of your children’s human experiences, then I have one word for you: Stoicism. The Stoics famously taught that you cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you react. We cannot control or sabotage the purveyors of the Metaverse, and Luddite responses always fail anyway. We cannot organize, or withdraw our patronage, or bargain for a better deal. But we can control our transcendental gifts of learning, and knowing how to see truth, beauty, and goodness. As Plato said, these gifts are engraved on every child’s soul just waiting for the lightest stimulus to unleash them. Even babies possess the skills to adapt and evolve. We can do this. I grew up in a war torn city, now Manchester is ranked the third best place to live after San Francisco and Amsterdam.
I began this endeavor because I believe there is precedent for a hopeful outcome. At the depths of WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt finally threw America’s support behind Britain and its Commonwealth’s struggles with Nazi Germany. Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s droll response was, “You can always trust the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.”
I hope the Right Thing Winston would want for all of us is that commodity which distinguished his generation: Thinking. Deep, strategic thinking.
He wrote, “The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”
He also thought that “Education is too important to be left to the politicians.”
#Ideation #Hybridskills #Justifiedbelief #Futureproof #Infoliteracy
Facebook.com/Blue Ocean Schools
Excerpted from my book Hybrid Learning