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There’s been a lot of talk recently about metaverse, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook would evolve into a “metaverse” company. Subsequent comments have been numerous, with many imagining a world parallel to the real world, existing with an identity and form, a set of rules.
This is similar to suggesting that AOL is the Internet. In fact, the Internet has a myriad of places, identities, and purposes, appearing in an equally wide range of interfaces. It is a backbone technology and the experiences it allows are endless and chaotic. The only consistency is you, the human being who goes through it.
Therefore, many of the current representations of the metavers are too narrow. Zuckerberg’s description of the metaverse as “people in digital spaces” is close to that of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, where the term was coined. But the term has grown to mean something much more expansive.
The meta-verse goal refers to a universe constructed from pure data. In 1992, it was natural to think that virtual reality was the only way such a thing could exist, so in Snow Crash the characters walked around with optical media. The idea that 5G would carry 20 gigabytes per second over the air was not yet understood.
Similarly, the idea that data pooling is wholly owned by Facebook and something you will need to immerse yourself in as a lifestyle choice is a natural worldview for Facebook.
But the metaverse will not take place in a closed virtual reality space. Instead, it will emerge as our digital lifestyles begin to unite with the physical world. As Magic Leaper and metaverse philosopher Brian Schwab wrote on LinkedIn earlier this week, “The” metaverse “is not a place, a land of escapist fantasy like in the movies “It’s not a dystopian landscape of people locked up at home. In many ways, it’s the other way around.” instead of a proprietary immersive experience.From a designer’s point of view, the resultant result of this new backbone is not a killer application or a singular experience, but the next pattern of computing.
Positivity as a computer metaphor
There will soon come a time when you will tell someone “The presentation is on my desk” and that will mean two things. First, using mixed or augmented reality technologies, the presentation can be literally on your desktop, not trapped on a screen, but literally floating on your desktop. This allows you to easily locate the file, object, image, or link, providing an organizational metaphor that matches the geographic nature of the human mind. The mental path to finding yourself, your office, and then your desktop is a natural, shorter path than locating yourself on Google Drive and following an arbitrary line of folder names.
Just as Windows helped users understand computers by using the office site metaphor (desktops, files, folders), the metaverse will allow physical spaces (landscapes, objects, layers, prisms) to be used as a metaphor. This new metaphor will make it easier for users to communicate and understand computing with ubiquity and reduced friction.
Presence vs. immersion
The vision of this pattern is not immersive, but computing will merge with our environment and exist around us with a kind of amplifying ubiquity of human beings. Interfaces (laptops) that will not be carried (handhelds) will be carried and spoken or manipulated with movements and gestures. And they will appear more and more on surfaces instead of behind screens, whether for mixed reality, augmented reality or projected on surfaces using interactive light.
This pattern of computing eliminates the final frictions that remain in our current methods of laptop and immersive notebook computing. It will celebrate the mobility of the user’s hands-free rather than the inner distraction of a device. It will offer shared interfaces that mark physical spaces and make us taller and present. This contrasts with the immersive view of the virtual reality of the metaverse. We already feel that our devices catch too much attention. Why bend?
Yes, we will still be able to access more immersive experiences through metaverse, in the same way that we now access Facebook and the wonderful world of online gaming via the Internet and handheld devices. But there will be much more than that. Unlike the original metaverse view, we don’t have to swim in the data pool – the data will be released and swim in the air around us.
The appearance of a goal me
The popular thinking of metaverses often portrays a common interface, assuming we will all enter as a player one ready to play the same game by the same rules. But what we will see is a myriad of different business models, types of content, and kinds of experiences. Individuals will orchestrate their interfaces into workflows that provide productivity, entertainment, or socialization the way they want. The common thread is that all these applications will expand the capabilities of individual users.
If you look at the flow of data on the modern Internet, you will see part of it flowing into a pool like Facebook. But you would see it flow much more in many different directions, creating unique patterns of activity that begin to approach us as individuals. This type of hyper-personalization extends to all parts of our digital lifestyles. The tools are turning us on. In the data there is a goal me that is becoming more real like us.
This is positive for humanity itself. The same devices we use will share our willingness to detect the environment around us, amplifying us.
The metaverse has dystopian connotations because we live in an age when technology does not always promote an improvement in the human condition. Here we sense a competition and rightly so. We don’t want to get into the machine. We want you to meet our conditions.
We want technology at the service of humanity. Privacy as a virtue. Non-emulation amplification. Presence not escapism. And authenticity about influence.
Perhaps this is why there is such a strong reaction to Zuckerberg’s co-optation for the term metaverse. Because Facebook has not met those goals. And many of us want to get more out of the future interface between humans and technology.
Jared Ficklin is the chief creative technologist at Argodesign product design company, with two decades of experience creating products and visions for major companies. For his previous work integrating technology into the Frog Design design process, Jared was named one of 4 Frog Fellows. He has contributed to the visions, strategy, intellectual property and products of clients such as HP, Microsoft, AT&T, LG, SanDisk, Motorola, CognitiveScale and Magic Leap.
Mark Rolston is the founder and creative director of Argodesign. He was previously the creative director of Frog Design and one of the first pioneers of software design, helping to forge the disciplines around user interface design and mobile platforms. He has worked with major global companies: Disney, Magic Leap, Dreamworks, Salesforce, GE, Microsoft and AT&T. He currently acts as an advisor to the Responsible AI Institute (RAI), working to define responsible AI with practical tools and expert guidance.
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