“What worries me is that the metaverse is being supplanted by corporations” – Liberation

For anthropologist Fanny Parise, the arrival of an ultra-private world in which the virtual would replace the real is a real possibility.

A virtual reality headset on your head, controllers in your hands, and off you go with friends at the bar. Without leaving home. Perhaps in a few years this gesture will become commonplace in the metaverse: a virtual world in which we can work, go out, find loved ones… The project seems crazy, but it is being studied in the offices of the world’s largest digital companies. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg even announced that he is setting up a team of 10,000 employees to tackle the construction of such a universe. made on facebook.

Fanny Parise, anthropologist, is seriously considering it. Associate researcher at the University of Lausanne, she observes an acceleration of the “digitization of lifestyles” with the Covid-19 crisis and management. In other words, ‘real’ existence is shifting – willingly or unintentionally – to the digital at an accelerating pace.

Imagine new pandemics emerging. Can the metaverse replace reality, become our everyday life?

Indeed it seems possible. In anthropology, we work with very extreme scenarios, not to say that the future will be white or black, but because depending on the evolution of the situation, we will move more towards one than the other.

Currently we have two dominant scenarios. The first is that of the technological collapse. The second is when the individual, forced to stay at home, will have to push their use of technology even further. During the first incarceration, digital enabled a continuity of social interactions, of life in society. If successive confinements were to be introduced in the coming years, the virtual offers the possibility for continuity of our lives in society, of our daily lives, when some of it becomes impossible in physical life.

It is also very relevant to think that other forms of crisis, social or environmental, can lead to a democratization of the virtual world. However, this will cause other problems. If a social crisis occurs in physical life, how can peaceful – or not – interactions in the metavers be guaranteed? Likewise, in the event of a major climate problem, will the digital pollution or the management of the servers linked to the functioning of the metaverse still be compatible with the new situation?

Living your life in the skin of an avatar, without leaving your home… In your relationship with yourself and with others, shouldn’t that bring about some changes?

A lot even. It will not necessarily change the way of interaction, but it will lead individuals to ask themselves questions prior to a social interaction. Depending on the degree of connection with the person, they will have to decide: do I meet them in physical life or in the metaverse? New ways to have friends and relatives are likely to appear.

For the individual, the metaverse will create an extension of itself in the virtual. The whole question then will be to find harmony between our different identities. For example, some may very well get stuck between a reality that doesn’t suit them and a virtual world they prefer.

For Mark Zuckerberg, the metaverse would give users a real sense of “presence” on the other hand, more than on social networks. Isn’t this ambition exaggerated?

I don’t really agree. In studies we see that a virtual assistant or a switched on TV is enough to create what is called ‘co-presence’. The individual does not have the impression of being alone and accepts the fact that he is locked up or far from his family. The VR headset will no longer bring “co-presence”. On the other hand, with immersive reality, we will have more impact on people’s lives, the way they adhere to different universes, to different ways of living.

Exactly, is this virtual world likely to be the scene of excesses?

One question I would like to ask is: what are we going to do with these metavers? Will it be a form of transhumanism that will increase our capabilities? Will it lead to reflection on a new way of life, perhaps more compatible with environmental constraints? Or will it be a doubling of reality?

What worries me is that it is favored by brands or companies. Indeed, the problem with the metavers is that it immerses us in a visual universe that prevents us from distancing ourselves. For companies, depending on what they create, it will be easier to align ourselves with social models, political models… Who tells us that the universe will be built according to ethical reasoning? What about business partnerships? Interestingly, history repeats itself after the emergence of the Internet. We used to think it would be a space of freedom, where we could create new ways of interacting. Now it has become a place where physical and commercial life reproduces. We don’t invent anything.

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