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26.11.2021

Welcome to the Metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg, like many other tech entrepreneurs, is driven by a dream – turning science fiction into reality.

Not content with connecting 2.9 billion Facebook users across the planet, Zuckerberg is now focusing on the metaverse, a 3D virtual reality world in which it is claimed we will soon be able to live our lives. Working, playing, shopping, making friends, entertainment, and romance: it will all be available from the comfort of our homes.

It’s a techno-optimist vision of a future in which advanced technologies enable every aspect of life to become ‘frictionless’. Every desire, every longing, every interest will be satisfied instantly and effortlessly in the virtual world. Frustration, struggle, and boredom will be banished from everyday experience. Instead, we will be free to exercise our choices and fulfil our dreams with the minimum of effort.

But is this a future in which embodied members of the species Homo sapiens will be able to flourish? From their earliest days, every child discovers that reality does not always behave in accordance with their desires. Reality pushes back at us. We experience hunger, thirst, pain, and fear, and these unpleasant experiences are crucial to our formation.

We experience the satisfaction of overcoming hurdles, of learning to walk, to speak, to read, to cook meals, and ride bikes. We develop resilience and character as we overcome obstacles. Strangely, it seems that resistance, cultivating discipline, and endurance in the face of difficulties are precisely the routes by which we learn, grow, and flourish as embodied human beings (Romans 5:3–5). And, of course, it’s not an accident that at the very centre of our faith is an ancient symbol of excruciating agony.

There are many aspects of modern technology which do support and promote our flourishing as human beings, and there is no doubt that the metaverse offers many new possibilities, not least in enhancing collaboration with groups across the world, breaking down barriers of distance and culture. As members of a global Christian community, perhaps we will learn more about partnering with our sisters and brothers around the planet.

But we need to think more deeply about whether we should always be using technology to make our world more effortless and ‘frictionless’. What type of world, what type of society do we wish to use our technology to create? Will this new virtual world help us to become more human, or less? As physical beings we cannot flourish in a world without friction.

 —

Dr John Wyatt
John is Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics, Ethics & Perinatology at University College London, and co-editor with Stephen Williams of the book, The Robot Will See You Now: Artificial Intelligence and the Christian Faith (2021). His personal website is johnwyatt.com

Comments

  1. John, how good to read your post – thank you and greetings! Well… I think Mark Z is, almost literally, inhabiting a parallel universe to me. What he describes in your first three paragraphs is not only contradictory to scripture, it is contrary to our shared experience and to human flourishing. And what is more, to me it sounds extraordinarily bland and boring! Whatever Next…?

    By Jeremy Clare  -  26 Nov 2021
  2. Interestingly we have used technology more during Covid but now we are told that loneliness, mental health issues and domestic violence are on the increase! Perhaps face to face interaction is best after all so more virtual connections aren’t necessarily the best?

    By Nick Darlington  -  26 Nov 2021
  3. Excellent reflection. Incarnation is essential to being fully human. At this time of year we remember that Jesus was not born in the Metaverse, and there was no Zoom at the Inn!

    By Paul Valler  -  26 Nov 2021
  4. Great piece. And if Zuckerburg expects life can become more effortless & frictionless in the face of the climate crisis, I’m not sure what universe – or metaverse – he’s living in.

    By Bruce Gulland  -  26 Nov 2021
  5. Don’t worry John, I very much doubt if the metaverse will really be frictionless! I think most of us have found that when the technology does not do what we expect, it can be incredibly frustrating or, perhaps I should say, character-building?!

    By Martin Tiller  -  26 Nov 2021
  6. i think face to face communication is best and helps with our mental health zoom etc has been great when in lockdown but to only have online only would be so sad and destroy human beings

    By joanna thomas  -  27 Nov 2021
  7. A really interesting piece. The metaverse might be a useful fall-back if another pandemic hits but it’s hard to imagine it will ever be the first port of call for most people, most of the time. The other thing your piece made me think about, is the importance of delayed gratification as part of the process of developing resilience and character, something the metaverse may not be able to offer us.

    By Deborah Jenkins  -  28 Nov 2021
  8. Great points from everyone. I’m a programmer and I believe that a lot of people exaggerate and get carried away with the benefits of technology. Yes it’s good when it works but what about elderly people who aren’t comfortable with technology. The current obsession with technology is creating a divide between the technophiles and the technopobes in society. As someone said above it’s hard to beat face to face human interaction. Technology is no substitute for that. Technology can be good, like most things in life, in moderation.

    By Philip Hamilton, Belfast  -  30 Nov 2021
  9. There are some aspects that technology helps us, as mentioned in the article, but it cannot replace the natural at all and that is what we all experience to get ahead and history shows it and it has also strengthened our faith. Thanks John.

    By Nahum Assur Roldan Azaña  -  2 Dec 2021

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