How Facebook is Working to Build a Digital Tower of Babel
In the last post, I shared how a walk around the pond (a pond populated by digital creatures I didn’t have the gadgetry to see), plus last year’s Think Big Festival, alerted me to a new phenomenon known as augmented reality (AR).
The short and skinny is this: the next holy grail for the tech industry is to fit all of us with glasses that present us with an enhanced, individually customized, view of the world.
The dust had hardly settled on the Think Big Festival when I started hearing talk of something new on the horizon that involves AR but goes beyond. It is a concept known as “the metaverse.”
Wikipedia defines the metaverse as “the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet.” Imagine that through a convergence of VR, AR, and 3-D hologram technology, the internet becomes a “place” into which you can actually enter and have experiences.
Imagine being at the park I discussed in my previous post and— thanks to AR glasses— you can interact with a 3-D wartortle who seems just as real as the other people at the pond, some of whom are actually there and others who are there merely in their avatar projections.
Imagine that the relationship between the real world and the internet becomes so porous that it is impossible to tell which is which.
These imaginings may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but a number of companies are working to bring this state of affairs (that is, the metaverse) to life. One such company is Avatar Dimension.
Cathy Hackl, VP at Avatar Dimension, told 60 Minutes that the metaverse is “this world of infinite possibilities” that could compensate for the fact that “right now the physical world is finite.” She added, “There's only so much of earth, but in these virtual spaces you can literally build your own world.”
What Avatar Dimension and similar companies are trying to create is not just a fictional world such as exists in games like Fortnite, but an enhanced version of the real world. To facilitate this, the Silicon Valley-based company Upland offers the opportunity to buy digital properties that are counterparts to real property. Upland triggered a virtual land-grab that is now attracting big investors, on the assumption that once the metaverse is operative, these virtual locations will be just as important as their real-world counterparts.
And now, Facebook is getting in on the action. At the end of June, Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company would work to “bring the metaverse to life.” Zuckerberg called the Metaverse “the successor to the mobile internet,” and added
“But you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it…a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together.”
At one time, this would have sounded creepy, merely another example of corporate hubris. But after the COVID lockdowns, the idea of an embodied internet that we can enter and be together sounds oddly comforting. If I can’t leave my home, then the next best thing may be to enter a collective virtual shared space where we can enjoy one another's company unbounded by space. If such a thing could ever exist, who better to shepherd us into it than Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg, more than the other corporate players in the metaverse arms race, is poised to help us realize the spiritual implications of the enterprise. He has held out technology as the answer to our spiritual longings through a series of bizarre innovations ranging from apps that enable us to pray through machines, to conversations with church leaders about how he can help enhance their worship experiences. But the metaverse, more than Facebook's previous innovations, has the potential to combine Zuckerberg's spiritual aspirations with his techno-utopian social vision. There is no doubt that if the metaverse comes to life, Mark Zuckerberg will be its primary prophet, helping us harness its spiritual potential.
There is only one problem. The whole enterprise is a giant exercise in idolatry, the attempt to build a digital Tower of Babel. The meta-idolatry of the metaverse combines Francis Bacon’s dream of using science to dominate nature, with the techno-libertarianism of “the California ideology,” with the hyper efficiency of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism, with the scientific utopianism of Hugo Gernsback. It is an anachronistic amalgam of contradictory impulses united only in the primordial temptation to turn away from any purpose to the world other than what we have engineered for ourselves.
Craig Gay articulated the basic problem in his 1998 book The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It's Tempting to Live As If God Doesn't Exist:
“The impact of science and technology upon the modern imagination is such that it has effectively stripped us of the ability to apprehend the reality of any other meaning and any other purpose in the world save those which we have managed to ‘engineer’ for ourselves.”
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has a Master’s in Historical Theology from King’s College London and a Master’s in Library Science through the University of Oklahoma. He is the blog and media managing editor for the Fellowship of St. James and a regular contributor to Touchstone and Salvo. He has worked as a ghost-writer, in addition to writing for a variety of publications, including the Colson Center, World Magazine, and The Symbolic World. Phillips is the author of Gratitude in Life's Trenches (Ancient Faith, 2020), and Rediscovering the Goodness of Creation (Ancient Faith, 2023). He operates a blog at www.robinmarkphillips.com.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/from-augmented-reality-to-metaverse