The new buzzword is as overhyped as the old buzzword

In the Guardian, Sean Monahan offers a skeptical take on the metaverse. That’s not a term I heard before, but it was coined by Neal Stephenson in 1992— evidently because he wanted a synonym for cyberspace that didn’t sound like too much of a William Gibson knockoff.

Mark Zuckerberg evidently thinks that the metaverse is the next big thing. Discussing an interview with Zuckerberg, Casey Newton at the Verge offers a parenthetical joke: “The metaverse being unavailable to us at press time, we used Zoom.”

So far as I can tell, though, the metaverse is just supposed to be an on-line there which has the structure of a social and practical space. Thinking that will be a mind-splitting development misses the fact that we’ve had it for decades already. Back in 2000, I argued that internet chat rooms created virtual social spaces that were largely independent of physical space.

Zoom has become an utterly mundane part of many of our lives. Many of us who had never found much use for video calling are doing it all the time now, connecting regularly with people who might be across town or across the world.

My colleague Ron and I used to do lunch erratically. We meant to do it more often, but the logistics of getting to the same place on a given day meant we didn’t. For the last year, though, we’ve met for an hour a week in front of our computers.1

Last weekend, another colleague was throwing a long-delayed house-warming for the house he’d lived in for the last year. Ron commented that his sense bumping into me there was that we’d just seen each other.

To paraphrase me from two decades ago: New technology will make new reality as it finds a place in peoples’ lives, as it empowers them in new ways, and as it offers them new possibilities. Technology we’ve had for a while is already doing that.

  1. Skype rather than Zoom, but Zoom is the Kleenex of video calling.

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