The term Metaverse relates to Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, and retrospectively, the 1985 game Habitat. Another form of the Metaverse is the 2003 platform Second Life. The Metaverse is a continuation of the Internet, where databases enable a parallel world to the physical world: Real-time simulations allow experimentation with new forms of the physical world. Virtual environments created with AR, VR, and holographic technologies can tentatively map future scenarios of shared urban living, climate change mitigation, economics, and politics. A central component is participation.
Talk of the Metaverse has caused more astonishment than enthusiasm in the design world (see here, for example, https://www.dezeen.com/2022/04/01/Metaverse-riot-nft-cyberglue/). The vision of some high- tech corporations is in the process of merging this world into a single ‚Metaverse’, made tangible through VR goggles and data gloves, in which we will work, live and consume in the future. This seemingly dystopian vision, reminiscent of the film ‘Ready Player One’ (2018), has little in common with the democratic and participatory potential once inherent in social media. Who will create the content of the Metaverse? And who will make money from this content? Will access to this world be reserved only for the privileged who have elaborate technical equipment?
Still, the idea of a 3dimensional Web offers many opportunities, in particular for designers. The Metaverse could instead of the dystopian vision become a new place of cultural production, learning, and research. We want to be an example of an open, transparent vision of the Metaverse – different from the dystopian scenarios of some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Wouldn’t it be desirable, just as in the development of the first FabLabs and the self-construction of 3D printers, to create open participatory access to the Metaverse, and to shape it within academic institutions as places of open knowledge production? After all, openness and participation are not exactly highlighted by the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs of the Metaverse. It is unclear, for example, how the Metaverse will be connected to the ‘real world’. Still, there are numerous technologies, such as augmented reality and 3D scanning, that make it possible to create an immersive experience that is also connected to the real world apart from just using VR Glasses.
The term Metaverse is based on transferring the ‘social’ Web 2.0 into the three-dimensional virtual world. All kinds of marketing and future experts have gathered to sell the space and products of the ‘Metaverse’ before it even really exists. First and foremost is Matthew Ball, who initially wrote a foresighted essay on the phenomenon, but who became an agent of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and then became completely absorbed in the hype about the ‘Next Big Thing’. The most common definition of what the Metaverse is also comes from his essay The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find It, and Who Will Build It (See: https://www.matthewball.vc/all/theMetaverse). Following Matthew Ball, the Metaverse is: persistent, synchronous, and live, it will provide every user with a sense of ‚presence‘, it will be a fully functioning economy, It will connect digital and physical, and will be ‚Populated by experiences and content‘ from an incredibly wide range of contributors. So it is easy, from the point of view of a cultural pessimist, to find most parts of the ‘Metaverse’ problematic. Perhaps it would be better to say Betaverse, simply to mark that there is more to it than just the idea of a radicalized cultural industry that no longer even sells ‘real’ products but only produces experiences, in the sense of Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘fun’, and keeps us trapped in a permanent loop of distraction.
Here, however, traditional structures of design and knowledge production are also renegotiated based on computer-assisted processes. It uses process-based design rather than product-based design. It is based on collaborative processes rather than on individual authorship.
(From an EU-Proposal for the Project ‚Hybridlab‘ in cooperation with DAE and Prof. Dr. Sandra Schramke, 2022)