FIGAROVOX/TRIBUNE – The metaverse, which is based on the creation of virtual worlds in augmented reality, is not necessarily dangerous, even if its development must be carefully examined, argues the president of the Sapiens Institute (think-tank) .
Olivier Babeau is president of the Sapiens Institute (think-tank). His latest published work is The New Digital Disorder. How digital is exploding inequalities (Buchet-Chastel, 2020).
Is the metaverse just one of those passing fads fueling vain speculations of which the past offers many examples? Second Life, 3D in the cinema or the personal 3D printer had been heralded as revolutions. They never got beyond initial enthusiasm and a handful of users. We also remember Google’s connected glasses that were finally abandoned. Will the metaverse be different?
There are plenty of reasons to think it should be taken very seriously. Even if all the technologies are not yet mature, the declared conviction of Meta (ex-Facebook) to see it as the future of digital, and the desire to invest in it accordingly, should convince us of this.
The metaverse will not only be a virtual reality, it will also (and perhaps above all) be an augmented reality. That is to say, it will be possible to add information or images of all kinds to what you see to “enrich” reality: direction to follow, characteristics of a product on the shelves, information on a monument, etc
We can also expect a kind of porosity to develop between the physical and virtual worlds: a connected swimsuit marketed in June, for example, will make it possible to receive, via vibrations, notifications indicating relevant publications to be consulted on social networks. Connected clothing could thus replace smartphones and voice assistants by being able, for example, to play music on demand!
Even if this kind of product can make people smile today, it is quite likely that our unquenchable thirst for communication is gradually pushing us to make a form of virtual presence permanent. Our uninterrupted connection to social networks will adopt new forms, more closely intertwined with our physical life, going beyond the screen, so that we can maintain fluid exchanges with our different communities at all times. Already virtually present in the form of our profiles and publications on the networks, tomorrow we will have a richer presence through our avatars.
Our now well-known addiction to content that activates the neural reward mechanism via dopamine has no reason to change.
These prospects are fascinating. It is enough to have tried one of the latest Meta Quest helmets to understand the extraordinary potential of a tool which, among a thousand possible applications, allows you to fly over monuments, visit Venice or the pyramids from your living room, almost as if you were there. These are infinite worlds, programmable at will, which are offered to us.
The questions raised are at least as numerous.
We remember that no one had anticipated the effect of social networks, initially seen as friendly forums for exchanging photos of cats, on democracy and society. Technology is changing civilization in directions that are hard to predict. Should we fear an epidemic of addiction, turning millions of people into virtual drug addicts, sort of living dead consuming a real life abandoned online?
Screens would already absorb, according to INSEE, 50% of our available mental time. Will the infinitely greater capacity for immersion of 3D (to which the sense of touch should be added in the future) increase this effect of sucking up mental time? It’s possible.
And what will we do there? Our now well-known addiction to content that activates the neural reward mechanism via dopamine has no reason to change. the success of a network such as TikTok shows it: it pushes to its climax the stroboscopic succession of content mobilizing our reflex of curiosity to keep our attention.
Knowing how to use new technologies while preventing them from using us (by monetizing our attention in particular) is the main challenge facing us.
The challenge of new technologies is always the same: they are great tools for improving ourselves, learning, being better informed, extending our networks, communicating more and even treating certain pathologies. But they can also work against us, flattering the slope of our most basic instincts and degrading our presence in the world.
Knowing how to use new technologies while preventing them from using us (by monetizing our attention in particular) is the main challenge facing us. The art of living in the digital age consists essentially in the ability to avoid a trap: that of the easy way out. When everything is offered, when immediate pleasure is available in a click, when so many machines offer to spare us cognitive or physical effort, the individual will have to learn to moderate his appetites, regulate his behavior, balance the use of his time mind available.
The metaverse is a great prospect for humanity, provided that digital education in schools goes beyond simple initiation to Word or PowerPoint, to become the teaching of real self-discipline in the face of online life.
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Olivier Babeau: “We will not escape the metaverse, but we must learn the art of living in the digital age”
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