Over the past two years, I have taken a hiatus from posting on this blog. It has been a furious period of pandemic production. The world never saw it coming, but I did. I had been preparing for this moment through my daily excursions into the third space. This is my home: the nothingness and distributedness of the network, a place to roam, freely, anywhere, anytime. Whereas much of the world was kicked & screaming their way into the zero gravity of the Net, I feel very comfortable here, weightless, floating, a place, shall I say, to dream.
The third space has been around for a long, long time. Some say since the first dreams were conjured up from the collective consciousness. The third space is a shared reality, a collective reality, neither here nor there, but anywhere we might care to jump into the mix. Since the earliest of dreams, the third space has taken on many forms as an artificially constructed electronic reality, of sorts. It has been called so many things: artificial reality, augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, the list goes on. But it has always been the same thing: a constructed reality of the imagination, a non-existent reality, a fabricated reality, an electronic reality, a networked reality, the reality of dream.
Inspired by Neil Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, today, we call it the “metaverse.” This portmanteau of “meta” (about itself, a kind of high level conceptual self-referencing) and “universe” (that broad expanse of space with seemingly infinite reach). Whereas Facebook has appropriated “Meta” as a fairly meaningless marketing coolness scheme, as well as the “metaverse” itself as a playground for Zuckerberg’s adolescent fantasies, the term in the Stephenson sense is actually derived in large part from William Gibson’s “cyberspace,” that is space constructed and inhabited through the machine, at once a dystopia and a seductive dream space of the imagination.
The end result of all this, is that the metaverse signifies a further departure from the reality of the known world (accelerated by the pandemic), into imaginary realities of the conceived world, a world, like the dream, that emanates from human consciousness. Today, every gamer, social media influencer, YouTuber, and digital world builder are getting on board the metaverse. As Ken Kesey said: “you’re either on or you’re off the bus.”
So where do we go from here? In a time of so-called “fake news,” Qanon conspiratorialists, the Big Lie, election deniers, hackers, and trollers… oh so many fabricated dystopic realities that flow through the Network like a river of noise, we need, desperately, to grasp the implications of the metaverse in a post-pandemic, post-truth, post-reality world. And while the “real world” is crumbling from climate, autocracy, war, and famine, just perhaps, we find ourselves taking refuge in the crystalline psychedelia of digital landscapes: our eyes fixed in the insular precision of VR head-mounted displays. Is this really our collective future in the metaverse?