Should the Church Embrace the Metaverse?
Well here we go.
It feels like a fad, but it’s not going to go away.
The term “metaverse” has officially been launched into mainstream conversation. It’s not a new idea…many media theorists and science “fiction” authors have predicted its coming.
But suddenly, with the thrust given by Facebook (Meta), the metaverse idea is no longer an idea.
But what is the metaverse?
The metaverse is the future of the internet.
The term “metaverse” was originally coined in Neal Stephenson’s seminal 1992 cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash. In the book, the Metaverse (always capitalized in Stephenson’s fiction) is a shared “imaginary place” that’s “made available to the public over the worldwide fiber-optics network” and projected onto virtual reality goggles. In it, developers can “build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows, special neighborhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored, and free-combat zones where people can go to hunt and kill each other.” -artstechnica.com READ MORE
Typically, I’m a late adapter. I didn’t own a smart phone until the Verizon store didn’t have any more dumb phones available to upgrade. I never lunge at new technology until it’s been tested (and until it’s cheaper). I like change, but usually don’t make a change until it’s necessary. But admittedly, this feels different. I’ve never felt an urgency to get with it quite like this. VR and AR don’t feel like a gimmick. Like, humanity soon may not be able to function without it. Like, humanity might go extinct without it.
GET WITH IT
Like many of us, we expected resiliency against Covid-19 to come from the medical world. But perhaps the strongest chance we have to survive a future superbug is a social cure. A socially distanced cure. A cure that keeps us apart, but meaningfully connected. To have the potential for large gatherings in a digital reality without sacrificing perceived experiential quality will have massive impact on culture as a whole.
Facebook (Meta) afterall, is focused on the feeling of presence.
In some circles, to mention Marshal McLuhan is a bit cliché. But that dude had a theory that labeled every new iteration of technology simply an extension of the human body – Clothing as an extension of skin. Cars as an extension of feet. Phones an extension of mouth and ears. Technology defined by the distance our body can travel without our body actually moving. It’s like our consciousness is trying to escape our bodies, extending outwards, trying to shake the hand of God. In McLuhan’s mind (who died three years before the birth of the internet) we would one day live vicariously through surrogated experiences. Whether it be machine cyborgs in the real world or digital avatars in a “real” world, we will one day experience life through our full body haptic suits, trying to figure out why we’re all so lonely.
On its surface, the metaverse seems borderless. Travel by plane, train and automobile keep us geographically restricted. Assuming “limitless” travel, we’re about to experience globalization on a whole new level. But with rapid globalization comes hyper localization. The perceived threat of impending one-world culture may cause an adverse reaction as expanding infrastructure brings virtual access to all corners of the earth.
Online predators. Hacking. Human disconnection. Technology ethics. Consumer access.
Is it good news for the poor?
Will we be able to distinguish real people avatars from artificial intelligence avatars?
Will the metaverse take us away from where we are, or make where we are more valuable? Is it possible to bring everyone along, or will this create a divide in humanity like never before? With headset access to trans-tele-portation, will rapid globalization lead to peace or conflict? Will the next generation of teenagers be able to escape the grip of 3D porn?
In the face of school shootings, pandemics, climate change and war… will the metaverse be an adequate escape? Will it actually be safer than experiencing physical encounters in the real world? Will it be more desirable? Will it be any less real?
But one thing is abundantly clear–YES the Church should learn to embrace the metaverse. We need to figure out how to be present. We can’t wait 30 years like we did with the internet. This feels different. So for now… let’s just keep the conversation open.
Communication Director | Ginghamsburg Church