This week I attended a work conference. The coffee was too hot and the cookies were stale (still ate ‘em), but the real stand-outs were the speakers.
Well, two speakers.
If I could provide a bit of context without doxing myself: I work in marketing. The specific employer I work for is pretty old-fashioned, trying hard not to be, and has a lot of tenured folks who have been around for decades. We’re talking polite, normal, middle-class people, who are very settled into their career and twice my age or older. Not all of them, mind, but I’d wager the average age to be mid 40s.
After a series of informative talks from companies that were honestly more pitches to pay for their services with some interesting stats peppered in, a couple of young white dudes came up on stage. Which, not to be ageist and racist and sexist to young white dudes, but they looked like tech bros.
And then they opened their mouths and started talking about NFTs and the metaverse.
nfts in 2023?
Reader, I was bursting. I was surrounded by gentle older folks who don’t know what Fortnite is, and here these guys are equating that to the metaverse and trying to explain NFTs using words like “blockchain.”
Folks in Somnol share articles from Web3 is Going Just Great all the time, and Cameron’s favourite term “webshit” was fresh in my mind. This was peak webshit.
Know your audience! I’m not even sure how it was relevant to our jobs, unless these dudes thought they could scam us. For even more context, my employer is a nonprofit (ideally), meaning we need to be extra smart with our spending (ideally). We’re no Coca Cola or Nike, eager to piss away money on gimmicks for the sake of a headline. Uh, ideally.
What were they even selling? A vague web3 platform where you can create a virtual wallet linked to the metaverse… somehow, and mint your own NFTs, I think. Is it a game? A social network thing? Is it Roblox?
Outside of them showing off the ugliest avatars and NFTs I have ever seen (and dancing around furries when they talked about representing yourself as a “non-human” online) I was also blown away by the sheer cope. Or, sorry, presenting out of context and irrelevant figures to fluff things up.
They correlated video games and social media to the metaverse, citing that there are four billion social media users so of course there’s uptake for the metaverse. No figures on actual metaverse uptake, though. Or asserting that gamers are 40% women, with no additional thought or analysis into the gaming and nerd community’s issues with women, and therefore the metaverse is inclusive. Cost isn’t a barrier because some VR headsets are $300!
Which is the crux of the issue for all webshit, right? It’s either grifters or idiot tech bros or idiot grifter tech bros who can’t see past their own nose. Why do we need an update to the concept of money? Why do we need a virtual space that we consider just as real as our real lives and spend as much money there on virtual items as we do on physical items? What are we solving by jamming technology in all of our holes?
Of course, they have their own “reasons.” People can truly be themselves on the metaverse! Because apparently it’s different from having a username and avatar anywhere else? You can attend concerts and events from all over the world! If they’re virtual and you own a headset and fast internet. You can buy and collect digital goods! Because sometimes some people like to just own stuff, even if it’s not real stuff. NFTs are like art—no, wait—like prints of art because you can’t afford the real thing. Except art usually has an aesthetic behind it and is made by a person and just look at it.
it’s just like ready player one (affectionate)
For the record, I never read or watched Ready Player One because I am deeply disinterested, but I sure do know the synopsis. So when these dudes said the metaverse was just like it (which went over people’s heads since some folks in the room don’t even know what that is), I wanted to ask them—I thought Ready Player One was set in a dystopia? Like, people living in trash heaps going into VR worlds to escape their unbearable real lives? I didn’t, because I was at a work conference and didn’t want to make a scene, but you know. Wanted to.
Because sci fi tends to be hyperbole based on real life issues and fears. You get that, right, tech bros? You get that that’s what the genre is usually? I mean, I get the impression Ready Player One idolizes virtual reality and escapism, at least in the movie, so maybe I’m overthinking it.
Because yes, people (online news sources and idiots) were chattering about the metaverse and virtual gatherings when we were all on lockdown. They were also little more than a novelty and distraction, and internet use dipped the second we were let out again. Because nobody wants this except for tech bros, corporations, and tech bros running corporations. Because they don’t seem to care about the human soul, I guess?
It’s not a cure for any social ailments they’re offering. It’s a symptom of our issues at best, or a venom at worst. If people are lonely, the solution isn’t virtual gatherings, but actual human connection and going outside. If you want art, buy art. If people don’t feel comfortable expressing their “authentic selves” and feel the need to do so with gaudy avatars, maybe we as a culture need to be more welcoming to the other?
Unless you’re a furry. Put that shit away.