Metaverse was first introduced in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in his Science fiction novel  Snow Crash.  In today’s hi-tech world tech giant Mark Zuckerberg has reimagined and rebranded his company from Facebook to Meta.

Meta

The announcement of this revolutionary platform was made during the Company’s virtual  Connect 2021 event. Mark described metaverse as a virtual realm where what was not possible in the physical realm could be possible through this platform.

In line with this announcement, he rebranded Facebook, giving it the new name of ‘Meta’, believing this was going to revolutionize social media and connectivity. However, it is important to understand the consequences of this platform.

Social media and virtual gaming have already had massive impacts on society and state security, could metaverse pose to be a threat is worth investigating before humanity can embrace the platform with open arms.

What is the metaverse? 

The new virtual reality program allows for an escape from the objective reality by introducing the user to a completely virtual world of wonders. According to Meta, run and owned by Facebook, many tools are being made that could help the user initiate this escape.

From virtual reality helmets allowing people across the globe to meet in the virtual world through smart glasses that are easier to carry and easily accessible anywhere a person. These accessories are the promise for an entry into the virtual metaverse.  

Metaverse
The avatars through which humans will be predicted to look like in the metaverse.

While virtual reality has been around for some years, with the versions introduced by Sony for their PlayStation gaming platform, the virtual reality however has never been introduced in the way Facebook is doing it now.

Games, as introduced by PlayStation, have been treated by humanity as a platform for pleasure. The games are still just a fake world. On the other hand, a metaverse is no different than a fake world. As propagated by Mark Zuckerberg, metaverse will change your current reality into a virtual one.

However, this will be done with enhancements. In one of the advertisements that represent the metaverse, Mark has outlined that physical material will be projected into the virtual world through augmented reality.

Metaverse also offers a virtual alternative to one’s real home where real individuals will be able to interact with each other through virtual avatars.

Amongst virtual representations, there will also be cartoon-like characters and creative initiatives to keep the user entertained. For instance, if a person desired to experience how it would feel if there was zero gravity, such can be made possible through the metaverse. 

Another function they introduced was that of horizon worlds’, where fake virtual worlds can be created through creativity, and people across the world can experience various events throughout the world.

They even introduced horizons workrooms to make remote work easier; a person would be able to go to work without having to move, the virtual reality will virtually transport the individual to their workplace.

In other words, the metaverse is not just a form of entertainment but it is a platform that tackles all aspects of one’s life. 

The effects of virtual reality

To investigate the effects the metaverse could have on human beings,  the example of video games will be taken given its similarity to the program.  

 

 

In this regard, an interesting study was conducted by Dirandeh and Sobhari in 2015 to investigate the effects video games had on young adolescents’ behavior.

According to the study, the average age within which video games become a prominent part of children’s lives was 7, which constitutes within their developing ages, a time when their personalities are being formed. 

The study by Dirandeh and Sobhari was conducted in Iran with a sample size of 395 girls and 393 boys. All of those were from middle-income social classes and were enrolled in primary school. The study showed only 0.2% of the children did not play games.

According to the statistics gathered, it was seen that on average boys spent 2 hrs on games while girls spent 1.8 hrs at a minimum, and at a maximum, it was 10hrs.

It was found more than half of the children within the sample size spent their time daydreaming influenced by video games and 15.3% of parents reported the scholastic performance fell as a result of gaming.

Furthermore, the data also illustrated there was an increase in the level of violence and aggressive behavior among boys who spent a greater amount of their time with games. 

This is, however just one study, we can see even with simple video games there are side effects upon children, it is unimaginable to consider what could result from a platform that completely emerges them within realities as promised through the metaverse.

Aside from violence and daydreaming, there are already side effects of virtual worlds presented in games such as MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game), according to the study conducted by Bowman and Schrier in 2018, players embody their actions and feelings with their virtual characters. 

Players are allowed to pursue the identities they might not otherwise be able to in their mundane reality thus associating emotions and feelings with their character. As said by Waggoner the characters found within these games are not just fictional identities, but they are very real to their players.

As Thomas Hobbes described, one of the prime qualities of mankind is to be selfish and chase after their desires. Virtual realities provide this platform for their users to be comfortable and the metaverse stands as having a similar incentive for humankind.

When the mundane reality becomes overbearingly difficult given the climate change crisis or rises in pandemics such as COVID19,  the metaverse offers an apt distraction from these realities.

All of these challenges are results of human actions such as a platform disillusions one from the reality at hand and the need to address these issues. 

Effects of the metaverse on state security

Aside from the sociological effects, it may raise potential security concerns. There have already been large investigations into the cyber threats posed by the wide availability of the internet, from malware attacks to cyber-attacks. Cyber-attacks have resulted in a total of USD 385 billion. 

According to the research conducted by Di Pietro and Cresci in 2021, users are provided with free access to multiple platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc.

In exchange, the user’s preferences are available and well known to the platform, this data is later sent to advertisers and companies. This successful business model solely relies on collecting and analyzing the user’s interactions and actions through tracking technologies such as fingerprint capabilities as well as cookies.

In the same way, metaverse brings forward a similar but larger platform that will attract numerous users and companies.

The technology, as reported by this researcher, will be able to track body movements, brain waves, and virtual interactions in terms of the surrounding environment as well as psychological responses.

The platform will allow the gathering of data such as personal information, communication, and behavior.

As liberalist scholars often say, the inner workings of a state reflect the outer workings of the state. The ideologies held by many individuals within a state are what shape the state’s actions and the constitution, as Ackerman has explained.

Hence, in that case, the state is socially constructed, a homeland that has emerged out of shared identities and beliefs.

If one company such as Meta were to have access to information regarding the sociology and psychology of individuals within multiple states, the consequences of national identity and security are unimaginable. 

The internet and social media already act as a form of freedom for individuals across nations to express their opinions. This has also allowed activism to take a new and subtle form. Social media has had immense consequences on the political environment.

The speed at which activism travelled for example within the Arab Springs movements, as well as the anti-austerity movements in Europe, Brazil, and Turkey, were all consequences of internet activism. 

Arab Spring Movement
A picture from the Arab Spring movements in 2010

Social media has grave consequences on the social contract that is established between the people and their government. Data that is widely accessible, which can illustrate the personalities of an individual can result in the government’s being able to use this data to further dismantle democracies in other parts of the world. While the metaverse has unexplored consequences of the identity and psychology of human beings, it is important to explore the potential perils it might bring with its use.  

 

*The writer is a Research Fellow at The Diplomatic Insight and Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies. 

*The views are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the organizations.