Bridging the Technology Paradox – Metaverse versus Universe

Globally, most business and tech media, both online and offline (read print), for the past few days are discussing the muted and declining revenue of the Facebook parent Meta Platforms in the face of growing competition from TikTok.

When I look at both these organisations, I often wonder, is it time to disconnect from ‘technology’ and reconnect with each other in the real world? But the question remains: what would we consider the real world today? Is it the real ‘virtual’ world we are talking about?

Technology has literally and definitely taken over most of our lives and businesses. If we analyse our behaviour and consult technology journals such as, a one-stop-shop for everything related to software and devices, data sourced would show that:

– On an average, an individual today checks his / her mobile or smartphone 90 times a day.

– A whopping 50% of the teenagers globally are getting addicted to their smartphones.

– And, over 6% of the global population has internet addiction (IA). And, this ratio is higher than the percentage of the global population addicted to drugs.

Since 2001, in 20 years’ time, the number of internet users has shot up by 1000%, said Andrew Proulx, an MD from Queen’s University, and an avid researcher on addictions. He wrote in his article, Internet Addiction: Facts and Statistics, ‘The internet certainly offers a lot of potentially addictive activities: shopping, gambling, chat, discussions, online relationships, gaming, information-seeking, and pornography viewing. Most people know what it’s like to get drawn into spending more time online than they had planned, but for some people, it becomes a consuming addiction,’.

Internet addiction has emerged as a universal issue. However, its localised percentage differs geographically. ‘A random effects meta-analysis showed a over all global prevalence estimate of 6.0%…the highest prevalence (of IA) was in the Middle East with 10.9%…, and the lowest was in Northern and Western Europe with 2.6%,’ reported Cecilia Cheng and Angel Yee-lam Li, in their thesis– ‘Internet Addiction Prevalence and Quality of (Real) Life: A Meta-Analysis of 31 Nations Across Seven World Regions’. In the Indian context, the prevalence of internet addiction is considered to be at 1.3% of the general population, as mentioned by a study by Sharma, Rao, Benegal, Thennarasu, and Thomas D, in their –‘Technology addiction survey: An emerging concern’. Which literally means that a net population of 1.7 crore has internet addiction in India.

Simply put, our smartphone or cell-phone or handy, as we call it, has already replaced our camera, our calendar, our alarm clock, our notepad, our book, our music system, our mathematical ability, our dictionary, our thesaurus, our writing ability, our ability and desire to play outdoor sports and many other important activities including how we handle our banking and financial transactions and use of the Blockchain technology for our investments. Only things left for the mobile phone to replace in our lives are our family, and how we procreate. Do we want our smartphones to replace them as well?

So, how fast is fast, and how crucial is crucial, when we consider the growth of internet and mobile technology in our lives? Currently, there are 4.88 billion internet users and 5.29 billion mobile phone users in the world. And, our ecosystem is rapidly charging into the world of 5G, AI, and our newest love – ‘metaverse’.

The term ‘metaverse’ was first mentioned in the science fiction ‘Snow Crash’ in 1992 as a portmanteau of ‘meta’ and ‘universe’ – meaning, beyond the universe. We often link metaverse development to the advancing virtual reality technology because of increasing demands for immersion by the internet users. Web3, a concept of a decentralised iteration of the internet, also influenced recent interest in metaverse development. We have used Web3 and the metaverse as recent buzzwords to exaggerate the development of progress of various technology projects by the interested parties in the technology and mobility business space for intentionally influencing the public opinion in favour of these organisations through creative and manipulative public relations campaigns.

However, my concerns as a Public Relations and communications professional about the growing chatter on metaverse systems are stemming from the challenges we are already facing in tackling the addictive and manipulative use of social media, video games and online gaming. And, I sincerely believe that the chatter and the growth of this phase of the technology needs to be balanced by prudent regulatory and social counter-measures first.

In the era of the world-wide-web and social media, information privacy is already an area of concern for all of us. With the implementation of metaverse, it would be very easy to make a further breach. So, it will be necessary to regulate, because all the players in the field will probably collect users’ personal information through biometric data from the wearable virtual and augmented reality devices. Meta Platforms (previously Facebook) is already planning to employ targeted advertising within their metaverse, raising further worries related to the spread of misinformation and loss of personal privacy by use of personal preferences of the consumers by advertisers and social media platforms. Because, today, ‘personal information of users’ is the ‘new oil’, meaning revenue stream. Do I need to say more?

Addiction and problematic social media use are my actual concerns. Internet addiction disorder, social media and video game addiction can both have mental and physical repercussions, leading to depression, anxiety, and various other psychological illnesses affecting our society. Behavioral experts are also concerned that we could use the metaverse as an ‘escape’ from our reality in a fashion we use drugs to escape reality.

I find, to my surprise, how the interested players are trying to shape the media narrative for unhindered business and social growth of the 5G, AI, advanced robotics and metaverse as the absolute necessities the world over.

No, they are not.

The media narrative should be that we should be responsible and cautious in using these powerful technology tools and we should create counter-measures first to tackle the adverse fall-outs of this technological odyssey.

Our first pledge is to protect our ‘universe’. Only when we protect it, should we think of going beyond.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Devasis Chattopadhyay
With over 3 decades of experience in Corporate Reputation Advisory and Brand Communications strategy, Devasis Chattopadhyay writes for various Indian newspapers, magazines, and online portals. He specialises in writing on facets of - Public Relations & Communications - and his birthplace Kolkata. In 2017, Devasis published his critically acclaimed maiden novel–‘Without Prejudice’ (Niyogi Books); a - roman-à-clef - fictionalised true story. Devasis is a foodie, loves reading Mahabharata repeatedly, and feels exhilarated exploring the lanes and bye-lanes of Indian cities in search of history.

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