Google Glasses promised to turn us into all-knowing, super-productive cyborgs. Segways promised to transform the future of cities and transportation. In the end, they both just made us look a little bit silly. My hope is that the metaverse headset will go the same way.
Approximately a third of American adults say they are almost constantly connected to the internet. We’re suffering as a result; too much time online is making us obese, depressed and socially disconnected.
That’s why the metaverse terrifies me. As the lovechild of social media and virtual reality, the metaverse will only make our addiction to trash entertainment, virtual validation and e-scapism even worse.
Yet without advertisers, there is no metaverse. The metaverse crystalizes exactly where our society shouldn’t go. That’s why I won’t be advertising my products on the metaverse, and I encourage other business owners to do the same.
On the metaverse, users will explore digital worlds with digital avatars that use digital money to buy digital clothes. Some view it as the logical development of the internet, a step that will transform socializing, education and the workplace. I think of it more as a technological overshoot; just because we could live in a digital universe doesn’t mean we should.
The metaverse is not new. Games such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox are primitive forms of this digital world, but it’s been propelled into the mainstream by Facebook‘s infamous rebrand to the eerily named Meta.
Yet Silicon Valley’s latest buzzword was actually coined almost three decades ago by author Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel, Snow Crash, which is set in a world where a global economic meltdown has left power in the hands of a few all-powerful corporations. People escape their dystopian reality by entering a digital reality—the metaverse—as digital avatars of themselves.
Stephenson may as well have been a time traveler. In Snow Crash, he describes a sub-culture of people permanently attached to the metaverse known as “gargoyles,” because of their sunlight-starved appearance. This is where his prediction fails; there is no subculture of gargoyles in America. We’re a nation of them.
Twenty-eight percent of American adults said they were “almost constantly” online, up from 21 percent in 2015, according to a 2019 Pew Survey. In addition, 95 percent of teens now report they have a smartphone, with 45 percent of teens saying they are online on a near-constant basis.
We know that too much time online increases our blood pressure, and makes us more anxious, depressed and obese. Now, we also know that when children use digital communication extensively, it can curtail the face-to-face experiences necessary for them to develop and master important social skills, as well as drastically reduce their attention span. I believe the metaverse headset will be the smartphone on steroids.
However, I don’t want to imagine a world where young people grow up entirely online. As a young gamer, I loved cars. But one day it dawned on me that if I ever wanted to own a real car, I had best put my nose to the grindstone. So I did; at age 15, with a bicycle and backpack, I went door to door building my business, Tyler’s Coffee, one customer at a time.
I am worried about all the 15-year-olds today who may never take their virtual-reality headsets off for long enough to make any tangible difference in the real world.
It is not only gaming and Big Tech companies who are facilitating the metaverse but the advertisers who will use them. In 2020, Facebook generated close to $84.2 billion in ad revenues. YouTube’s ad revenue has increased by 49 percent, year on year, and generates $2 billion per month. The metaverse will be no different. Without advertisers, there will be no metaverses.
That’s why as advertisers, we have more power than we think. In 2017, hundreds of companies including AT&T and Johnson & Johnson pulled their advertising from YouTube when they discovered that their ads were playing on videos containing disturbing content like violent extremism and videos that appeared to endanger children. Advertisers flexed their muscles; YouTube was forced to invest in serious fixes and suffered a humiliating optical defeat.
As tech and video game companies are lining up to join Meta, Microsoft and Fortnite on the meta-bandwagon, now is the time for businesses across America to decide what future we want. We don’t have to let a handful of digital overlords decide our future, we can decide it for ourselves.
That’s why I am calling for a boycott of advertising on the metaverse. The meta-business models won’t work without wooing advertisers like me. Instead of seeing the metaverse as our inevitable fate, we should relegate it to technology’s graveyard of dead ends.
Tyler Ornstein is an entrepreneur and founder of Tyler’s Coffee, an acid-free coffee brand.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.