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Finding the Metaverse (2021-2023)

Curators: Isabel Pedersen and Sharon Caldwell, Ontario Tech University | 2021 and ongoing
Collection Editor: Isabel Pedersen
Collection Archivist: Sharon Caldwell

During the Connect 2021 conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially rebranded Facebook as Meta, signalling a shift in the company’s focus from social media apps to building technologies that will be used in the Metaverse. Predicted to be the next phase of the Internet, The Metaverse will be an immersive, 3D spatial reality that involves technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), VR headsetsAR glasses, 3D avatars, holograms, internet of things, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and neural interfaces, some of which don’t yet exist. 

Meta and other large tech companies are fueling a kind of hyper-capitalist race to own a part of this future. In the concept video Breaking Down the Metaverse, viewers are asked to imagine a future where they can create, learn, socialize, shop, game, and work remotely from anywhere in the world. He further speculates, “The Metaverse will reach one billion people, hold hundreds of billions of dollars worth of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers".  Soul Machines CEO Greg Cross imagines, “At some point in the future, you might be able to create a digital version of yourself or multiple versions of yourself, and they can go out and do stuff, make money for you, make money for your company, while you’re doing something else that’s a whole lot more fun.” Microsoft also recently shifted their focus to the Metaverse, with plans to incorporate Mesh into their Microsoft Teams app, so that remote workers can have more immersive meetings using 3D avatars. Other companies such as RobloxEpic GamesUtopiaVR, Vuzix, Nvidia, and Niantic have shared their own visions. Some have pushed back against the corporate monopolization of this future by creating open, decentralized platforms on the blockchain, such as Decentraland.

The Metaverse future is framed as a utopian collaborative (virtual) world-building project where everyone will seemingly have equal access to express themselves, yet many ethical issues, such as discrimination and safety, have not fully been addressed. Fittingly, the term Metaverse was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 dystopian, cyberpunk sci-fi novel, Snow CrashThe book Ready Player One (and its film adaptation) created its own version called The Oasis. Niantic CEO John Hanke has called the Metaverse “a dystopian nightmare” following the sci-fi lead, which offers critical commentary on emergent technology. The Finding the Metaverse collection includes artifacts from advertising, corporate websites, journalism, and science fiction.

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