Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, last October announced that the name of his company which includes more than one social network application, would change from Facebook to Meta. He thus heralded in a new chapter of social connection which he named Metaverse.
The amazing announcement gave rise to responses that ranged between thrill and horror. Needless to say it was people of my generation, those in or around their 70s, who were horrified; the younger generations of our children and grandchildren were thrilled. The divergent response was predictable; members of my generation have lived through times when social connections were direct in-person relations with peers, family, colleagues, and friends; we cherished demonstrable human contact, unconcealed explicit emotions, and sincere behaviour. These elements, which carried both positive and negative impacts, contributed to the forming of our personalities, shaping our life experiences, and creating human bonds. As modern technology increasingly gained ground in our world at an amazingly accelerating rate, our children and grandchildren have day by day drifted towards the indirect social connections made feasible by the modern communication devices and various social networking applications at their fingertips. For my generation, these are “non-communication” devices and apps; but for younger generations they constitute the most important, indispensable human communication tool that easily sidelines classical communication as we know it. The voracious use of these modern communication means has reached the point of addiction to social networking, yet no one ever stopped to contemplate the many hazards involved. No one gave a second thought to concerns of truthfulness, authenticity, transparency or permanence in the human relations formed through modern communication. Quite the contrary, it has become a source of pride and a symbol of modernity for younger generations to brag about being on top of all the tricks and details of these social networking tools. A post that went viral on social media depicted a teenager who goes hysterical once she learns that the young man she is attracted to has no Facebook profile! Surely the oddest and most abnormal option in our modern times!
For our part, members of my generation feel worried and anxious, sounding alarms for the deterioration of direct human relations that came with increasing indirect human contact. Comparing relationships between past and present gives rise to dismal distress. There is no shortage of examples: the family enjoyed close interaction among its members; love, laughter, tears, talk, discussions and even arguments and fights. Friends or colleagues enjoyed confidences, camaraderie, mutual support, and joint activities in sports, trips, outings, work or services. All such interaction entrenched the meaning of human contact as we know it. Yet today, it is horrifying to see trends of isolation become the order of the day, whether inside the family or among groups of comrades and friends. Almost everyone appears lost in their own world of smart phones, communicating through and deriving satisfaction from the inert objects they grip firmly in their hands and the screens through which they run their fingers; the phone or tablet
representing their whole world. It brings to my mind scenes from science fiction films where people are isolated creatures operating through programmes that turns them into zombies or half-robots.
As if all this gruesome state of affairs were not enough, hopes or dreams of regaining the warmth of real human relations have now been dashed with Zuckerberg’s launching of the Metaverse technology which will open the door wide towards engaging humans in virtual reality.
The Internet world has given way to a new virtual world where modern 3D glasses would transport humans without moving them, to any place in the world, and let them actively engage in any activity they desire. Humans will no longer be mere users of the Internet, but part of it; Metaverse looks set to accentuate the isolation of humans.
The world will obviously go on progressing in leaps and bounds; this is an indisputable, unstoppable fact. But, depending on your age group, you will be either thrilled or horrified.
19 November 2021