The small island nation of Tuvalu recently announced that it will be the first country to fully replicate itself as a virtual reproduction in the metaverse.
Tuvalu, made up of nine small islands in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawaii, fears its demise is inevitable due to human-caused climate change and wanted to “preserve its people’s most valuable assets… and move them to the cloud.” .
That fatalism may have been part publicity stunt, but it was also part resignation as the Pacific nation tries to grapple with the looming climate catastrophes that will hit islands like theirs hardest.
But the idea that it should capture a digital version of itself, a virtual ghost in a shell, belies our flawed attitude towards technology as savior and the narrative that new technological worlds will inevitably replace our vibrant physical world.
The Metaverse promises (it’s not yet properly built) to be a fully immersive, universal virtual world powered by virtual reality and mixed reality technologies. Mark Zuckerberg popularized the term in 2021 when he announced that his company would change its name to Meta and focus its future on building Metaverse technologies.
Since then, pundits claiming to be Metaverse experts have appeared seemingly overnight, clamoring for a piece of the pie for this shiny “new” phenomenon.
This naïve futurism is expressed in different ways – while believers herald more new technological marvels – Web3, cryptocurrency, blockchain, non-fungible tokens. A menu of seemingly incomprehensible and confusing technological prophecies.
But the hype and blue-eyed proselytization couldn’t escape reality, and we’re seeing examples of the collapse of these new technologies.
Meta’s flagship Metaverse project, Horizon Worlds, is said to be largely empty and unpopular. Even among those who come to visit, most don’t stay past their first month. The Wall Street Journal reports that of the user-generated worlds on the platform, only about 9 percent are visited by more than 50 players. Apparently even meta employees don’t want to use the new Horizon Worlds.
Meta’s stock takes a deep dive as dogged investment in the Metaverse, despite a lack of returns and tough economic conditions, resulted in 11,000 employees being laid off.
FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange once valued at $32 billion and considered the hub of the Web3 world, has gone up in flames spectacularly and is now facing liquidation.
This disconnect between the promise of these new technologies and the challenges of today’s problems is rooted in a philosophy favored by tech evangelists — known as “longtermism.”
Long-term is the view that we should support world-changing projects – like the colonization of Mars, private spaceflight and Web3 and the Metaverse – because the supposed future value these will bring to humanity justifies any possible disruption in the present or immediate future.
Long-termism has advocates in today’s tech barons — including Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk. For them, the worries of the present are only worthwhile insofar as they affect their grandiose visions of the future.
Philosopher and author Émile P. Torres criticizes this way of thinking: “Why does Musk care about climate change? Not because of injustice, inequality of human suffering – but because it could wipe us out before we can colonize Mars and spread throughout the universe.”
Long-termism favors an unrealized future over a troubled present, and its believers claim moral authority with vague notions that they are doing things that will supposedly create future value, but never once consider the costs society is bearing today.
It’s heartbreaking for the island nation of Tuvali to think they don’t even feel they have a choice to save their physical community in the real world, and all they have at their disposal is an abstracted, virtual copy .
If we build new technological worlds at the expense of addressing today’s problems, the metaverse will not be some shiny new utopia, but will look more like a digital graveyard, full of lost memories and copies of a world we have chosen to ignore.