In a backhanded way, Mark Zuckerberg has inspired the perfect New Year’s resolution for 2022. Especially in Colorado.
Zuckerberg has renamed his company Meta with the promise of something that might hermetically seal us all even more in our own digital universes and pervade our daily lives far more than the internet already has. He calls it the metaverse.
In a press release, Facebook explains that, using sophisticated new virtual reality or augmented reality goggles, the metaverse will offer us “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you. You’ll be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create, and more.”
Here’s my worry. We already spend hours and hours on our screens, on Facebook, Google, Instagram, Amazon, and in remote meetings with people via Zoom and Teams. What if the metaverse marks our Matrix moment, the point in time when we live more in the digital world than we do in the physical one?
What if the metaverse so captivates us with its fake reality that we start to have a hard time distinguishing our virtual lives from our physical ones?
I know that sounds science fictiony, but watching those closest to me sitting around a table with each other buried in our phones like a zombie family, I don’t think we’re far off from weird kind of artificial lives dominating our real ones. Already the internet has infiltrated and commodified nearly every activity and interaction we engage in.
Wasn't it the serpent in Eden who promised us we could know everything? More than God?
Which brings me to my new year’s resolution for all us Coloradans.
In joyful, renegade defiance of the creeping metaverse, I resolve to enjoy more reality in 2022.
I wish us all more unmediated time ... time sitting around a table, person to person, breaking bread, sharing songs, walking on grass, looking at the sky, smelling the wildflowers.
I resolve to take more time away from my Zooming and Teaming and come in direct contact with my fellow actual humans and the unfiltered majesty of nature.
I wish us all more of the meadowverse, and less of the metaverse. I resolve to spend more time out in that Big Blue Room of real air and real sunlight and real surprise and delight.
Simple: So we don’t let the virtual landscape become more "real" than the natural world. The pull of this artificial world has become so strong, fed by COVID, that I think we have to make conscious efforts to pull away from it for sustained periods of time in the new year and reclaim our real lives.
Polarization, divisiveness, and misinformation have already overrun us thanks to the internet; I worry that a metaverse will further “fracture reality,” as a recent article in Insider put it, so that you and I walking down the same street will see completely different worlds through our new augmented reality glasses.
One of my favorite writers, Dave Eggers, has written a kind of “1984” for our internet age called “The Every.” In it he worries aloud “that humanity is being fundamentally changed ... moving from an idiosyncratic species that coveted our independence to one that wanted, more than anything, to shrink and obey in exchange for free stuff.”
I almost wonder if there is a collective shrug when it comes to threats to our physical world because who cares? I’ve got my virtual world already, and that’s where I spend most of my time anyway.
But in 2022, let’s resolve to remember the urgency of awe.
Let’s remember to more regularly step away from our web-infected lives just to absorb the rough majesty of the mountains with wide eyes, exposing ourselves to more freedom, unpredictability and reality in the new year. I’ve always found the boundary between me and the world I live in softens when I’m deep in the natural world, and it is there that I experience the most profound sense of belonging.
A psychologist I know often talks about something she calls Vista Theory. Some people when they look at a line drawn on a page see a line. Other people see a horizon, a vista, an open sky, and these are the vista-oriented people. My friend believes the greater the number of real vistas a person is exposed to outside, the greater the depth of perspective inside.
Yet another reason to spend more time out in the big, wide world: Exterior vistas prompt broader interior perspective and expansiveness in all of us.
Joan Didion, another tough writer I admire who recently passed away, had this advice for us Americans in fractured times:
“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package,” she once wrote. “I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”
So be it resolved: Let us live more in the real in 2022. To hell with Zuckerberg: Bring on the meadowverse!