As we near the end of Pride Month for 2022, Meta has shared a new video which outlines the potential value of the metaverse as a vehicle for increased freedom of expression, by enabling people to be seen as they choose via the use of digital avatars.
This is an interesting benefit of the broader metaverse shift, in that there are some societal boundaries that may be better mitigated in a more deliberate and personal depiction of the self, which could be enabled through broader digital connectivity, and more immersive, engaging social spaces.
Though there are also potential downsides too. I’ve often questioned, given the rise of visual enhancement tools, via filters, effects and more, whether people who regularly apply such become more introverted in real life, because they may not look like what they project in their posts online.
As the creators in the above video note, their use of VR for connection has actually enhanced their real-life experiences as well - but I do wonder whether becoming more detached from your actual physical self could eventually be more isolating, if you then become more comfortable in your digital skin.
That’s one of the many psychological impacts that will require more study, but the idea that metaverse expression could be more freeing, in a range of ways, does seem promising, and another avenue worthy of exploration.
But the next stage, if it does play out as Meta is predicting, and we do end up spending hours per day in digital worlds, will also have a range of flow-on effects that need to be carefully assessed, and ideally, before any large scale roll-out.
Social media has caused many societal harms, because it caught on so quickly that we didn’t know what the impacts might be till it was too late. Given Meta’s push to move fast, even if it means breaking things, I remain concerned about its approach to the metaverse in the same respect, with the desire to push ahead potentially outweighing any concerns about such impacts. And with no regulatory framework ahead of time, it’ll again be too late before we recognize the worst effects of the same.
We can’t know, but hopefully Meta does take a more measured approach to such in its next shift, which could enable this type of more open and more personally freeing expression of identity.