The big tech companies are planning the metaverse – a virtual environment. The reality is, we're already living in it.
The last step before departing on a big trip is still a physical one – at least if you want to travel to the USA. The multiple application forms for a visa, the fee payments, making an appointment for the "interview" – all that can be done online. But the bureaucratic crowning glory is the personal interview at the embassy.
In my case, the interview only took five minutes this time. Still, I spent the entire day traveling between Düsseldorf and Berlin. The effort seemed all out of proportion – and led me to a peculiar realization. I had to log out of my everyday world, and that made me realize I'm no longer self-effective. To get into the US embassy you have to show up with no bags and no technical devices. So you lock up everything at the airport. Carrying nothing but a credit card and my application documents, I took a taxi to the embassy. The interview itself involved of a bit of waiting and three formal questions. And so, a short time later, I stepped back onto the street. My return flight wouldn't leave until much later. So what to do?
The weather is beautiful, so a nice walk seems like a wonderful idea. Where should I go? Intuitively I reach for my pocket to retrieve my smartphone, but there is nothing there to show me the way. So I just start walking. After a while I pass a building that seems to have been abandoned long ago; the windows are vacant and cracked. Someone has sprayed "I love Simone" on the house in giant letters. I want to take a picture of it, and reach into my pocket – oh yeah, I can't, I left my phone at the airport.
For the first time that day I realize how much is missing when I'm disconnected from the network of all-encompassing global access. While walking I remember I need to order new contact lenses. I reach for my pocket, sigh, nope. Well, I should at least write it down so I won't forget. But I use an app as my to-do list; I don't have a pen with me. Everything seems so ephemeral to me, things are flying past me because I have no access to my virtual existence.
At some point I have to go back to the airport. I have absolutely no idea what time it is. I don't wear a watch, because my smartphone usually tells me the time. Eventually I ask an older gentlemen what time it is. It's late. So late that I need a taxi, ASAP. The gentlemen doesn't know where I can get one. And with no phone, I can't call one. Then it occurs to me: I can hop on an electric scooter and use it to find a taxi rank. The idea gives me a short but empty thrill, because obviously I need an app to rent an electric scooter.
In the three hours I spent wandering aimlessly around Berlin, I forwent at least 25 transactions I would have certainly made otherwise. I felt as though I were in an old-fashioned bathysphere, floating through a world in which I was physically present but with which I was hardly connected anymore.
The big tech companies are currently constructing the metaverse, an all-encompassing virtual reality, a kind of parallel world in which we will live and spend money in the future. It actually already exists. It's the world we already live in, day after day, without realizing it. There are currently two versions of me: The one that is physically present in the real world, and my meta-me, which comes into being through my permanent interaction with a single device. The question is: Which is the real me, and which is an avatar?