The Metaverse is Coming

The meta-verse is coming at you. It may be coming for you. It is likely to impact the way we live, play, and work. This blog is about workers' compensation, which is inextricably tied to work. 
Though this threat is real and now, the impact is likely a few years away. However, that timing depends on evolving technology, which is hard to predict. Many of us are striving to accept and adapt technology. But, us old folks are not the future; some of us struggle to be the present. The millennials are the largest portion of the workforce, according to Pew. They were born into an internet-connected and digital world. And, before they get too comfortable, the generations behind them are likely even more tech-savvy, tech-friendly, and are gaining share in the working world as we speak. 
I remember a time before the first email in 1971, according to the Guardian. I remember when self-driving cars were a fantasy. In my youth you would have been laughed at for predicting everyone would soon have a phone installed in their car, even more so if you thought they would carry them around everywhere. I am old, but not that old, and I remember when our modern world accoutrement were pipe dreams and fantasy. 
Our world is changing. The way we live, work, and socialize. There has been ample coverage of the impacts of SARS-CoV-2, lockdowns, lock-outs, quarantinetelecommuting, the huge investments in technology, and the stories of those exiting the workforce. Like it, understand it, or not the workplace is changing. Technology is impacting the "old ways," and we are all increasingly dependent upon technology, sometimes in ways we did not even know
The idea of a tech revolution may be new to some, but us old folks have lived through a few. Whether you attribute to Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest, Paramount 1981) or Michael Caine (Goldmember, Newline 2002), “This ain't my first time at the rodeo.” Forbes has explained that phrase, but essentially this is our way of expressing that we are ready for what is coming. We are, because we have seen it before, heard it before, and lived through it.
The news in recent months has been persistently focused upon social media and its impact on our society. Four recent news stories converge in my mind regarding our recent past and the potential future.
First, an intriguing article published by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) accuses social media of stealing children’s adolescent lives. The article is at best unflattering, and some would say outright accusatorial. It sites perceptions that social media is designed around creating or enhancing physiological human reactions, and that we feed our needs as the providers profit. The word "addiction" is used. The sentiment has been echoed elsewhere, such as Fortune. In another piece, the BBC notes how these platforms, likes, follows, etc. feed our own bodies' production of dopamine. We are unintentionally, blissfully drugging ourselves. 
Individuals quoted in that article note negative impact on individual development of social skills and self image. They voice perceptions of time invested in the pursuit of approval, pure recognition, and acceptance (or rejection). Yet another BBC article notes that this so-called community of social media is rife with abuse and torment. Any yet, we allow or even encourage the young to visit there. Until just recently, Facebook was planning to deploy a social media specifically aimed at young children.
Second, another news report on the Associated Press, which garnered extensive headlines, about a former employee of Facebook what is labeled "whistleblower." This executive outlined allegations of specifically-intended social media interactions, with a particular focus upon attracting, retaining, and entrancing a generation. The story reverberated with the implications of a conclusion that perhaps those who profit from social media do so with a reasonable degree of knowledge regarding it’s implications for young people and other impressionable groups. And, perhaps, a certain degree of cavalier disregard for those upon whom they thrive?
That bloom was not off the rose for a week before a second Facebook whistleblower came forward in mid-October. The Verge reports that this company executive claims the company regularly puts profits before "efforts to fight hate speech and misinformation." Note the BBC report again, above, about the abuse and torment. Some seem to be suggesting that Facebook and others are perhaps less than worthy of our trust and admiration. And yet, millions still logged on today just as they did yesterday and will again tomorrow. They crave what they have come to believe is friendship.
Third, a recent article revealed that potentiality that the next “big“ societal evolution that we face is something bigger and more pervasive then the Internet itself, something labeled “the meta-verse.“ An intersection of video platforms, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and more, the “meta-verse," is perceived by many as the new horizon for revenue and exploitation. This would be a virtual world in which gaming, meeting, and even working would be ensconced in the virtuality of digital ether world. 
As I read that article, I was reminded of Ready Player One (Warner Brothers 2018), a dystopian view of the 2040s in which online gamers our enthralled with donning head sets and sensory bodysuits, and spending their lives online, fantasizing, socializing, and even working. This paints a disturbing picture in which players become overly invested in the trinkets and glory of the digital world, and in the process find themselves literally enslaved to those who would control their livelihoods. Some of the overlords own the platforms and others just know enough to exploit them.
That film ends with a unlikely band of heroes, having led a Quixotic challenge, a "rage against the machine,“ and an overthrow of the online overlords and slave masters. As the new rulers of that gaming world, they announce that it’s distractions will be available only five days per week, in an effort to force people back into the “real world“ periodically. Like getting offline 2/7s of your life will solve the dependency issues. If the dopamine folks are accurate, those couple of days each week might bring some serious withdrawal? We all likely know someone that cannot let a day go by without their social media fix. 
Those who dream of a meta-verse, perceive the potential for various necessary human interactions to be carried out in the future from the comfort of our own couch, perhaps even in a Surrogate (Touchstone, 2009) manner. They acknowledge that SARS-CoV-2 has driven a great migration to telecommuting. They do not, seemingly, deride the capabilities for functionality of platforms such as Zoom, but believe there can be so much more. They envision a future in which we don our head sets and venture into artificial reality to react in the form of avatars for purposes of business meetings, educational gatherings, and other sociology such as plays, concerts, and more. They envision stretching the example of today’s video game participation into tomorrow’s new normal: the ever-present, beckoning, "meta-verse."
Taking a page from the “ghost,“ perceived by Kevin Costner in The Field of Dreams (Universal 1989), the approach appears to be “if you build it they will come.“ And build it, apparently our tech overlords are.  The Washington Post reports that many dollars have been invested in making this meta-verse a reality. A good bit of it lately by Facebook. Thousands upon thousands of people have already become habitual virtual reality headset gamers. And, some vendors have already begun marketing other social interactions using the technology, including concerts, Lectures, and more. The beginning of the meta-verse is here, and the customers seem ready.
In the midst of the "next" thing, we hear more and more about the failures of the "current" thing. There is addictionbullying, alleged exploitation of childrenvulnerable populations, and emotional issues. But, there seems no focus on addressing these issues and challenges. The focus is on a bigger, better, virtuality for the greater exploitation or entertainment of the masses. 
Just as I begin to wrap my conscious around the potential implications of a multi-verse, the other shoe may have already dropped. Yet another article last week, the fourth, on Verge suggested that the great and powerful Facebook may shed its identity. Some may question whether any company would retire a trademark with such global recognition. One might wonder whether additional negative news is yet to come regarding that companies path and progress on the backs of the young and impressionable. You might shed a brand if there were enough potential negative implications. 
One might also question whether a suggestion of such a name change is yet another publicity driver, I can perhaps point to the recent “international house of burgers,” which drove significant social media publicity to another brand? There is always the chance someone would threaten to name themselves after the "meta-verse" simply to publicize that proposed panacea?
However, if the news reports are accurate, the pervasive and so ubiquitous Facebook may in fact change its name as part of its drive to assert primacy in the coming multi-verse. With the promises of novelty, and the stimulus of gadgetry, apparently a variety of enticements will strive to draw the populace more deeply into a virtual world. There, with varying degrees of subtlety, there will be perhaps remain attempts at influencing a variety of personal decisions we all make.
This will perhaps not be a revolution, but evolution. Many of us perceived that ZOOM and other such platforms were an instant "hit" in the wake of COVID-19. However, CNN reports the Zoom revolution was years in the making. Can they build a meta-verse quicker? Can they deliver enough bandwidth, clock speed, and more to facilitate this. Not likely here in paradise, where 5G remains something we hear about out there somewhere.
Potentially, as vendors in the multi-verse leverage their victims customers, and enhance their earnings, they will publicly proclaim their piety and ethic. They might even take to the airwaves and social media to voice their general support for government regulation, parameter, and constraint of their Brave New World-verse. Will that new multi-world be less bullying, less manipulating, less threatening? Will we flock to it for our next dopamine fix, or have we learned our lesson? Remember "fool me once, shame on you . . . ?"
By Judge David Langham
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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