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Article: Welcome to the metaverse

Will it be good for us to throw off the 'friction' of living as embodied beings?

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Mark Zuckerberg, like many other tech entrepreneurs, is driven by a dream – turning science fiction into reality.

Not content with connecting 2.9 billion Facebook users across the planet, Zuckerberg is now focusing on the metaverse, a 3D virtual reality world in which it is claimed we will soon be able to live our lives. Working, playing, shopping, making friends, entertainment, and romance: it will all be available from the comfort of our homes.

It’s a techno-optimist vision of a future in which advanced technologies enable every aspect of life to become ‘frictionless’. Every desire, every longing, every interest will be satisfied instantly and effortlessly in the virtual world. Frustration, struggle, and boredom will be banished from everyday experience. Instead, we will be free to exercise our choices and fulfil our dreams with the minimum of effort.

But is this a future in which embodied members of the species Homo sapiens will be able to flourish? From their earliest days, every child discovers that reality does not always behave in accordance with their desires. Reality pushes back at us. We experience hunger, thirst, pain, and fear, and these unpleasant experiences are crucial to our formation.

We experience the satisfaction of overcoming hurdles, of learning to walk, to speak, to read, to cook meals, and ride bikes. We develop resilience and character as we overcome obstacles. Strangely, it seems that resistance, cultivating discipline, and endurance in the face of difficulties are precisely the routes by which we learn, grow, and flourish as embodied human beings (Romans 5:3–5). And, of course, it’s not an accident that at the very centre of our faith is an ancient symbol of excruciating agony.

There are many aspects of modern technology which do support and promote our flourishing as human beings, and there is no doubt that the metaverse offers many new possibilities, not least in enhancing collaboration with groups across the world, breaking down barriers of distance and culture. As members of a global Christian community, perhaps we will learn more about partnering with our sisters and brothers around the planet.

But we need to think more deeply about whether we should always be using technology to make our world more effortless and ‘frictionless’. What type of world, what type of society do we wish to use our technology to create? Will this new virtual world help us to become more human, or less? As physical beings we cannot flourish in a world without friction.

This article was initially written for the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

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