Home Web 3.0 Web3, Metaverse, Socialism vs Capitalism | by Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist | Aug, 2022

Web3, Metaverse, Socialism vs Capitalism | by Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist | Aug, 2022

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Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay

Whether or not the metaverse becomes a reality, and here I’m not talking about the the current ones, which, in reality, aren’t much more than MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming) platforms, the idea of the metaverse and Web3 are interesting and valuable thought experiments. My last article, here, looked at how the metaverse can be seen as a metaphor as a biological imperative and sociocultural survival trait for humanity. Here, I’m going to look at the idea of the metaverse and Web3 as a long-time sociocultural argument of socialism versus capitalism.

There’s a valid reason that the metaverse and Web3 have become so contentious and polarizing.

Humans have been playing with various ways of organising our societies for hundreds of thousands of years. In today’s world, we are most influenced by Western European thinking and capitalism. Socialism is seen as a dirty word, aligned with communism and bad things. But that is too narrow a view and arguable. So what does that all have to do with the metaverse?

Personally, I’m not convinced there will be a metaverse that is universal and accessible to all of humanity, regardless of socioeconomic status. We still haven’t figured out equal access to the internet. Only Norway has enshrined access to the internet as a human right. Autocracies provide access, but under strict rules. Democracies are far more open, but digital divides are also growing farther apart. If a metaverse does come to exist, the ideas its proponents put forward would only suit those who can afford to access it. This is why it’s an ideal and hard to become a reality.

Proponents talk about using things like NFTs, blockchains, Social Tokens and other mechanisms to create equality and ensure all have access to money. They put forward a techtopian or utopian ideal. This is inherently flawed from the start. To play in the metaverse today is expensive. You need high-speed internet access, a fairly powerful computer and ideally, expensive VR goggles and a fairly decent knowledge of how this all works and the ability to afford the games and entertainment offered there. Lower middle to lower income people cannot play in this space.

The notions of the metaverse and Web3 put forward by companies like Meta (Facebook), Roblox and VC firms like Andreeson-Horowitz are purely capitalist in nature. There’s nothing wrong with that. Capitalism, when done right, is good. So is democracy. But these companies and venture capital firms are not driven by any sense of social responsibility. If they don’t see a route to profit, they simply won’t play. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Then there are all the other smaller companies and online communities talking about what they see as a vision for the metaverse and Web3. It is often much more in the direction of socialism, mixed with a little capitalism. It’s an idea that may prove the best if a metaverse can come into existence.

The internet itself is a prime example of the tensions between socialism and capitalism as an operating model. It would be no different with a metaverse. In our current way of thinking. Increasingly, governments around the world are working to deliver universal internet access, which is wonderful. The digital divide comes though, with the price of connecting and the ability to enjoy all the internet has to offer. Programs delivered by governments typically mean lower-speeds as they negotiate bulk rates with carriers and ISPs, but if you want faster internet, you have to pay the ISP/carrier directly. A lot more.

Proponents and idealists of the metaverse outside the established, centralized corporations, discuss features and desires more recognizable as socialism. Equality of access, rules of law/play, fair compensation, decentralization and experimentation. Capitalism prefers defined systems that deliver the one key measure of such a system; profit. Again, nothing at all wrong with that.

Today, the metaverse and Web3 are largely arguments between how different segments of society see an alternative reality for humanity. Many mini-metaverses exist. As I’ve said, they’re just re-branded MMOGs today and they are highly centralized. Web3 is touted as an answer to this, but even the idea of Web3 is as messy, confusing and undefined as the metaverse. That too, is okay. Web3 is still very much just an argument.

But neither the metaverse nor Web3 can come into existence without acknowledging the underlying centralized systems that will enable it to work. Someone needs to pay for the energy to power it (and it’s not very “green”), the cost of laying fibre optic cables, routers, data centres, satellites and launching them. So there’s that.

If we want a metaverse that truly is open, a Web3 that is actually decentralized, it would need to be operated not by corporations, but some kind of structure that is more independent in nature. A governing body perhaps? Maybe the United Nations? Perhaps that isn’t a viable idea?

Even if the metaverse doesn’t come into existence and Web3 becomes something else, the point is, we’re having these large-scale, almost global, discussions of what these ideas mean to humanity. The internet has fundamentally changed human cultures and societies and is steadily altering the sociocultural systems around the world. The metaverse and Web3 would be just the layer of effects.

Cultures and societies around the world are already pushing back against the current system of capitalism. That cat is out of the bag and it’s clawing at the fabric of our global systems in a fight for its very life.

Talking about the metaverse and Web3 are an argument between old capitalist ideals versus new ideals that want a better system, just at a much larger scale. They are symptoms of massive changes that are underway. It’s going to be messy. We humans are always adapting. It’s what we do to survive. The internet is a reflection of humanity and our many cultures. We use culture as a survival tools as a means to adapt, like other animals use genetics.

We’ve always had these kind of debates. We’re just having them again, except they are more driven by technology than ever before and at a much larger scale.

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