Facebook’s recent rebranding as Meta has stimulated renewed interest in the idea of the metaverse – an immersive digital world that allows for interaction between people. The newly renamed company aims to refocus its efforts on creating standards for social life, work and leisure. A large number of other organizations, including startups and leading technology companies such as Microsoft and Activision, have joined the effort.
If the Meta goals are achieved, individuals will presumably spend a significant amount of social and work time within immersive digital environments, surrounded by people from all over the world in identical places. Although this goal appears promising, it will have devastating effects on cultures around the world. Western elite values–which include ideas from religion and culture to political correctness–are already rapidly exporting internationally through traditional social media, movies, and American brands. If everyone around the world spent their time in a single digital world shaped by those same Western elites, what cultural differences would still exist? We must discourage the widespread adoption of metaphysics as it will hasten the decline of political and cultural diversity.
Economic globalization has played a crucial role in building a mono-consumer culture. Brands and companies from global superpowers like the United States and China dominate the consumption patterns of people – especially the elite – around the world. Huawei billboards fill airports across South America and famous American fashion and music brands serve as global status symbols. These cultural exchanges are almost always one-way—economically and politically weaker nations adopt the languages and consumption patterns of the stronger ones. Speaking English is seen as a ticket to success all over the world, and trends that start in the United States are gradually being exported abroad.
However, even amid this consumerist onslaught, countries have partially succeeded in maintaining their distinct cultural and political values. These differences are evident even across the seemingly biased Western liberal democracies. Elements of French society, for example, have vigorously resisted the growth and spread of contemporary American progressiveness. One of the most powerful forces sustaining distinct cultures and societies is their unique physical surroundings. When citizens of a country spend their days in local schools, cafes, and parks, they strengthen cultural bonds with their fellow citizens and form a shared view of the world. Even outside of people, a unique culture is closely linked to the physical aspects of the physical world such as architecture, food, music, and the symbolism it conveys. Thus, the continued presence of these distinct physical elements strengthens cultural ties within each region.
Adopting the metaverse would fundamentally change this reality. Today, individuals can already communicate with anyone via chat or video call, but this medium is incredibly impersonal. Most people use digital communications as an inferior substitute for in-person interactions. But if the metaverse technology continues to improve, people will really be able to form social circles beyond their local communities. Spending time in these spaces may become in demand as companies encourage their employees to work from home and companies like Meta, Microsoft and others are rushing to provide metaverse services to meet these needs. In these digital spaces, what is the accepted habit of interaction, and what types of discourse will be tolerated?
Either way, American and European elite standards will prevail. This principle has already been applied to a lesser degree in international labor standards and the culture of social networks such as Instagram and Facebook. Almost all international business is conducted in English, and social norms are driven by elite American speech codes. Social networks are moderated according to US standards of political correctness and acceptable speech.
The metaverse will follow a similar pattern on a much larger scale with much worse consequences. Given that US designers and companies—predominantly the coastal elite—have a first-mover advantage, it’s possible that the world’s most famous sites will have similar standards to those in New York or San Francisco. Moderating content would be more like banning an individual from physical spaces than jotting their tweets. One by one, the unique values of each country will disappear, reducing the diversity of the market for ideas.
Just as free market competition between companies with unique products and visions allows the best services and business models to emerge, so competition between countries with distinct political cultures allows the best forms of government and political management to flourish. At the same time, the presence of diverse political and cultural models allows those disaffected with their surroundings to leave in search of better ones. In this way, diversity is our strength. A fully realized metaverse will undermine this diversity by exacerbating the existence of global groupthink and cultural homogeneity. Ultimately, this new trend of globalization caused by the metaverse will have devastating effects on human culture.