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The metaverse isn’t there yet, but it already has a long history

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I believe The Sandbox is indebted to the virtual world of Second Life, where spaces for building practice have been referred to as “sandboxes” since its launch in 2002.

Second Life originally had point-to-point teleportation (P2P). You could get anywhere in the blink of an eye. But in 2003, Linden Lab, the company that owns Second Life, shut down P2P. Residents trying to reach a destination appear on the nearest ‘telehub’.

This had consequences for the real estate. Value for business and entertainment, plots near telehubs sold for top dollar – until 2005, then Linden Lab suddenly announced the end of telehubs and the return of P2P.

Land near former telehubs no longer had any special value; some people lost thousands of dollars. The most powerful landlord can’t change the laws of physics, but Linden Lab can literally recode scarcity out of existence.

Fast forward almost 20 years. Land next to Snoop Dogg’s virtual mansion is scarce: a lot can cost $450,000 because The Sandbox has no P2P. But if the company were to suddenly add P2P, that $450,000 investment could become nearly worthless. That experts tend to ignore this fact reveals the danger of forgetting metaverse history.

Immersion – sensory or social?

Another example of the importance of metaverse history concerns the idea of ​​virtual environments. Virtual worlds don’t just connect places; they are places in themselves.

People played chess with the telegraph 150 years ago; those virtual chessboards weren’t on either end of the wire. In 1992 Bruce Sterling noted: that phone calls do not take place in your phone or in the other person’s phone. They take place in a virtual environment: “The place between the telephones. The indeterminate place out there, where you two, two people, actually meet and communicate.”

in 1990, Habitat’s founders concluded: that the metaverse is defined more by the interactions between people in it than by the technology that creates it. They were particularly skeptical of virtual reality technologies, noting that “the almost mystical euphoria that currently seems to surround all this hardware is, in our opinion, both exaggerated and slightly misplaced.”

It’s not about the potential of VR, but about the Matrix-esque idea that sensory immersion is necessary for the metaverse in any case. The main distinction is between: sensory immersion and social immersion. The idea that virtual environments require VR doesn’t understand ‘immersion’. It is also proficient, because not everyone can see or hear. The history of the metaverse indicates that social immersion is the foundation of the metaverse.

Learning from history

The metaverse still has a long way to go, but it already has a long history. Proximity and immersion are just two examples of crucial topics that can demystify this history.

This is important because the current rampant mystification is not accidental. The emerging version of the metaverse is overwhelmingly owned and developed by Big Tech. These companies are trying to create the perception that the metaverse is new and futuristic. But metaverse histories are real; they can reveal mistakes from the past and contribute to a better virtual future.

Tom Boellstorff is a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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