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Virtual Society

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Herman Narula's Virtual Society book examines the metaverse. Chapter 1 begins unexpectedly. It discusses the ancient site of Gobekli Tepe. WTF? 

However, it makes sense when you realize that the people who built that holy site were imagining a virtual world, just like the pharaohs of Egypt who built pyramids hoping to go to another universe.

He writes, "We have always had the capacity as a society to believe in, and to imbue with a kind of half-life, worlds of events, ideas, and people that are not strictly real. We have engaged this capacity for millennia."
Before giving my verdict, I'll quote fascinating parts of the book to give you an idea about what it covers and says. All but the last paragraph are excerpts of the book:

There will be more than one digital metaverse—many more. There have been a multiplicity of metaverses throughout history, and the same will be true in the digital sphere. There will probably also be a metaverse of metaverses—a megaverse, perhaps—that connects the various metaverses together. (The M2 project—which, full disclosure, my company built—is one of the first attempts to create an internet of metaverses.) Some of these metaverses will be more prominent than others,

A strong foundation for a richly simulated world that allowed individuals and communities to seek fulfillment and generate value would be of enormous financial worth.

A Level 1 virtual society is what we’ve experienced until now: a civilization in which other realities are explored purely in words and ideas. Rich universes of religion, sport, and culture offer avenues for enhancing the meaning of individual lives while creating entirely new dimensions of the economy and improving social cohesion.

This society can “dream” of other worlds very effectively, but those worlds remain escapes because there is no substantive network of meaning linking those worlds and our own. World of Warcraft is fun, but it isn’t part of society in any meaningful sense. A Level 2 virtual society is where we can see ourselves going over the next few decades of development.

This is the key difference between this stage and Level 1. In Level 1, a society might have many complex virtual worlds, but those worlds are not seen as central to the economic life of the real world. A Level 3 virtual society occurs when a large number of people can tangibly travel to a simulated or constructed reality and live there—literally and fully. This tangible inhabitation could be achieved through brain-computer interfaces, by having actually been born as computer code,

experiences can and will be mediated by all sorts of interfaces and all sorts of devices. Will you eventually be able to connect to the digital metaverse 

Decentraland, launched in 2017, bills itself as the first-ever virtual world owned by its users, in which digital land is commodified as NFTs and purchased by means of cryptocurrency. Writing in PC Gamer in March 2020, Luke Winkie described Decentraland as “Second Life meets libertarianism,” a world in which “every piece of content in the game is owned, completely autonomously, by the players.” The Decentraland model—speaking generally, not specifically—has its heart in the right place. But, for lots of reasons, this model is as likely to produce a failed product as is the corporate model. If, as per our gardening metaphor, the corporate model is sort of like a topiary sculpture, then the anarchy model would be more like a vacant lot, where growth is both unimpeded and unplanned, and thus ends up inhibiting the creation and use of value and meaning

So, if anarchy doesn’t work, and top-down corporate control doesn’t work, then what model would work? It would have to be a middle ground, one involving cooperation between many entities and input from both corporations and individuals. The middle-ground model creates space for a wide variety of inputs and perspectives, while still leaving room for the sort of project-management roles necessary to make the metaverse happen. I believe that this is the optimal organizational model if you hope to create a truly valuable metaverse. I call it the Exchange.

This is where I foresee blockchain-style mechanisms coming into play: intricate computing processes that serve as independent guarantors and clear ledgers of value within the world.

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain-style technologies will be integral to any efforts to build and maintain a bridge for the transference of value within a metaverse.

Take the ancient Egyptian pyramids, for instance: living monuments to the power that a shared societal belief in a metaversal reality can exert on the real world. Each succeeding generation that worked on them, and/or existed in a world in which their construction was a key priority, had to believe that the project was worth it—that it was not just logical but necessary to invest so much time, money, and effort into a longitudinal, impractical endeavor.

we must all have a shared understanding of exactly why these other worlds will be worthwhile. We must proceed from shared premises, and those premises must be strong enough to create buy-in that will last through generations.

The best way to do this is to build a virtual economy that is bursting with fulfilling and lucrative virtual jobs.

EverQuest was no outlier. Similar economies have arisen in every other digital virtual world of sufficient size and complexity to warrant the name: Ultima Online, Eve Online, Second Life

the second major way that individuals can make money in a virtual world: by creating and producing fun and useful experiences for other participants in these worlds.

At the end of the twentieth century, the global economy was still stuck in the past. In 1996, General Motors sat atop the Fortune 500, in the same spot it had occupied when the list was inaugurated in 1955. Close behind General Motors on the list were several other old corporate stalwarts: Ford Motor Company, ExxonMobil, AT&T—all of them companies whose business models (cars, oil, telephones) your grandparents would have understood. For the most part, the massive corporations that ran the world through the end of the twentieth century presided over an economy of tangible things. By 2021, though, both the world and the global economy looked a lot different than they had a quarter-century earlier. While the top slot on the Fortune 500 in 2021 was occupied by Walmart, slots two and three were occupied by Apple and Amazon, respectively, with Alphabet, the parent company of Google, not too far behind. (GM, Ford, AT&T, and ExxonMobil occupied slots twenty-two, twenty-one, eleven, and ten, respectively.) The world’s biggest companies by market cap were Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon, with Tesla and Meta grappling for the fifth spot—all six of them trillion-dollar companies, five of them paragons of the new data economy.

VERDICT: Herman Narula is a verbose and academic/intellectual writer. As a result, his style requires patience and work to understand or appreciate. Whether you believe the metaverse is real or hype, this book gives you food for thought. Perhaps it's just a fad, but Narula makes a convincing argument that the metaverse, like cryptocurrencies, is here to stay. Four out of five stars.

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This is a book that will likely not age well. It is hard to explicitly state much of an opinion beyond that when dealing with speculative future topics. But as much as I hoped for a breath of fresh air or clarity from Mr. Narula, the truth us that his vision of the future is only accessible to a very slim minority of the world if the industry reamains as it has.
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Herman Narula makes an interesting case on the future of society and the internet. His approach is a journey through history to the present, at times in a spiritual way but mostly in a factual manner which makes a clear case there the future of humanity will contain a version of the Metaverse, even if we may call it by different names when it is finally here. His case is hopeful in a sense that he believes the future of the Metaverse will not end up in the hands of a few conglomerates solely pursuing financial profits. On that, I am not so sure about, but certainly a great book to get the conversation started and make you think about the future.
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