- The Metaverse is hard to define because it is an emerging space that is being shaped by sensemaking activities.
- University of Zurich researchers perform a media analysis to see how the definition of the Metaverse has been shaped and who has been shaping it.
- Because the Metaverse is an emerging phenomena, it will require careful study and attention to definitions to provide a better space and experience.
Whether it’s centralized or decentralized or somewhere in between, virtual or augmented or blended, a place for gamers or a shop for businesses, it seems that users and critics, alike, struggle to define the Metaverse.
According to researchers from the University of Zurich, the Metaverse is so hard define because it is a work-in-progress and it is far more than an easy-to-pin-down technological phenomena. In a study, the team reports that the meaning of the Metaverse is not fixed, but is a collective sensemaking process.
Realizing that people are shaping the meaning of the Metaverse together may give them the ability to align this emerging reality with broad human values, rather than narrow interests, report Mateusz Dolata, a post doctoral researcher and Gerhard Schwabe, professor, both in the department of informatics.
According to the researchers, sensemaking is also a form of collective story-telling.
They write: “Sensemaking is a continuous, partially conscious production of plausible stories about what is happening to inform own actions. It happens through attributing meaning to objects, situations, or phenomena based on external cues.”
What Is Building The Metaverse?
The popularity of the Metaverse is being driven by multiple parties and multiple developments that are occurring in a broader social, technological, organizational, political and cultural context, according to the researchers. They include:
Actions: Specific actions, such as Facebook’s rebranding and Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, are fueling the discourse around the Metaverse and catalyzing the flow of money to Metaverse-related businesses.
Technological Progress: New technological developments such as the diffusion and acceptance of cloud computing, VR goggles, or cryptocurrencies, is also driving the discourse around the Metaverse and making various stakeholders more receptive to it.
Pop Culture: Culture, arts, and entertainment, including references to popular culture like Snow Crash and The Matrix, are contributing to the discourse around the Metaverse and providing a static reference point in the dynamic conversation.
Socioeconomic Trends: The Covid-19 pandemic and a shift in economic priorities are examples of the socioeconomic trends that are also driving the discourse around the Metaverse and motivating society to explore various technical options and modalities to provide enjoyable experiences.
The researchers use the Social Construction of Technology theory — or SCOT — to shape their own investigation. This theory sees that technology depends on meanings attached to it through societal sensemaking.
The researchers write: “This perspective positions the social developments as superordinate or at least as important as the technical developments in the process of forming a technology. SCOT claims that technological phenomena are open to radically different interpretations. Different groups perceive one technology differently based on social, cultural, economic, and political influences. With time, a meaning becomes dominant and stable, completing social construction processes.”
In the case of the Metaverse, then, the meaning of the Metaverse rises above simply the virtual reality goggles, block chain, augmented reality software and other technological components that make it work, but also relies on economic, political and social forces that continually shape it.
The Metaverse will call for careful study, the researchers write, adding that even more care must be taken in how the Metaverse is defined and explained.
They write: “The Metaverse is subject to high interpretative flexibility and will likely remain in this phase for the foreseeable future. It is a controversial phenomenon, with many actors advancing their interests and visions. This calls for a careful handling of the term the Metaverse, its meanings, and the phenomenon it references. Scientists should be aware that to engage with this topic is to enter a power play. Proposing simplistic definitions or parroting the visions of a specific party (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg) may impact on the public discourse and the development of the Metaverse.”
Because the Metaverse is not merely a blind technological phenomena, social forces can play a role in shaping it.
The conclude: “As the Metaverse is an emerging phenomenon, opportunities exist to reorient it toward humanist values rather than singular interests.”
For the study, the researchers analyzed 273 news stories, finding a high variability to meaning about the Metaverse. The stories were from the world’s most influential media sites, including The New York Times, The Economist and The Guardian.
You can read more about the researchers work here. The paper has been the Journal of Information Technology.