Virtuality vs. Reality: The Shift in Technology and its Impacts on Gen-Z

By Sara Spillman

Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

Introduction

Just 3 short years ago, had you asked a random individual to define or even confirm knowledge of the term “metaverse,” they likely would not be able to, unless they happened to be big on sci-fi novels from the 90s or an avid gamer. Now, in early 2022, it’s impossible to go even a day, let alone a few hours, without seeing or hearing the word. This is most true for Generation Z, the first truly digitally native generation the world has ever witnessed. Most of this generation would consider their digital life just as important as their physical one, or even an extension of their physical lives, often spending eight or more hours online a day. Every single day, it seems like more things are going digital with new developments of these virtual worlds that mimic real places like the workplace, a retail fitting room, art galleries, and endless other real-life experiences. Based on the way that things are going, the word “metaverse” is going to be larger and more impactful than ever imagined.

Defining “Metaverse”

The most straightforward definition of the word metaverse is “a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.” Wired technology writer, Eric Ravenscraft, helps build an understanding of the context and usage of the word with the following exercise: “Mentally replace the phrase ‘the metaverse’ in a sentence with “cyberspace.” Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change. That’s because the term doesn’t refer to any one specific type of technology, but rather a broad shift in how we interact with technology.”

The Positives

The concept of the metaverse and everything it has to offer has gained popularity in recent years. Here’s why:

  1. Accessibility & Minimal Covid Risk

The accessibility of the virtuality was primarily seen through the COVID-19 pandemic. Events and activities that were previously held in person were unable to be held due to CDC guidelines, so as a society we had no other option but to turn to technology to make life as normal as possible.

2. Inspires Diversity

In contrast with the physical world, the metaverse inspires diversity in that it’s not restricted to physical limitations, such as geography and language.

3. Environmentally Friendly

Although these complex digital systems require massive amounts of energy, they do minimize other environmental problems. For example, it lowers the amount that people travel or commute thus lowering the amount of pollution.

4. Space for Creativity & Innovation

In the metaverse, the creative potential is endless. Artists who were struggling to sell pieces are now making millions of dollars from NFT sales.

The Negatives

Because of all of these new advancements in technology and how rapidly the digital world is evolving, it’s easy to become skeptical about what this means for the future. Here are the primary potential negative impacts:

  1. Damage to Self-Image

A huge part of these virtual worlds is appearance. Imagine entering the metaverse where your avatar is better looking or maybe better dressed than how you might appear in real life. You’ve also created this gorgeous home, much larger and nicer than yours in reality. You get a little tired, so you shut your laptop and take off your headset, and head to the bathroom to brush your teeth. You get a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, and you don’t like what you see as much as you might’ve had you stayed online. This also leads to:

2. Addiction to Technology: Diminishing the Need for Human Interaction & Peoples’ Skills

This one speaks for itself. More time spent online = less time spent in the real world interacting with real people.

3. Creates a Space for Bullying & Threatening Behavior

There have been multiple instances in recent years where sexual assault and other threatening behaviors have been reported taking place in these virtual worlds. To make matters worse, the only punishment seen has been temporarily banning their accounts, when, in the real world these actions would put them in jail. Victims are left with trauma disorders.

4. Issues with Employment, Finding work in this space

Because everything is more computerized, fewer humans are needed than they formerly were. The new jobs the rise in the metaverse has created are all computer science-related which not everyone is trained in or has the means to be trained in.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This rise of the metaverse is blurring the line between reality and virtual reality which is scary to think about in terms of the future. A lot is being done to help regulate these Big Tech companies to ensure a safer environment in the metaverse. Although the rise of the metaverse is inevitable, some laws can be passed to regulate it so that our generations and future generations are less impacted by the aforementioned negative effects.


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