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The Metaverse: an antidote to consumer capitalism?

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

The Metaverse as a recovery from late stage consumer capitalism? It sounds like a tall order, a lofty aspiration, but doesn’t every new technology come with this implied promise? The promise of a better future and a cure to what ails us, delivering us from whatever drudgery we have convinced ourselves we need emancipating from?

And yes, quite often a new technological invention heralds a new turning point in society, even changing the course of history! But we find ourselves facing an entirely new set of challenges often brought about by these very same technological advancements, or we find ourselves back where we started: humans solving human issues.

An absolute solution to late stage consumer capitalism would involve a paradigm shift in our entire economic structure, so maybe the question we are asking here is: how could the implementation ‘the Metaverse’ ameliorate some of the symptoms of late stage consumer capitalism? And that's if we get it right and it doesn't become another tool we inadvertently use to destroy ourselves with. So how do we use it to elevate ourselves and create a healthy cultural environment? First, what are these symptoms of late stage capitalism? What does it look like? What is the fallout and how is it affecting our society, our psyche and the way we relate to one another?

We seem to have developed an addiction to ‘things’ and emotionally invest in these over people. We then treat people as objects, then consume and discard them.

As material objects or ‘things’ are not alive, the investment in things that are inherently ‘dead’, tends toward destruction. A culture driven by materialism and self gratification, slowly has its life force - its libidinal energy - drained from it. Libidinal drive, the drive to create, is replaced by what is known as destrudo, the anti-life force. In psychology, destrudo is the destructive force, the antithesis of libido, the drive to life and creation. Destrudo is the urge to destroy both oneself and others. This system is also characterized and driven by envy, as its internal engine, its dynamo if you will. Behavior becomes increasingly extreme in its performative nature in the grapple for relative positioning.

Envy then (as opposed to jealousy) has destruction at its core and behavior becomes increasingly extreme in its performative nature in the grapple for relative positioning.

Image: Sean David Williams

Our social platforms magnify and leverage these traits, distorting human behavior and perverting our incentives.

So not only do we overinvest in and worship objects, we also end up objectifying and commodifying ourselves in an economy where attention and spectacle is the currency. Antisocial strategies are then increasingly leveraged and rewarded to become positive adaptations. Empathy and access to other positive emotions actually cease to be efficacious in this environment.

So it seems we find ourselves at a juncture in our cultural history. Do we double down on these strategies or do we find another way, do we find another game to play, as we don’t seem to be winning this one!

Image: Luis Acosta

This addiction to consumption, the demand for cheaply manufactured goods has also reached levels that are totally unsustainable from an environmental perspective, as these items eventually end up in our oceans or in landfills whilst depleting the earth's resources as we discard them for the next thing.

By owning digital goods in the Metaverse, could we slow down our consumption of physical items to a more sustainable level? Could we start valuing experience over consumption and in this way slowly start to turn the tide of an exhausted, lonely culture addicted to ‘things’? Could interacting with others in real time, in such a way that fosters empathy, collaboration and connection, be an antidote to our loneliness and our anomie? Could these meaningful interactions cease the need for constant, empty stimulation, meaningless attention and addictive behaviors?

Early studies show promising results in enhanced empathy when interacting with others in VR. Even though we don’t yet have avatars with micro expressions, we still have the distinct sense that we are interacting with another person, there is a sense of personal space, body language and the fact that the interaction takes place in real time regardless of the participants location. There is also the connection through voice, yet it has a distinctly different quality from a 2d interaction like a video call in the sense that it feels more like an authentic face to face interaction due to the immersive nature of the medium.

It’s harder to treat someone as a 2 dimensional object when it feels as though they are right in front of you!

I would also say, there is the ability to use these platforms much more intentionally and consciously; we consciously spend our time gathering with others, going to specific events and engage in experiences we’ve curated for ourselves rather than scrolling mindlessly (although there is no guarantee you will stop doing this, but there's now an alternative). There's a variety of social activities users from around the world can engage in simultaneously, everything from watching movies, attending a concert or festival, or going on treasure hunts where participants must team up to solve puzzles.

It is also possible to have quite profound experiences with others in VR, it even has the potential for transcendent experiences that reawaken a sense of awe through art and creativity combined with the very immersiveness of the medium itself. In this way, it holds the potential for unrestricted creativity, the ability to create anything one can conceive of!

This is why brands should be focusing on this new iteration of the internet! The Metaverse is about experience and connection over empty gratification. The brands who understand this concept and engage in this new economy early enough and are able to deliver these experiences, will be the ones to help shape it, hopefully ushering in a new era in terms of how they interact with their consumers. After all, it is we the consumers who demand something different. We no longer want our time and attention hijacked by meaningless content and empty consumerism. Will the consumer brands of today step up to the challenge?


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