Nina Jane Patel on a safe, responsible Metaverse
The Next Evolution of the Internet
Since the inception of the Internet, the Web has always continued to change. There's been two major phases thus far: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. The first was the concept of desktop computing which exponentially grew at a global scale, becoming ubiquitous around the globe. Following this was the rise of the web browser and the creation of search engines. Then there was the introduction of banner advertising and e-commerce checkout, that truly monetized the internet. Web 2.0 facilitated connection to each other via social platforms, moved from desktop to mobile, and fueled the adoption of the smartphone.
Web 3.0 will continue to provide innovative solutions and a big part of this includes the Metaverse. The Metaverse is comprised of new technologies, like pieces of a puzzle - the smaller pieces include blockchain enabled assets such as cryptocurrencies, (ie. Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) non-fungible tokens (NFTs), decentralised finance (DeFi) and decentralised autonomous organisation (DAOs). All of these assets have the potential to provide solutions to some of the global challenges we face’
says psychotherapist Nina Jane Patel.
The difference between the internet and the Metaverse is that the latter may be fully immersive and embodied. ‘We will engage with each within the Metaverse with a full sense of presence in 360 degree virtual environments. The Metaverse has powerful effects because it can provoke a response to virtual experiences similar to a response to actual experiences. Psychological presence is the sense of “being there,” occurring when users temporarily suspend the sense that an experience is mediated by technology and, instead, feel as if they are having a real experience. While other media technologies can create psychological presence, none is quite on the same scale. The technology is designed and the fidelity is such that the lines between our reality and the virtual are increasingly blurred.’
Dignity and Respect in the Metaverse
Anyone hearing about the Metaverse for the first time might think of Roblox or Fortnite, two wildly popular virtual worlds where users can play games and where concerts and other events take place. Still, one element is missing for Patel to speak of a true Metaverse:
‘The technology will converge our physical and digital worlds. The human body will become the interface of the future. That makes it truly unique and inspiring.'
A reflection of our human environment will be digitised. ‘If we get this right, we have an opportunity to use technology intentionally and intelligently, empowering us to engage as healthy, happy, humans in these virtual environments', says Patel.
It sounds good in theory, but in reality, the dark sides of humanity will also emerge in the metaverse. Patel experienced this herself when she was assaulted in the Metaverse at the end of 2021. When Patel logged into Meta’s Horizon Venues, her avatar was groped aggressively in an attack by three male avatars, Daily Mail reported.
'That experience was a call to action that has inspired me to deepen my understanding of the psychological and physiological impact of what it means to be human in the Metaverse. It has also been a catalyst for a sense of urgency and highlights the need to design a safe and responsible environment prioritising children.’ With Kabuni, Patel brings together educators, parents/caregivers and those aligned in a movement to create a safe metaverse for children to learn, grow and explore.
Patel began to do more research on the ethical aspect of the Metaverse. 'Academic research shows that there have been recommended suggestions for an ethical framework, but the current commercial platforms do not implement those suggestions. This is not surprising: the alarm for women’s safety has been a concern since the dawn of online social platforms. As we transitioned into virtual reality, the alarm bell continued to ring. Many marginalised groups feel unsafe and vulnerable. As a society, we have permitted antisocial behaviour online. This has evolved in the current technology. With the rise of the metaverse, we have the opportunity to evaluate the use of our digital environments.’
Some of the considerations are required as the technological components of the Metaverse unfold, says Patel.
‘Governance is a significant area of concern including; building policy frameworks for XR systems, promoting equity, inclusion and accessibility, ensuring economic opportunity and interoperability while preserving user privacy and safety, reducing potential harms in immersive environments.’
Additionally, generating economic and societal value of Web3.0 technology such as; defining how assets are designed, advertised, marketed, and sold, mapping value chains, IP and investment models and trends influencing the landscape, realising the potential of the creator economy, identifying incentives and risks in developing the Metaverse and analysing the impact on society and culture.
Patel: ‘If we get this right, we may have a beautiful future that enables us to live happy, healthy lives empowered by the intentional use of technology and intelligent integration of the metaverse into our lives.’ She continues to say: ‘Today, right now, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to shape a better future for the next generations, prioritising the health and happiness of our children today as we integrate this technology into our lives in capacities we don’t yet understand.’