Spring 2022, CMAC/ISS/VMS 290-S

The Metaverse as Critical Commentary on Real Life

Critical making can perhaps be thought of as a physically interactive bridge between people and digital technologies for the purpose of critique. Challenges to the tangible components of technological interactions are commonplace and expected in many digital developments. Chip’s get smaller and functionality comes in ever more compact packages. The trick is to be powerful but unseen. This invisibility is a feature for enhancing interaction with the physical world. It tries to emulate a sixth sense–pulling from massive databases of information instantly, embodying a friend’s face and voice, taking instant snapshots in time to keep forever. Tech’s social identity is that of a companion. Artist’s critical making practices can easily use tangible components to provide constructive feedback on this identity and it’s transactions between reality and tech.

The concept of virtual realities, and more specifically speculation and romanticization of the metaverse, is a subversion of the typical philosophy around tech. In this case, the tech is supercharged but also extremely visible. Rather than trying to be a subtle enhancement tool of physical experience, it requires agreement to suspend disbelief and be transported. It completely cloaks the senses in a virtual space. This Meta *cough* Facebook *cough* ad showcasing a social event between different human and non-human avatars in outer space is a good example because the virtual aspects greatly outnumber the visual aspects tied to physical location and experience. The physical aspects were almost there as a grounding point since it’s easy to get lost in the fantastical nature of the generated space. 

If critical making is commentary then the metaverse and it’s message of being “bigger, better, more” does represent a marketable critique of the life of the average consumer. While there is a lack of physical and tangible aspects of “making” in its production, the concept of making should evolve with the tools available. It is critical making. The basic statement is that it will connect across wider barriers in a more immersive and creative way. It is about potential. If this type of interactivity can be both a poison and an antidote, designers of the metaverse do not acknowledge the poison aspects. Their critique is one that life can only be made better when it is covered up and overlaid by interactivities and functionalities. In terms of the individual user’s relationship to the metaverse, the social aspects and personalization presented in the ad contribute to a false sense of technological neutrality. It is marketed as a reflection of the users and therefore no more moral than their own impulses and desires. It represents freedom and choice while trying to absolve itself of responsibility similar to the physical world. 

As of now, it is presented as simply speculative design. It gets viewers to think about their current realities and how those could change through creative and embodied solutions. However, if there is such a thing as “good and bad” critical making then it definitely is worth bringing up in this case. There is a lack of awareness of the values of tangibility and physical experience in the current romanticization of the metaverse. It is empowering to individuals in terms of their connection to others and to vast sources of information, but it can only teach through external means and arguably stunts self reflection. There are already numerous incidents of people exploiting others in test demos of multiplayer online virtual spaces. When something is enveloping an experience like this, it’s important that it be responsible. In this way, while the metaverse is a critically made digital statement of our current world and methods of interaction, it is a chaotic and imbalanced one. This should be seen as an invitation to appreciate the more sensitive and deliberate side of critical making.


Midterm Assignment


Artificial Dreaming


  1. Molly Honecker

    I really enjoyed your synopsis of the current goal of a lot of digital technologies to be “powerful but unseen.” I completely agree. I think the metaverse breaks with this convention but, as you said, does so in a way that “stunts self-reflection” or severs a person’s connection with the physical world around them. How, then, can people engage with tech in a way that makes it visible but also doesn’t completely remove the user from their reality? I think one way is to relearn (or learn for the first time) computer literacy down to the base of computer technologies. I would say most people, including myself, have no real understanding of how computers function, and as technologies like the metaverse have become more and more advanced and immersive, the divide between the tech and the average person grows wider. If people can have more understanding of the physical parts that make these things happen, maybe they will better have the tools to interrogate the technological infrastructures around them.

  2. Quran Karriem

    I like the way you’re considering whether there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ forms of critical making, which I think forces us all to engage again with what we mean by ‘criticality’ to begin with. What do you read as the goals/ends of Facebook changing its corporate identity and putting its resources into this more immersive expression of its original product, and how much does that matter with regard to criticality? Or, to ask the question differently, if the metaverse were ‘perfect’ in terms of ease-of-use, immersion and accessibility, and they eliminated the incidents of exploitation and assault you referenced, would that make it a critical work?

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