Senior Mythbust The Metaverse And Its Promise Of A New Reality | College of Arts and Sciences

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May 5, 2023

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Grace Buono (C’23) just finished her thesis on the false frontier of the metaverse and is excited for people to discuss it.

“I contend that big tech uses promotional discourse to convince the public that the metaverse is the next, ultimate, perfected American frontier,” Buono explained. “I think it’s an illusion to sell us freedom. American consumers want to think we’re pushing the next frontier, but that’s a facade.”

The Metaverse is a collective term for a variety of programs and platforms that envision a digital world where users are more integrated with virtual reality. Through the use of headsets and other physical hardware, users can connect to the metaverse and be fully immersed in the digital world. However, when Buono first heard some of the promises made by Metaverse proponents, she recognized a language she had previously learned.

Once upon a time in the west

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During my work as an editorial trainee at Fast company, Buono was hired to research Yuga Labs, the company behind some of the most well-known and expensive non-fungible token (NFT) projects, such as the Bored Ape Yacht Club. While delving into the series of her projects, she came across Otherside, an online gaming platform tied to NFTs that the company had recently launched.

“I was on the Otherside website and I saw words like ‘traveller’, ‘settler’ and ‘New World’ – my mind immediately went to my sophomore American Studies course and our study of the western frontier,” Buono recalls. “I realized that this is my thesis: How is the metaverse the next frontier?”

To examine the subject, Buono undertook an extensive study of the language used to promote three different iterations of the frontiers: the 19th-century American West, the 1960s space race, and the development of the metaverse.

“I’ve studied congressional speeches from the 1850s, Kennedy’s speeches on the space race, and literally everything Mark Zuckerberg ever said,” Buono said. “I realized the rhetoric has stayed the same, but we’ve moved from a physical to an immaterial boundary.”

To emulate the settlers pushing West, Buono argues, tech companies have presented the metaverse as an opportunity for unlimited freedom and individualism, where early adopters have a chance to shape the new digital world. That’s a false promise, she says, because Big Tech’s control of the metaverse inherently limits individuals’ freedom of action. When a website closes or a project is abandoned, consumers are left with only the physical products, like headsets, that they bought to interact with the virtual world.

“In promotional materials for the Metaverse, particularly Meta’s commercials, we see a focus on individual experience and the opportunity to build,” says Buono. “Anyone who logs in is promised the opportunity to shape the metaverse, but joining does not equate to shaping the metaverse.”

For Buono, the opportunity to explore an emerging academic field was a unique and exciting opportunity not only to study a discourse, but to shape it.

“While much has been written about the metaverse in the media and business circles, there is essentially no academic, peer-reviewed literature on the subject,” Buono explained. “I am happy that I was able to open up this space and I hope that people will discuss and question my thesis.”

After donning her cap and gown in just a few weeks, Buono plans a career in journalism, building on her years of experience the hoya and her internship Fast company. your experience in the American Studies program is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

“American Studies is such a special intellectual community on campus,” Buono said. “I have never met such an enthusiastic group of students. As it is cohort based, we have been studying together for three years and American Studies has absolutely shaped my experience in Georgetown.”

by Hayden Frye (C’17)

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