I get up every morning at 4:25 AM Pacific Time and lay in bed for those five fleeting minutes between sleeping and waking, waiting for my second alarm to roost me out of bed. This is not a Joe Rogan ad for taking life by the horns or whatever, so relax. That feeling, though, that experience of returning from my dreams and absolute non-existence, is a strange one that cannot - as far as I’m aware - be replicated. I am reminded of my body, my aches, pains, and faults: my tweaked shoulder from years of baseball as a kid, my tennis elbow lifting weights and golf (again, I’m getting old), and various other sectors of my body that surely should not be as damaged as they are. Then my mind is activated, fixed more in a state of routine solely to get myself to my computer and perform the necessary tasks of the job to get the product out in time. My brain knows what it’s doing because I’ve trained it to do so over the last two-plus years. I am, like most, a simple result of my actions, shaping me, for better or worse, into the semi-capable person I am today for the tasks I have to complete to ensure I get paid to survive another day.
Stating that in that bare-bones way is depressing. Yes and no, but that’s life. At least, that’s life as it is now.
The reason behind detailing my little routine is tied to a bigger concept and the core idea I want to unpack: the effects of transitioning from a physical experience to a digital one. Everyone in the world, in some way or another, is engaged, reliant, or tapped into something electronic or digital. From group chats for work or pleasure on your iPhone, Telegram, Discord, or Slack to Facetime with relatives who could be living across the world, to social media, dating apps, video games, and stock market trading, we as a society have plugged in an ethernet cord into our body and minds for the sake of everything the technology pitched years ago. It won’t stop either. You know that it won’t because human progress is inevitable and unstoppable. If you don’t believe me, look up when Apple was invented (1984) and try not to see the irony as you read this on your iPhone 15.
Aldous Huxley famously said, Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backward. What did he mean by that? Isn’t the future going forward linearly in the context of time? Herbert Marcuse said, The more technological the environment, the more totalitarian, which is eerily accurate considering the recent news of Europe pushing their digital euro and the controversial Digital Services Act, which promotes “safer online environments” but could end up being the death of free, decentralized internet. If the digital Euro didn’t scare you, don’t forget about the Federal Reserve’s FedNOW or a Chinese surveillance firm selling cameras with skin color analytics. Last, I should mention AI, which will likely run many of these digital spaces behind the scenes and is an ongoing discussion in the public and government spheres. Whether one believes a technological revolution means the end of days and is here or is on the way is beside the point because the transition has already started. One player in particular that has been pushing it more so than others is none other than an ongoing villain in my life, META’s Mark Zuckerberg.
The recent podcast episode featuring Mark Zuckerberg and Lex Fridman examines the Metaverse, a virtual reality space where people can interact with each other as photorealistic avatars. They discuss the technology behind the avatars, the potential applications of the Metaverse, and the challenges that need to be overcome to make it more accessible to people. They also discuss the upcoming release of Quest Three, a mixed-reality device allowing users to overlay digital expressions on the physical world. This aligns with what NFTs were trying to market themselves as until they all went to zero (mine included).
I could make this entire essay about my issues with Zuckerberg leading the Metaverse into existence, so I prefer to focus on three things Lex and Mark said during this interview that brought me pause.
Almost poetic, Lex is astonished and euphoric when he sees Mark's face alongside his. His mind appears unable to comprehend what’s going on, whereas instead of his brain going through all of the emotions of joy, gratitude, etc. if Lex saw Mark in person, there would be the excitement of something new sprinkled on top. “It’s you, it’s really you, but you’re not here with me” was such a simple but profound statement that I still don’t know how it makes me feel.
Mark discusses the potential of holographic technology to bring together the physical and digital worlds into a coherent experience. He predicts that by the decade's end, we will live in a world with as many holograms as physical objects. This raises questions about what constitutes the "real world," how we define it, and most importantly, how these experiences in the digital space translate to the physical world where, one could argue, matters most. Mark seems to believe that the real world is the combination of the physical and digital worlds coming together and that this technology will allow for a more immersive and dynamic communication experience, supporting his product (I use product here because, in the end, Mark is selling these VR glasses, programmable metaverses, games, etc. to the public) of photorealistic avatars which are, in his mind, becoming more popular in virtual and augmented reality, increasing body ownership, presence, and trust-building. Sure, maybe, but I hesitate to believe Mark has dug deep and thought about the ramifications of integrating holographic technology into our daily lives, potentially transforming how we interact with the world.
The largest takeaway is “whatever we seek in friendship, it seems to be present there in the same kind of realism I’m seeing right now.” I remember stopping whatever I was doing and thinking, this is how it starts. Just as we saw in our culture the death of letters for email, ridding our house of stationary phones and even wristwatches for cell phones, so may we see the eventual swap for a physically real “high-quality experience of friendship” for one in these metaverse realities. I don’t need to bombard you with data and metrics showing how the Zoomers and younger are already fully integrated with social media and technology from the likes of smartphones, iPads, Twitch, etc., so upon hearing the line, “I can see myself sticking with this for a long time” is not necessarily a question of if, or even when.
Most in tune with the anxiety of technological advancements threatening not only our way of life but our “essence” is the great philosopher Martin Heidegger, who said, The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has afflicted man in his essence. In so many ways, we have been here before.
What will be lost if/when this new world comes to pass regarding a person’s definition of a physically “lived” experience and one “lived” in the metaverse? How will society value or judge them based on the experiences they act upon in the metaverse versus those in the real world? What does love look like? What does hate? The most ironic aspect of these questions, similar to Elon Musk and his obsession with trekking a voyage to Mars, is that we haven’t been able to answer or solve these questions as a country or as a unified global people. Yet, we are already building another world to venture into.
Is this because we are running away from the problem, or is this, similar to when Facebook was first pitched to the world, a way to connect us further to discover that we, sorry for the cliché, are more alike than not?
Socrates believed in the significance of embodied experiences. He was known for his method of questioning, a deeply interactive and physical endeavor often conducted in public places, implying a preference for face-to-face interaction over abstract or detached learning modes. The Socratic method, which emphasizes dialogue and questioning, also underscores the importance of real-world interpersonal interactions. Socrates often implied that knowledge is rooted in experience, traditionally gathered through our senses interacting with the physical world. The transition to digital spaces can alter this fundamental way of learning and knowing by shifting the source of experiences from the tangible to the virtual, which are being constructed, line by line, with likely patented code by present-day tech Gods like META, GOOGLE, and others to keep you on their product through all the ways they do now.
Their platforms were about something other than connection. It was always about creating a perfectly curated public square to gate control, monitor, and, yes, eventually sell that data to third parties to sell you things, only those “things” will be digital this time. As Cohle said in True Detective, Time is a flat circle. Everything we have done or will do, we will do over and over and over again—forever. This is Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal recurrence, as depicted in The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but reverberates strikingly for me in the above concepts.
Finally, I want to bring up a recent health trend - Ozembic. If you haven’t heard of it, Ozempic works by mimicking a naturally occurring hormone that tells the brain when the body is full, and it also slows digestion by increasing the time it takes for food to leave the body. In short, people take it to trick the mind to keep from eating, basically putting the body into a calorie deficit to shed some pounds. Some long-term side effects of Ozempic include thyroid cancer, pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, hypoglycemia risks, acute kidney injury, gallbladder events, gastrointestinal disturbances, and cardiovascular effects. Funnily enough, Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken out against using Ozembic and encourages people to work hard instead.
Schwarzenegger said, To me, it’s all about hard work, and that’s why I say in my book, you know, work your ass off and because there’s no shortcut. He further explained that this country was made up of hard-working people. And so we need to step out of our comfort zones as well. He added, These were ballsy women and men that went out there at five in the morning and got up, and they struggled, fought, and worked their butts off. That’s what made this country great. I only bring up Mr. Schwarzenegger here because, as a country, are we ready or able to step into the metaverse in a few years and start having irreversible experiences that could shape our lives and our children's lives forever? We are still considering what social media is doing to children and adolescents. Yet, we’re ready to strap on a headset to be teleported into an entirely new world with avatars, holographic items, and whatever else Zuckerberg can dream up (and sell) to whoever can buy a headset. Remember, The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has afflicted man in his essence. Heidegger warned us, and for someone who lived through a period of significant social and political upheaval, spanning from 1889 to 1976, seeing World War I (1914-1918), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Rise of Nazi Germany (1933-1945), and World War II (1939-1945), I side with listening to him about matters of surviving with essence intact.
My father, a huge Trekkie, tries to quell my anxiety and rants whenever I slip into this topic with him by quoting, Resistance is futile. I laugh to keep from crying, but when tears have subsided, I have to remember that I am a writer, an artist. According to Marshall McLuhan, we are supposed to recognize patterns and someone who smashes open the doors of perception. If you have read my other work, you will see that I am passionate about this subject not only because of the exciting technological advances (I can’t deny that they’re not) but also because of the effects, I truly think for the first time, they will have on the perceptions of generations to come, blurring the line between reality and digital reality, lived experience and generated ones; life and whatever we are living when we inevitably slip on the headset and see what everyone is talking about.