It’s all too easy to dismiss the metaverse as a greed-driven attempt by tech giants to pull us ever deeper into their web; or perhaps as a techno-utopian vision of a life lived in 3D headsets. And for many people, the reaction is to simply ignore it. However, there is another way to look at this. I firmly believe public service media (PSM) should offer our own vision of a metaverse that is oriented towards collective social value.
Let’s first look back in time. Historically, PSM have delivered content with shared experiences in mind. These experiences could be shared in the first degree, sitting together in the living room; or at a secondary level, providing common subjects to discuss at work or social gatherings with friends and family. It is in our DNA.
This is the direct opposite of what the online tech giants are doing today. Their aim is to isolate each user, making it easier to extract valuable data and to target advertising. Essentially, they work to control the ‘loyalty’ of each individual citizen to their own personal content or information offer. “It’s mine. It’s not yours.”
While personalization does have a role to play for PSM, the fundamental goal must be to develop and distribute content so that people can benefit from it collectively, whether at home or wherever people may gather. This is an area where PSM have a structural social advantage that must be defended and renewed.
A natural extension of this is that PSM should partner with entities that produce live events, integrating such events into the PSM content offer and jointly promoting them. Furthermore, involving citizens directly in content creation, again with a focus on the collective, will empower them as shareholders in PSM.
Some industry voices predict or even call for the death of broadcasting. This is about more than a shift to ‘better’ technologies. Dismantling broadcast infrastructure in fact represents an attempt to attack the foundations of collective media content in favour of individual media content. The result is a de facto segmentation of society that distorts the social bases that have underpinned the accelerated evolution of our societies.
A world where broadcasting is entirely replaced by individual unicast pipes to each user is a world where individualism has conquered the collective.
We must think about the future media landscape in a more holistic manner. The digital education of large swathes of the population is allowing the development of new content and experiences that combine individual interactions with collective experiences.
It is not the Oculus-based individual isolation of the Facebook metaverse that PSM should pursue. Rather, it is the augmented reality of an outdoor experience where I combine my physical experience – from a simple stroll to attending a live concert or sporting event – with a common, location-dependent experience that I can share with other people enjoying the same emotions.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently sounded the alarm on the direction being taken by the social media giants:
Social media platforms based on a business model that monetizes anger & negativity are causing untold damage to societies.
Hate speech & misinformation are proliferating.
Our data is being bought & sold to influence behaviour.
While Guterres pointed to the need for stronger regulation, I believe PSM can play a role as a powerful counterweight to trends he highlighted. Our metaverse should be one that brings people together, outside of their bubble. The role of PSM, in the metaverse or any other universe, is that of increasing social interaction and creating an environment in which informed citizens can share their experiences and find better ways of living together.
This article was first published in issue 53 of tech-i magazine.