In the annals of hype about things that don’t yet exist, the metaverse has enjoyed an impressive rocketlike trajectory. It’s so important to Mark Zuckerberg that he changed the name of his company to Meta. Other tech giants, including Microsoft and Nvidia, are also pivoting to the metaverse. But what is it? And do we even want one?
In the mid-20th century, “metaverse” was an obscure synonym for metapoetry, or poetry about poetry. The modern technological sense of the term was introduced in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science-fiction novel, “Snow Crash.” The people in this 21st-century dystopia would don virtual-reality goggles to access a realm that is part massive multiplayer videogame, part immersive internet: a digital city-planet in which all manner of entertainment and shady business dealings may be pursued. Mr. Stephenson’s readers have wanted to go to the metaverse ever since. John Carmack, the lead developer of the first-person-shooter game “Doom,” once said it was a moral imperative to build the metaverse. Instead we got Facebook.