Ethan Lou: Big Tech’s reactions to the war in Ukraine show that we are already living in a metaverse

The digital and intangible have real value and meaning, the implications of which we are only just beginning to see

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After Russia invaded Ukraine, Western sanctions isolated the aggressor in a startling and unprecedented manner. Russia was quickly disconnected from all sorts of long-ignored networks, infrastructure, and tools, sometimes literally overnight. In all of this, there is one important idea that isn’t often talked about in the context of war: the metaverse.

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No, it’s not virtual reality. But companies that are pursuing this, like Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms Inc., are part of the conversation. It is about how the war is affecting finance, technology and cryptocurrency. The ramifications of this are a shocking reminder that we are increasingly living not in our physical world, but in an entirely different plane of existence where the digital and the intangible have real value and meaning, and the impact of which we are only just beginning to see.

To wrap all of this up, think of the Russians who haven’t seen the war firsthand and are convinced it’s not really happening because of the media they consume, which is likely sourced online and organized by the Kremlin. Compare that to you and me. You probably didn’t see the war directly either. But you’re sure it is In force happens through online media she use. This, too, represents a subjective reality shaped not by governments but by technology platforms and algorithms.

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This is the actual metaverse. He doesn’t need fancy glasses. If your online world dictates your perception of reality, it has already supplanted real life. This is particularly the case in this war. Perception influences both Western aid and opposition within Russia. This is crucial because, despite Ukraine’s admirable resistance, the country is so inferior that on its own it is almost not a decisive factor in the outcome of the war. So when platforms like Facebook downgrade Russian propaganda and make other changes, they are in some ways similar to active combatants. Because of this, Russia blocked Facebook and restricted Twitter, and experts dubbed it the “online war” and even the “TikTok war.”

The war underscores that the Metaverse wormed its way into our lives long before Facebook Inc. rebranded itself as Meta Platforms — but not only that. The way Big Tech has responded to the war while the world fast-tracked Russia isolated, has also shown how much power they have and hold over us in this metaverse.

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Take Electronic Arts Inc.’s announcement, for example, of removing Russian teams from its football game FIFA 22. It may seem trivial, but FIFA 22 is not an upcoming game. He’s been out for six months. It’s also not subscription-based. People bought the game for $79.99 each. And arguably the biggest draw of FIFA 22 is how eerily real the characters look. With the release of an update to remove Russian teams, EA is retroactively removing an important feature that 325 million customers have already paid for.

This reflects how software has evolved over the years from being largely a proprietary product to a service to be leased. This happened parallel to the rise of the web giants. Both brought utility and convenience, but the war reminded us that these developments also fostered dependency.

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One day, commuters at a Moscow subway station couldn’t push to enter when payment apps like Apple Inc.’s stopped working. An image of chaos has gone viral. While the cause of this was the economic sanctions, the ease with which these apps stopped working reflects the same ease with which EA decided to remove the Russian teams: it’s also the ease with which any company restricts your use of Email, Spotify, any platform you care about. and more.

People on Twitter have urged Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk to remotely shut down the company’s cars in Russia. This Tesla power is not new or even unique among automakers, and there are rules against arbitrary use. But look how quickly the rules were rewritten during the war. Even this shutdown requirement is a sign that the Metaverse is not only already here, but is expanding. And in this brave new world, even when we think we’ve bought something, we really don’t own anything and remain tenants forever.

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Ironically, the war also offered a glimpse of resolution. While the flow of money was struggling for Russia and Ukraine for various reasons, the cryptocurrency, whose transactions cannot be blocked in conventional ways, became a shining star. What is not often talked about is that crypto is much more than just a currency.

The goal of the Ethereum network and its ilk is to shape the internet in the decentralized way of Bitcoin. It’s a key pillar of Web 3.0, a new, still defining movement that’s largely aiming for an online world where users have power, not Big Tech. While many basic details are still missing from this conversation, the war could give everything a boost.

Though Musk didn’t respond to the request to stop Tesla cars, he did something else that was just as effective. As internet infrastructure collapsed during the invasion, Musk took to Twitter to accept a Ukrainian request for help via his Starlink satellite service. It’s compassionate and generous, but its implications are a little concerning.

Over the years we’ve shifted our lives to a new online world, and now not only do we realize that we are thralls to that world, but it’s clear that people like Musk control access to it via a simple tweet.

ethane Lou is a journalist and author of Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Unrest in the Cryptocurrency Wild West.


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