Are you the cow in the metaverse?

Are you the cow in the metaverse?

The cows in Turkey entered the Metaverse, but they thought they were already in heaven when they were in the bullpen. This is sad for the cows; and if one hears the concept of a Metaverse, one thinks that he has seen a utopia, and he thinks he is in heaven. If the problems that may exist behind them are ignored, then the idea of ​​this person is even more deplorable.

 

A few days ago, a piece of news became a hot topic in the circle of friends: a farm in Turkey put on VR glasses for cows and played pictures of summer grasslands in the glasses. In this way, the cows in the cattle pen thought they were freed from the shackles of the fence, and their mood improved, the forage was more delicious, and the milk production also increased.

Originally, this is an ordinary agricultural science and technology news, and its nature is not fundamentally different from listening to music and massaging cattle reported in previous years. But because it caught up with the Metaverse, this news accidentally hit people’s laughter. As a result, all kinds of interesting comments came one after another. Some people joked, “After so long in the Metaverse, I didn’t expect cows to enter the Metaverse before humans.” There are also “tech nerds” who seriously analyze that if similar technology is used by pigs, it needs to be given to pigs. What does the pig look at? But among the various happy replies, there were also some heart-wrenching words, one of which was: “How do you know that you are not the cow in the Metaverse?”

From a very early age, people have been yearning for a utopian ideal world, and are accustomed to linking its realization with new technologies and discoveries. Whenever there is a new technology or a major discovery, someone comes out and announces that this technology brings new hope and will help us build a utopia. For example, after the “Great Geographical Discovery” appeared, people believed that the newly discovered new continent would provide new geographical conditions for people to create an ideal world. As a result, there were a number of works describing the establishment of a utopia in the new world, such as “New Atlantis Island”. After the industrial revolution was completed, many people believed that steam engines could help people gain the power of gods and build an ideal world. As a result, many literary works that could later be classified as “steampunk” were created… Similar stories happened many times later, after the invention of the Internet, when artificial intelligence technology made breakthroughs, and when blockchain technology was used When it was introduced, utopian ideas had a resurgence in society. This time, it’s the Metaverse’s turn.

The question is, will it really be different this time?

Will anyone in the Metaverse be rich?

In much of the current publicity, the Metaverse has almost become a conceptual collection of various beautiful phenomena. People are told that in this new virtual world, people can be richer, more equal, and more democratic than in reality, where all kinds of hierarchical identities arising from economic relations in real life will disappear. But in fact, these good wishes are almost “impossible to bear” for the Metaverse.

Consider first the issue of abundance. A while ago, a friend complained in the Moments that house prices are too expensive now, and then joked to himself that if he really couldn’t afford a house in reality, he could only go to the Metaverse to buy a set. Who knows, as soon as his message was sent, someone replied, “Do you think house prices in the Metaverse will be cheaper? Check out the news of JJ Lin buying a house in Decentraland!”

Some people may be puzzled. As a virtual world, isn’t the Metaverse just a bunch of code behind it? Since it’s just some code, wouldn’t it be nice to feed everyone through it? But the problem is obviously not that simple. In reality, a kind of scarcity needs to be constructed many times in the Metaverse. For example, in several well-known Metaverse projects, the total amount of land is given, so each time a user buys a piece of land, the remaining land supply is reduced by one piece.

As for why these projects are arranged this way, there are many reasons behind them:

The most intuitive reason is that since the development and operation of the Metaverse requires investment, in order for the project to be sustainable, there must be relevant investment to maintain it. This determines that, as a user of the Metaverse, you must pay for what you get. And for that to happen, scarcity must be constructed. Of course, this only explains a small part of the scarcity in the Metaverse. In fact, the scarcity settings of many Metaverse projects don’t necessarily need to be so strict if they just want to keep the projects going. The most important reason why they do this now is to expect users to spend more money.

In reality, in addition to practical functionality, the main purpose of some commodities is to show off. The consumption of this commodity is what Veblen called “conspicuous consumption”. The function of “conspicuous consumption” mainly reflects a difference in social status, in order to obtain utility from the difference in consumption with others. It is for this reason that those who are affluent and who can afford it will be very happy to see all kinds of high-priced land in the Metaverse, or limited-edition virtual products (such as Gucci’s recently launched virtual clothing, virtual bags). On the other hand, it will be difficult for the average person to afford these products – even if technically, a single line of code can do it for them.

If that’s the case, it’s not too bad. After all, the rich love to spend money, which in itself will not have any substantial impact on others. On the contrary, it may also have some “trickle-down effects” that improve the welfare of all by promoting the development of the project. But the problem is that not all rich people are willing to spend money for “conspicuous consumption”. At this time, the operator of the project may try to force them to spend money.

In the 19th century, European trains had a class of third-class carriages. Compared with the first and second class carriages, the conditions of the third class carriages are very poor, some of them even have no roof, and passengers have to endure the sun and rain constantly. It doesn’t cost much to put a roof on a carriage, so why aren’t train operators willing to spend such a small amount of money to improve passenger welfare? In fact, the reason why operators do this is to scare off passengers with high incomes who can afford first- and second-class carriages. The conditions in the third-class carriages were extremely unbearable, and they were willing to go to better carriages.

Similarly, in the Metaverse, operators may artificially create scarcity for the same logic to achieve huge quality differences between different levels of consumption. For example, there is an American drama called “Upload,” in which a dying person can upload his consciousness into a Metaverse in order to achieve immortality. However, in this Metaverse, there are huge differences in the services enjoyed by different users: users who pay high fees can stay in luxury lake-view hotels, while users who are unwilling to pay more will be placed in the 2G area. In the 2G area, not only the user’s response is slow, but the facilities are extremely simple, and even in order to save traffic, many items are simply displayed with pixel maps. Once the traffic is exhausted, the user’s consciousness will be frozen immediately and will not be restarted until someone tops up. In essence, the story of “Uploading the New Life” is a digital version of the story of a third-class carriage. From a purely cost perspective, it may not be so difficult to improve the lives of users in the 2G area, but in order to scare those living in The people in the lake view hotel, let them recharge quickly, then this difference is necessary. In this sense, even in the digital world, even in the Metaverse, prosperity for everyone is only a wish, beautiful, but difficult to achieve.

Will there be an equal distribution of wealth in the Metaverse?

Next, let’s examine another people’s imagination of the Metaverse, that is, in the Metaverse, people will achieve equality in the distribution of wealth.

Calvin Blackwell, an economics professor at the University of Charleston, has done a study on the distribution of wealth. At the time, Blackwell was concerned with what the evolution of wealth distribution would look like in a “purely capitalist” society without redistributive policies. Since all countries have redistributive policies in the real world, Blackwell and his collaborators could only look to the virtual world, with Minecraft as their research target.

If you pay attention to the Metaverse, you must know that the “sandbox game” “Minecraft” born in 2009 is a very famous Metaverse project. The gameplay of “Minecraft” is simple but rich. Players can freely collect and trade items, build according to their own creativity, and even fight monsters… This highly free and creative environment setting won the favor of many people.

“Minecraft” allows different servers to define their own gameplay and rules through “plugins”. In this way, under the same game “Empire”, different “territories” are divided. Blackwell and his collaborators were primarily concerned with servers that emphasized economic gameplay. On these servers, the main task of players is to accumulate capital. They can obtain resources by mining. After collecting the resources, they can choose to turn the resources into commodities and exchange them in the “market” inside to obtain the tokens in the game; Violently rob other players of resources. That is to say, this type of server simulates two aspects of capitalist society – fair exchange and strength-based struggle (the violent snatch here can actually be abstracted as a real business battle). More importantly, on such servers, players start from scratch, and there is no government in the game to redistribute, so a pure capitalist economic environment can be well simulated.

So what would wealth distribution look like in such a “purely capitalist” society? Blackwell and his collaborators calculated its wealth Gini coefficient and found it to be as high as 0.96. It should be noted here that because wealth is cumulative, the Gini coefficient of wealth is usually higher than the Gini coefficient of income we are familiar with. In 2016, when the study was conducted, Japan’s wealth Gini coefficient was 0.54 and the US was 0.8.

Some people may say that it is not appropriate to use “Minecraft” as the research object of wealth distribution, it is essentially just a game. Moreover, as an early Metaverse product, it does not have the support of technologies such as blockchain, and does not do well in distribution. This doubt seems justified. However, with the blessing of blockchain, will the situation be better? On this issue, we may have to look at it from a more fundamental point of view.

In blockchain-based Metaverse projects, the representative of wealth is mainly tokens. In terms of types, tokens can be divided into homogeneous tokens (Fungible Token, FT) and non-fungible tokens (Non-Fungible Token, NFT). Among them, FT is homogeneous and divisible, and we can roughly imagine it as money in the real world; while NFT is not homogeneous and indivisible. For example, real estate and land in the Metaverse are represented by NFT. of. Of course, from the perspective of value, there is no essential difference between the two tokens, because in most projects, NFT can be priced with the FT of this project, so the two can be converted to each other. In other words, as long as there is FT, there can be NFT.

So, in the Metaverse, how does FT come about? There are no more than a few ways: one is to exchange computing power, similar to the Bitcoin system, that is, whoever contributes more computing power, whoever gets more FT; the other is to exchange with real money, who invests more money , whoever gets more FT. However, no matter which way it is, its essence is to convert the wealth in reality into the wealth in the virtual world. In this situation, the distribution of wealth within the Metaverse is unequal from the start.

Of course, inequality of starting points doesn’t mean anything. The key point is that under the unequal starting point, a whole set of unequal reproduction mechanisms in the real world will be reproduced into the Metaverse.

Take the now hot Axie Infinity as an example. This project, which focuses on the concept of “play to earn”, is very popular now, and it is one of the most “land-price” projects in all Metaverses. Especially in Southeast Asia, it is very popular because many people cannot work due to the epidemic, and Axie Infinity has become their main source of income. If you think of Axie Infinity as a game, its gameplay is really simple, even for players who are used to playing all kinds of beautiful games, it is even a bit rudimentary. In the game, players can cultivate a kind of elves called Axie, and then use elves to fight against other players – as the founder of the project introduced, all the ideas come from the game “Pokémon” in previous years. Dreams, nothing new.

Unlike “Pokémon”, Axie Infinity has worked hard to make money. On the one hand, all Axie elves themselves have been made into NFTs and can be directly used for trading. On the other hand, players fight through their own Axie sprites and other users’ sprites, and they can earn money if they win. Everything is automatically carried out through the blockchain, and the old man is not deceived.

On the surface, if your level of cultivating elves is high enough, or your fighting skills are good enough, then it is entirely possible to start from scratch, cultivate magical beasts in the Metaverse, and reach the pinnacle of life. However, buying sprites costs money, feeding them costs money, and upgrading them costs money (two in-game tokens, to be exact). If you want to cultivate an excellent wizard, the investment is very huge. How can an average player bear it? And if you don’t have a high-quality elf, how can you talk about reaching the peak of life in the Metaverse?

Some people saw an opportunity. Since someone has the time and ability to cultivate elves, but has no money to buy and cultivate elves, wouldn’t it be a good idea to buy some elves and recruit these people to cultivate them? In the world of Axie Infinity, this idea is called “scholarship”. If we do a little bit of association, isn’t this the “machine owner pays, and the machine worker contributes” in the history textbook? The scholarship system in Axie Infinity quickly evolved into a standard form of capitalist enterprise. Many of the teams in it now are nominally a combination of players. In fact, there are companies behind them. Players play games not for entertainment purposes, but simply because it is a job.

It should be noted that this example is not to say that the form similar to Axie Infinity is not good. In fact, it provides people with employment opportunities and creates avenues to earn income during the pandemic. What I want to say is that behind all of this, all the economic relationships in the real world are actually replicated in the Metaverse. In other words, the Metaverse does not create a paradise of equality in economic relations, it is just another reality.

Will there be decision-making democracy in the Metaverse?

Another vision of the Metaverse now is that people will democratize decision-making in the Metaverse. And the reason for this is because in the Metaverse, a form of organization called the DAO can help people achieve all this.

The so-called DAO is a “Decentralized Autonomous Organization”. As a form of organization, the concept of DAO originated from self-organizing systems. In the early 1990s, sociologist Walter Powell pointed out that self-organization is a third governance mechanism independent of hierarchy and market. In theory, DAO has many advantages that the other two governance mechanisms do not have. For example, it can eliminate the inequality between people in the organization, allow everyone in the organization to communicate and coordinate fully, and let everyone’s Opinions are fully expressed, etc. However, for a long time, the concept of DAO did not catch on. The reason is simple – technically, this kind of organization is simply not feasible. In other words, the cost of execution is very high.

Until the emergence of blockchain technology, people found that the organizational form of DAO can be realized by blockchain: smart contracts on the blockchain allow the technical realization of DAO’s rules; the token allows the distribution of DAO’s benefits to be It is a realistic incentive basis; and the blockchain itself is to connect individuals or organizations around the world, which makes the expansion of DAO break through geographical restrictions. It is for this reason that many blockchain-based Metaverses have introduced DAOs as their primary governance model.

So, can the governance of DAO really achieve the desired effect? All I can say is that the ideal is plump, but the reality may be skinny. Although in theory, blockchain does work well to support democratic expression and democratic voting. But DAO’s democracy is based on the so-called governance token. In the Metaverse, the acquisition of tokens depends on either money or computing power, and the acquisition of computing power still depends on money, so in the final analysis, it still depends on money. That is, only those with sufficient wealth can have their opinions fully expressed. In addition, the cost of voting on the blockchain is very huge, so in general DAOs, a double voting mechanism of off-chain and on-chain will be established. First, vote in the off-chain forum to decide the content of the on-chain vote, and then vote on the chain. Those without power, power or prestige, their opinions may not even pass the off-chain voting, let alone on-chain voting.

Take Decentraland for example. Founded in 2015, this project is a pioneer with a relatively long history in the blockchain-based Metaverse. For a long time, it was relatively unknown, and it was not until the concept of the Metaverse became popular last year that it suddenly became popular. For better governance of the project, Decentraland established the Decentraland DAO. Through Decentraland DAO, users of the community can participate in the designation of the platform’s rules and development strategies to determine various aspects including item sales, content review, land policies, and auction mechanisms.

The total number of users in Decentraland is now around 800,000. In theory, its blockchain infrastructure fully allows all users to participate in the governance of the DAO. But in fact, Decentraland DAO has set a relatively high participation threshold for governance qualifications, and only “owners” are allowed to participate in governance. In the governance process, everyone’s voting rights depend on how much virtual property they own (including the project token MANA and the land they hold), and the DAO will allocate the voting rights (WMANA) according to how much virtual property users invest.

Obviously, under such voting rights design, only those who own a lot of real estate, or are willing to invest a lot of MANA tokens in exchange for voting rights, will have a de facto voice. In a voting not long ago, only more than 40 users actually participated in the voting on the chain. Obviously, this is not very democratic from any point of view.

Will there be lawlessness in the Metaverse?

Regarding the Metaverse, people also have an important imagination, that is, in this virtual world, “Order without Law” can be realized. That is, all kinds of crimes or misconduct can be solved by the governance of the Metaverse alone without the intervention of real-world law.

However, it seems that this kind of good hope can hardly be supported by reality. As a mirror image of the real world, the Metaverse reproduces both the beauty and the ugliness of the real world. Like the real world, none of these ugliness will go away on their own without regulation.

In 2016, a hotly debated article appeared on Reddit. In the article, a netizen broke the news in detail the various behaviors and verbal harassment she suffered in the process of using the Metaverse product AltspaceVR. So, after so many years, the technology of the Metaverse has been greatly developed. Has the similar situation disappeared? the answer is negative.Not long ago, a Horizon Worlds user reported to Facebook that she had been sexually harassed in the Metaverse. She claimed that a stranger tried to “touch” her avatar in the square and believed that “this (uncomfortable) feeling is stronger than being harassed on the Internet”. It should be pointed out that similar phenomena are not only seen in the centrally operated Metaverse projects, such as Decentraland and other Metaverse projects based on blockchain governance, this phenomenon is also heard from time to time. This means that issues like sexual harassment are very difficult to solve, whether it is simply relying on the platform or relying on community governance.

In fact, phenomena including pornography, gambling, drugs, and gang fights have all been reproduced to a greater or lesser extent in the Metaverse. And because of the nature of the Metaverse, some problems are even more rampant in the Metaverse than in reality. For example, in the early “Second Life”, gambling was once flooded. Although the official announcement of banning gambling projects, many private gambling has been quietly carried out. In this sense, how the order of the Metaverse should be governed, whether it is enough to rely on platforms or communities, or whether to introduce real-world laws, seems to be a question worth thinking about.

Epilogue

Having said so much, some people may think that the purpose of writing this article is to express opposition to the Metaverse, so they obviously do not understand my intentions. In fact, as a researcher of the digital economy, I have a natural affinity for all new technological concepts. Not long after the concept of the Metaverse emerged, I began to read a lot of literature on the Metaverse, and also experienced some of the more famous Metaverse products myself. But the more I study, the more I feel that many of the current reports seem to be overzealous about the Metaverse.

There is no denying that the Metaverse holds great promise for us. In the future, it may change every aspect of our lives, just as the Internet does today. However, just like the Internet, the Metaverse cannot eliminate all contradictions in the world. At least from the perspective of some of the current Metaverses, this should not be the case, and even some phenomena that we don’t like to see in reality may be more polarized in it.

Given this status quo, what attitude we will choose next becomes very important. If we can face up to the status quo, see the various problems in it, and actively use various public policies to deal with them, then the development of the Metaverse will be healthier, and it will be closer to the ideal world we imagine; If you believe in the myths woven by some advocates, and ignore the various problems in the Metaverse, then in the end, the concept of the Metaverse will eventually be “killed”.

The cows in Turkey entered the Metaverse, but they thought they were already in heaven when they were in the bullpen. This is sad for the cows; and if one hears the concept of a Metaverse, one thinks that he has seen a utopia, and he thinks he is in heaven. If the problems that may exist behind them are ignored, then the idea of ​​this person is even more deplorable.

I hope everyone will not become the cow in the Metaverse.

Posted by:CoinYuppie,Reprinted with attribution to:https://coinyuppie.com/are-you-the-cow-in-the-metaverse/
Coinyuppie is an open information publishing platform, all information provided is not related to the views and positions of coinyuppie, and does not constitute any investment and financial advice. Users are expected to carefully screen and prevent risks.

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