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Making sense of the metaverse...The good and bad of emerging technologies


Roughly translated from Sanskrit, the word avatāra means “descent”, and in Hindu, it most commonly refers to the earthly form a deity takes on earth. Vishnu had ten avatāra, or avatars, ranging from Buddha Gautama to the mysterious Kalkin (an incarnation yet to come). So, according to the culture that coined the term more than 5,000 years ago, that’s what an Avatar is, but these days, it’s better known as a blue, fishlike creature in James Cameron’s blockbuster, or, and I’m quoting the “two-dimensional graphical representation of a user in an online community”...and no, before you ask, I don’t have one, because I’m not in one. 

So what, you say?... Why’s he banging on about blue fish?

Well, here’s the point: in a breathtakingly short period of timeduring which we’ve seen computers small enough to put in our pockets, discovered Elon Musk, and sent an Indian spacecraft to the that short timethis simple, ancient word has evolved beyond all recognition. And, of course, in terms of our Earth story, thirty years is no more than the blink of an eye.

Thirty years ago home computers were as rare as Conservative by-election wins: there weren’t any laptops or smart phones, so hosting the dubious goings on of online community wasn’t on the cards...and without online communities, we didn’t need any “two dimensional graphical representations”. It’s as simpleand as complicatedas that. Do you see where I’m going with this? Extraordinary things happen when compelling cultural trends and technology come together.


The Birth of the Metaverse

Among serious computer nerds (and that includes most of the Palo Alto Billionaires (Mark Zuckerberg among them)), Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, is virtually a religious tract: it’s read over and whispered about with the same sort of awe associated with the Gilgamesh, the Bible, and Principia Mathematica put together. And you can forget the novel’s risible, incessantly dreary storyline (brains being taken over, in case you’re wondering): no...Snow Crash has become the techies’ Bible because it contains the first-ever reference to “Avatar” as the virtual representation of a person (so, blue goblins and smiley faces all around), as well as the first-ever recorded reference to the Metaverse, which is why Zuckerberg, years ago, made the book required reading for his new executives...because he’s planning on building a real-life Metaverse of his own.

That’s the cultural context, and it’s why Facebook eventually changed its name to Meta: but what about the technological reality behind all that...the other half of the elusive recipe for transformational change (see above)?

That, it seems, is a bit more tricky.

According to the SCP Foundation (, whose mission is to prevent “mankind hiding in fear”, and who can argue with that, certain ways of thinking can (in and of themselves) be harmful: the Foundation calls these corrosive thought patterns Cognitohazards and, unlike the Metaverse, they exist in the real World...


Grab and Hold: the Attention Economy

First things first...we live in what market analysts (and some economists) call an Attention Economy: you can catch it churning around in real time if you go to any one of those avatar-cluttered social communities, where adverts pop up every few seconds, and the point of every advert is to grab and hold your attention. Businesses aren’t just looking for your money...they want your time, too, and the more of it, the better. That’s the reason for those glaring red dots on new notifications and the increasing “gamification” of commercial sites ( it’s all designed to draw potential consumers into a custom-made Metaverse...and keep them there until they buy something (preferably a few things).

Welcome then to “clickers” or “idle” games: games like Universal Paperclips that literally play themselves (hence “idle”’s you who isn’t doing anything), with a constant stream of upgrades and improvements for the user to buy along the way...stay all day, get the lot... you’d be surprised how many people do. It’s obviously a Cognitohazard because the person “playing” the game has been subliminally convinced they’re actually involved in the outcome and will stake real cash to “improve” the result, even though it’s beyond their short, they’ve been assimilated into the Universal Paperclips Metaverse.

Then there are those non-interactive platforms, where you can sit back and watch a seemingly endless line of dominos toppling down, ride in the cab of a train from Moscow to Vladivostok (in real-time), or watch someone cleaning a car (also in real-time): the idea is that once you’ve started watching, you’ll stay to the end, and sometimes there isn’t even an end (Pong Wars for example). The platform will bombard “users” with adverts for as long as they stay glued to the screen...because they’ve entered the Pong Wars Metaverse (or dominoes, long train Metaverse...whatever’s on offer). The content seems so realistic that it’s unconsciously treated as real, and that’s why each of these platforms, too, is essentially a cognition hazard.

And think about it for a moment, we’re only at the beginning of this evolutionary cycle: once AI starts to change the landscape of attention grabbing platforms, as indeed it’s already doing, how will we eventually distinguish the real World from the Metaverse?

It’s well worth thinking about...


Executive Overview

Are we all heading off to live in the Metaverse...I hope not.

Invest in Red Ribbon Asset Management


Red Ribbon Asset Management ( aims to harness the full potential of fast evolving and emerging technologies to meet the needs of global communities as part of a circular economy, fully recognising the compelling demands of planet people and profit.

Suchit Punnose

Suchit Punnose / About Author

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