The Inverted Metaverse

Despite the enduring use of terms like IRL or “real life” to distinguish the physical world from the digital, most people have finally come to understand that, by almost any definition, reality happens online at least as much as it does offline, and arguably more so—an inversion that probably predates the pandemic but was fully cemented by last year’s domestic confinement. We still use IRL as shorthand for meatspace, but almost ironically now, as if acknowledging with a wink that “in real life” only corresponds to the physical world in the loosest sense.

Human experience, now as always, is shaped by a set of dichotomies that contemporary technology has destabilized and muddled: physical vs. digital, real vs. simulated, private vs. public, interior vs. exterior. As I wrote last year, mid-pandemic, the physical privacy of our internet-connected homes belies the fact that home is “simultaneously where we live the most public version of our lives, online—a domain thoroughly suffused by the most advanced forms of capitalism, and now where we work as well as consume.” As home becomes a networked node of public existence, meanwhile, it undermines the outside world’s need to accommodate collectivity, thereby transforming it into a refuge from the ceaseless noise of digital space.

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