The Metaverse vs. The Medieverse
A Philosophical Rant for the Modern-day Medievalist yet to Explore Metaverse Technology
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, recently had an in-depth interview with Lex Fridman where he talked about his ideas for the Metaverse. If you’re unaware, “metaverse” as a term has been around for decades and is used often in the cryptocurrency world to mean the unlimited virtual space where people and things can interact in computer-generated environments. I’ve been interested in the metaverse long before Mark Zuckerberg capitalized the term in 2021. I began to play around with cryptocurrency in the final quarter of 2020 when a lot of other people like me isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic had the time to explore these once fringe but now mainstream realms of the digital world. When Mark Zuckerberg announced his Metaverse in 2021, it was entertaining to watch the price of certain cryptocurrencies related to gaming and virtual reality like Enjin Coin skyrocket in value.
I recommend coming back to watch this Mark Zuckerberg interview below if this topic piques your interest.
While “metaverse” is an old term but a developing concept with potential for changing the way society functions, the Medieverse is a new concept I’ve been developing myself since 2017 with the potential to preserve medieval reality for many generations in the future. The Medieverse is a lot more than just the blog you’re currently reading. Before I explain exactly what “medieverse” means, you should know that the Metaverse and the Medieverse are not necessarily opposites nor are they forced to compete with each other. They are compatible with each other in enhancing our shared human experience. For instance, one powerful thing that the Metaverse and the Medieverse have in common is a sense of adventure to alleviate the symptoms of coping in a confined world. With that said, it’s still true that comparing the Metaverse to the Medieverse is sort of like comparing digital to analogue, because the Medieverse would promote the idea of reenacting the medieval experience in real life rather than emulating the medieval experience in a virtual world. While the Metaverse serves humankind by allowing us to take advantage of virtual worlds, the Medieverse serves humankind by allowing us to take advantage of the historic past. Both are compatible because the Metaverse is capable of generating a photorealistic copy of the real Middle Ages for us to explore and learn from while it’s also unable to create a realistic and historically-accurate simulation of medieval life without first relying on all the analogue evidence of physical research in reality.
Imagine if instead of reading a history book to learn about the Middle Ages we could walk around in a near-perfect copy of the historic past to awe and gesture at the wonderful (or horrific) sights. It wouldn’t be too dissimilar from time-travel itself, if we were able to take the best history research and turn into a virtual simulation. This is why, while I’m a medievalist who believes it’s important for humankind to preserve what it feels like to work with our hands in material nature, I don’t shy away from the Metaverse as a useful tool in enhancing our understanding of the historic past. While I might argue the Metaverse takes us further away from reality in most cases, I could also argue that it might be necessary in allowing our species to continue to learn about reality on Earth long after we’ve left Earth as a species.
A human being, if they spent their entire lifespan on a spaceship traveling through space, would never get to know what it was like to build a house out of wood and stone with their bare hands unless there was an area inside the spaceship for them to also stick their toes in the dirt and feel the sun on their face. Without a physical Westworld type of simulation, the people living inside the spaceship would have to rely on some kind of digital simulation like the holodeck in Star Trek, or some kind of dream-state simulation to experience what it was like to be a human on Earth.
Even today in the modern world, people living in skyscrapers miles away from any natural environment often rely on virtual escapism to experience aspects of the historic past. When a fulltime McDonalds employee living in a metropolis who has never gone camping in nature before decides to spend the entire weekend getting stoned and playing Skyrim, they are tapping into the same service that an augmented reality station on a spaceship might provide for someone in the future who has never even walked upon the earth before. And going the other way, people escaping modern reality by playing Skyrim or reading George RR Martin books today are not too different from the cramped city dwellers of the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century who escaped their drab and smoggy reality by reading colorfully illustrated legends of King Arthur. The Gothic Revival came out of the Industrial Revolution because victims of industrialization were romanticizing about the simple existence of life in the Middle Ages. The Gothic Revival movement was much more than a popularity of architectural style! 18th-century romantic thinkers painted photorealistic landscapes of medieval life and wrote their own medieval fairy tales. Indeed, a lot of our medieval tropes and misconceptions in popular media today originate from those very writers of the 18th and 19th centuries who romanticized about the Middle Ages.
Before I delve deeper into what the metaverse is and why it’s important for humanity, I want you to imagine an in-your-face interface where you have to select each thought you make before you think it. Now ask yourself if this is not already so different than the screen of your cellular phone or the desktop of your personal computer!
What is the Metaverse and Why is it Important?
Even in ancient life on Earth, long before the Internet and social media existed among humankind, each human being was responsible for creating their own character and identity. Many human identities of the historic past were heavily influenced by nature and other human influence. These influenced people might blame their personality and characteristics on parts of their culture or environment rather than taking command of their identity like Marcus Aurelius. But, in the Metaverse, your identity is arguably more concrete than the whimsical flashbacks you create while living in the real world. In the Metaverse, a 400-pound, 70-year-old man can be a 60-pound, 12-year-old girl backed by NFTs.
In the Metaverse, you can save your identity so that it will be the exact same when you wake up the next day and put on your VR goggles as it was when you took off your VR goggles and went to bed the night before, and all your saves are backed by NFT technology. In the real world, however, you cannot save the way your haircut looks or the way your new attitude makes you feel. In other terms, your identity in the real world is constantly changing whether you’re aware of it or not, for you’re not a robot who can sustain the same haircut and attitude forever, so even though your virtual identity can be static when you put on your VR goggles, you wear those goggles with a changing perception of your own reality. Even if you wrote your autobiography down with paper and pen so that your self-proclaimed identity had a physical existence and therefore could not be changed, you would not be the same person you were the next day as you were when you wrote that autobiography! Therefore, one reason why the Metaverse is important is because it allows us to develop, solidify and even drastically change our identities in ways humans were never able to do before.
A medieval king might be able to have a statue of himself erected in the market square but he cannot wear the statue like a suit and walk around in it. And he might be able to have his achievements recorded in the annals of history in an attempt to crystalize his identity throughout time but everyone who reads history will have a slightly difference perception of who this man actually was. Of course, anyone who looks at NFT artwork can have a different opinion of it too, but NFTs, because they’re solidified by a blockchain, are concrete and unchanging while the annals of history are susceptible to changes from newly discovered evidence. Therefore, it would be imprudent for us to say that metaverse technology and the rudimentary technologies leading up to its use in the real world like MMORPGs have not already impacted the collective human experience in irreversible ways which we may not yet be able to comprehend completely. This is true even while the Metaverse has yet to become a frequently used tool for the average human being.
Going deeper yourself on this, you may begin to think of many other ways in which metaverse technology has already impacted human life on Earth, testifying to its importance even if it’s not desirable for everyone. Instead of trading gold and silver over a physical banking table, like we would do if we were modern-day historians reenacting a medieval trade, the Metaverse would have us trading NFTs on a virtual NFT-backed banking table instead, so that even the virtual banking table can be traded for fiat money. And many NFTs of medieval paintings are already being bought and sold in the metaverse!
But if you’re one inclined to protest against the use of the Metaverse in society, let me tell you that there should be no fear, especially from medievalists, of the transhumanist agenda. Why should you not fear the Metaverse? Because our material identity as part of an organic process stretching back through modern, medieval, ancient and prehistoric history could never be simulated in virtual or augmented reality nor could it be simplified into some cartoony avatar. This is because your real identity as an animal of flesh and blood could never be understood by someone else the same you understand it. NFT technology, however, can store every little piece of data about you, down to every single DNA strand in your body, for however long that data is safely stored. While people living under mass formation psychosis stay at home, pumped full of fear of COVID-19 and nuclear warfare, putting on VR goggles to interact with their friends and family while their fear and isolation further weakens their immune systems, medievalists, if we’re not living in fear, can still go to the beach and read a medieval history book while smoking a cigarette, with knowledge of what it was actually like to live in a world where people dealt with much worse diseases and built homes out of wood and stone without electricity. Knowledge of medieval life can liberate us as we compare our lives to people of the past. And metaverse technology has the potential to teach us even more about the real Middle Ages than mere books can do. Realizing this replaces fear with excitement very quickly.
Imagine if you were born to be left with a series of options you had to select in timed stages that would determine your status and identity, just like in an RPG video game, as you grew in a virtual NFT-backed, crypto-powered world rather than being left with the predetermined, material choices of whatever physical reality dumped on you as a baby. Would you rather be born to be an avatar in a Metaverse chatroom or a conscious being in nature? We might be surprised at how many of the suffering in this world would go for the former. Understanding that the Medieverse is compatible with the Metaverse, it may be observable to see some of us existing in both worlds already. But what exactly is the medieverse?
What is the Medieverse and Why is it Important?
The medieverse is similar to the metaverse in that it’s a nebulous idea developing more every day (in my own head and now yours). If we were to uncapitalize the term “medieverse” we could say it’s the hat in which all of our truths of the Middle Ages fall into. It’s the world we step into every time we learn something about the real Middle Ages. It’s a better word to use than saying “all known information of medieval history compiled in one place.” Simply put, it’s the medieval universe. It’s the closest thing we could ever get to traveling back in time to the Middle Ages. And its utility would be augmented greatly if combined with metaverse technology.
I believe the medieverse as a concept is important for society only because it’s first of all important to study or at least remember the Middle Ages. If we were living on a spaceship far away from Earth, and all we knew is how to repair our artificial surroundings with more metal and plastic, then knowledge of the Middle Ages probably wouldn’t be the most important thing in the world, especially if we’re already invested in matters of survival or warfare. However, remembering a time when we built homes out of wood and stone and farmed crops with our bare hands can remind a spaceship-dweller of what it means to be a species from Earth and give us more cause to survive as human beings among technology. As an aid to help us remember where we came from, the medieverse is a faucet always ready to pour out her knowledge to the curious mind.
But why stress the importance of the Middle Ages and not the Stone Age or Antiquity?
I believe we’re living in a renaissance, the Second Renaissance. Symbolizing this is the way so much popular media romanticizes about the Middle Ages, the same way medieval people during the renaissances of the 12th to 15th centuries looked back at Antiquity as the Golden Age. I talk deeper about this idea in two other posts: The “real” Second Renaissance and The Renaissance of the 21st Century Reviewed. But I’ll also explain here that the Middle Ages are a curious time when a lot of what we take for granted today was invented for the first time if it wasn’t first an ancient invention developed even further in the Middle Ages for our current benefit. If we were to do nothing but study the Stone Age and Antiquity we would miss out on so much human innovation because most things useful for humanity from those older times were carried forth and developed further in the Middle Ages. This means that when we study the Middle Ages we’re forced to study aspects of the ancient world at the same time. Today, musicians who read music notations, publishers who print books, lawyers who sit in court, soldiers who shoot guns, graduates who wear strange hats and robes, just to name a few examples, are far more medieval in nature than one could understand without first delving deeply into medieval history. Indeed, the Middle Ages are far more relevant today than most people realize, for when we study our modern times we’re forced to study aspects of the Middle Ages! And when I say the Middle Ages I don’t just mean medieval European history. I’m talking about the history of the whole world, from the Inca to the Samurai, roughly throughout the years AD 500 to AD 1500.
If a child living on a spaceship thousands of years from now wished to learn more about what it was like to build structures out of wood and stone with their bare hands on Planet Earth and does so by picking up a medieval history book or stepping into a virtual reality of the Middle Ages, we could say he’s tapping into the medieverse. Or, of course, pretending we’ve never heard of the medieverse before, we could revert to simply saying he’s tapping into medieval history, the same way we can say that a person who puts on VR goggles and buys an NFT-backed asset for their virtual avatar is tapping into the metaverse and not just wasting time on the Internet. Already in 2022, our surplus of information can either lead us to liberation from identity politics and fear mongering or it can lead us to following the popular narrative and succumbing to mass formation psychosis.
Like I mentioned previously, the Medieverse is more than just a blog. It’s developing into something very exciting, and I can’t wait to share more with you in the future. As always, never hesitate to speak your mind freely in the comments below.