Get Off Of My Cloud

Had enough of the universe? That’s OK because we’ve got an alternative. These days we can head for the meta-verse if “real” life gets us down.

Virtual reality is now, uh, a real reality. Seriously. Head over to Somnium and become part of their “community.” Or maybe you’d prefer Sandbox or Upland.

Believe it or not you can actually buy real estate in these virtual worlds. The metaverse is now fully commercialized! Thank goodness. I was worried that the metaverse would be filled with hippies and anarchists preaching communal love and group sharing and all that other utopian socialist crap. I’m relieved that the long arm of capitalism has punched through the electronic walls and given these places real value!

Decentraland is “owned” by its users. Cool, huh? It’s a space where you can build things, make art, explore, recreate, and engage in various transactions. What sort of transactions? Oh, you know, buying and selling stuff!

Except it isn’t stuff, not in the usual sense of the word. It’s all digital. All virtual. All bought and paid for with crypto-currency. It’s real, just not made out of molecules. Well, the servers that hold the blockchain that stores all the information are real, and made out of molecules, so there’s that. But the land and the art and the swag you buy and sell in this metaverse are just photons.

NFTs are a big thing these days. Non-fungible tokens. These are unique digital assets. You can purchase or otherwise acquire NFTs and that will make you a real hipster. Unlike crypto-currency tokens, these are individual things (non-fungible). One bitcoin is the same as any other—they are interchangeable, like real dollar bills. NFTs are “valuable” because they are unique. My NFT is not the same as yours.

Artists have found a home in the metaverse. Digital art sales (as NFTs) are burgeoning. The NBA likes it too. You can get NFTs of basketball players, kind of like collecting cards. Except there is no card, just an image. That image is safely stored on the blockchain but it is still yours.

I try not to be a grumpy old man. I try not to be too cynical about new stuff. And I think virtual experiences like music festivals are pretty cool. I mean, no one dies at a metaverse music festival. One of the big names in the virtual music world is rapper Travis Scott. He’s done concerts via the game platform Fortnite. At his last real-world show in Las Vegas dozens were hurt and some killed in a crowd frenzy . Maybe he should get out of the real-life music scene and stick to his computer! Then we could avoid real tragedies like people dying at a goddamn concert.

But I must say this new definition of “real estate” has me a bit baffled. There’s nothing “real” about it. You can’t park your mobile home on your metaverse plot. I suppose you could park a virtual one there and live in it and save on rent. I suspect rents will get really high in these meta-locales. After all, there will always be someone who can spend more money (crypto- or otherwise) than you can.

I suppose it is inevitable that if I put on my VR headset I’ll want more than just shooting bad guys or going on an adventure quest. That is, the games won’t hold my interest long enough. I’m going to want to make friends, shop, go to parties, etc. You know, live a real life. Maybe even buy a place of my own and fulfill that ultimate American Dream of really “making it.”

It’s hard not to think that this is just another gigantic bubble. Speculators and con artists and their ilk are all over this stuff. It’s almost entirely unregulated, which appeals to the libertarian types, but that says CAVEAT EMPTOR to me. I know some folks are going to make money in the metaverse. Real money, not just tokens. That means even more folks are going to lose their shirts. Their real shirts.

I think digital transactions and digital currencies have a place in our future. The blockchain is here to stay, as are crypto-coins and crypto-platforms. But it’s the Wild West out there. If you want to jump in and play you better be well-armed and have someone watching your back. It ain’t all love and kisses. There’s too much (real) wealth at stake to be anything but another cut-throat dog-eat-dog enterprise.

So, have fun. And stay on your own cloud.

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