The term “Metaverse” has been a white-hot buzzword since Facebook transformed into Meta last year with ambitious promises of a whole new reality to immerse in.
This new dimension currently in creation—a tangled combination of virtual and augmented realities woven into blockchain technology—represents chaos but also potential.
To help convert chaotic potential into something tangible and positive, Meta has issued millions of dollars in grants to a total of 17 computer science labs across 11 Canadian universities to support research that “advances innovations needed to build for the metaverse.”
Whether the metaverse can live up to its tremendous hype “will largely depend on how thoughtfully we design and develop its infrastructure, features and services,” writes Sharon Aschaiek for University Affairs.
Important factors to consider include mental and physical wellbeing, which is the area of focus where Dr. Joanna McGrenere intends to spent the resources of her Meta grant.
The UBC computer science professor warns that the met averse could amplify the worst of digital technology trends: a blurring of work and personal lives that diminishes wellbeing.
“I can imagine that in the intended immersiveness of the metaverse, that it is going to be very easy to lose track of time, and for it to kind of take over in a way that has the potential to be unhealthy,” Dr. McGrenere, head of the University of British Columbia’s eDAPT research group, told UA.
A 2020 research paper co-authored by Dr. McGrenere looked at the increasing demands of operating in the digital age. It concluded that our new digital system requires a rethink of productivity measures.
“I think more and more people are going to need help with reflecting on how their time is being spent at work, and whether it’s consistent with what they need to produce in a classic productivity sense, but also accounting for wellbeing,” Dr. McGrenere told UA.
In talking to Christine Thompson for UBC, the professor praised Meta for “involving researchers in the early stages” of the metaverse’s creation.
“It will be paramount to design for wellbeing right from the outset, rather than trying to retrofit, as is all too common with information technologies today,” she said.