Into The Metaverse (The Media Matrix — Part 3)

By The Corbett Report

We stand at a precipice. On one side is “reality”: the original, authentic, lived human experience. And on the other side is the metaverse: the world of constantly mediated experience.

In the middle is hyperreality, that blurry space between the real world and the mediated world. And, living as we do on this side of the electronic media revolution, it is the only place we have ever known.

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VOICEOVER: Media. It surrounds us. We live our lives in it and through it. We structure our lives around it. But it wasn’t always this way. So how did we get here? And where is the media technology that increasingly governs our lives taking us? This is the story of The Media Matrix.


At the dawn of the twenty-first century, if you saw anything, read anything, listened to anything, it was, more likely than not, placed in front of you by one of the handful of corporations that controlled the major television and radio networks, newspaper syndicates, film studios and music companies. These companies didn’t control what people thought; it was more subtle than that. These companies controlled what people thought about.

We all knew the daily news from the newspapers. We all heard the latest Billboard chart topper. We all saw the latest episode of Must See TV and we all knew about the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Even if we managed to avoid these media ourselves, we knew them anyway from cultural osmosis.

Yes, by the year 2000 we had arrived at the pinnacle of mediated reality. The media oligopoly’s control of society was complete, and nothing could ever come along to change it.

And then something did.

SINGER: You’re riding on the internet! Cyberspace, set us free! Hello, virtual reality! Interactive appetite, searching for a website, a window to the world that to get online. Take the spin now you’re in with the techno set, you’re going surfing on the internet!

SOURCE: Kids Guide to the Internet (1995)

Given that the only thing most people can agree on these days is that the internet is ruining society, it’s difficult to remember that the general public’s introduction to the World Wide Web was accompanied by a torrent of hyperbole and over-the-top enthusiasm that would make a pimply-faced teenager blush.

The internet was going to solve all of our problems! It was going to democratize information. It was going to give a voice to the voiceless. It was going to bring the world together. And most importantly, it was going to help us order pizza without having to pick up our phone!

[Sandra Bullock orders pizza on the internet.]

SOURCE: The Net (1995)

It’s easy to laugh at the gee-whizery and pie-in-the-sky promises of the Information Superhighway hype. But make no mistake: the advent of the web was a revolution. It did upend the economic model that had given rise to the media oligopoly in the first place. And it did give a voice to countless millions around the globe who would never have been heard at all if it weren’t for the advent of new media platforms.

JAMES CORBETT: This is James Corbett of, and I’d like to welcome you to a new episode of a completely new news update series that I’m doing with my good friend, and the host and webmaster of, James Evan Pilato. James, it’s great to have you on the program today.

JAMES EVAN PILATO: Thanks a lot, man. I’ve looked forward to doing this.

CORBETT: Yeah, me too. . . .

SOURCE: New World Next Week Pilot Episode — Oct. 11, 2009

As the general public started to get online in the 1990s, not even the wildest flights of cyber-utopian fancy could have imagined the sea change in news and information that was about to sweep over the public. As the printing press had given birth to our very concept of “the news” and as radio and then television again transformed our understanding of what it meant to hear or see the news, so, too, did this new medium change our perceptions of world events and our relationship to them.

Suddenly, “the news” was not something you heard a well-coiffed elderly man in a three-piece suit in a million dollar studio reading to you from a teleprompter. In the online age, the news was as likely to be a story written from home by a guy in his pajamas or a video of a protest uploaded from someone’s smartphone or a tweet by an anonymous account. Blogs and websites, and, later, Facebook feeds and Reddit posts, became places people went for news and analysis on breaking events. Information was condensed into memes, and meme literacy became necessary to even understand what was happening online.

And all the while, the media whose hold over the public mind had seemed so unassailable mere decades ago was now old hat, reduced to just another stream of information accessible on the always on, infinite scrolling online content feeds.

But if we have learned anything from this study of mass media history by now, it’s that a predictable pattern is at play: a new technology transforms the way people communicate and promises a flowering of knowledge and understanding. The existing power structure then spends all of its considerable resources censoring or co-opting that technology and, ultimately, using the new media as an even more effective tool for spreading propaganda.

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the Gutenberg press sparked a true revolution, overturning the social, political and economic order and empowering individuals to share ideas on a scale never before imaginable. But we also saw the censors swooping in to repress those ideas before the corporatization of the press finally tamed the mighty juggernaut that Gutenberg had unleashed.

And, as we saw in Part 2 of this series, the commercial radio revolution prompted the Rockefellers and other entrenched financial interests to begin studying how best to use the electronic media to shape the public consciousness. And television, with its ability to put its viewers into an alpha brainwave state of susceptibility, proved to be an even more effective tool for the corporate interests that soon monopolized the public airwaves.

The story of the World Wide Web follows a depressingly similar trajectory. Whatever promise the internet held to kick off a new Gutenberg revolution—putting the power of the press back in the hands of the average person—that promise has been consistently betrayed by the the centralization of online discovery and identity into corporations, as even Twitter founder Jack Dorsey now admits.

Perhaps the fact that the web has been so quickly co-opted into a medium of control isn’t surprising. After all, the internet is no movable type printing press. However much work went into the design of the printing press, it was still possible for a skilled fifteenth century craftsman to create and operate one with nothing more than the knowledge of the latest technologies and the capital of a few business partners. But the internet arose not from a medieval tinkerer’s workshop, but from the bowels of the Pentagon.

The long history of collusion between Big Tech, the Pentagon and the US intelligence community is by now a well-documented one. The story leads from Silicon Valley—home of Big Tech and the site of much of the research that helped birth the personal computer revolution and the internet—through Pentagon research grants and In-Q-Tel investments to the development of the ARPANet, the birth of the internet, and, eventually, the rise of Google and Facebook and the World Wide Web as we know it today.

The result of that history is apparent to all by now. A medium that should be the most participatory medium ever invented has become a web to trap its audience in an infinite scroll of social media distraction, one designed specifically to keep its users seeking the scientifically scheduled hit of their next dopamine reward.

SEAN PARKER: If the thought process that went into building these applications—Facebook being the first of them to really understand it—that thought process was all about “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s gonna get you to contribute more content, and that’s gonna get you more likes and comments. So it’s a social validation feedback loop. I mean, it’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. And I think that we—the inventors/creators, you know, it’s me, it’s Mark, it’s Kevin Systrom at Instagram, it’s all of these people—understood this consciously and we did it anyway.

SOURCE: Sean Parker – Facebook Exploits Human Vulnerability 

The results of Big Tech’s experiment are now in: the would-be social engineers were successful beyond their wildest expectation. The zombie apocalypse has already happened; in its wake lay the increasingly mechanistic automatons of the social media revolution, eschewing the dull world of human interaction for the cyber world of likes, shares and dopamine rewards. The smartphone has become the digital god of the zombie hordes, demanding we bow down in prayer at every free moment.

Perhaps most frightening of all is the astonishing speed with which this revolution is taking place. As transformative as Gutenberg’s press was, it took decades for the technology to propagate out across Europe, and it took centuries for the effects of that technological upheaval to play itself out in the body politic. The electronic media revolution took the better part of a century of development from its earliest iteration, the telegraph, to its introduction to the average person’s living room in the form of radio sets, and, later, televisions.

But the online media revolution has happened with astonishing speed. In the span of one decade, smartphones went from curious novelties to ubiquitous items, and they are now on the cusp of being made mandatory for participation in everyday life. This incredible change is already manifesting in a world of profound and rapid dislocations in every facet of our lives: political, economic and social.

So where is this revolution taking us? Can we learn to navigate this new world of nearly constant mediated experience? Should we?

To answer that, we need to look at the nature of media itself.

Media, from the earliest smoke signals and scratches in clay tablets to the printed page to the recorded images and sounds of the modern era, has always existed as a means for extending our bodies in space and time. The written word is an extension of our mind out into the world, allowing people in far-distant places and far-off times to read our innermost thoughts. The phonograph was an extension of our voice, the filmed image an extension of our bodies themselves, permitting them a type of 2D immortality.

But somewhere along the way, the balance between the media and the real world that it represents began to shift. We went from this world to this world, where most of what we see, most of what we hear, most of what we think we know about the world comes not from the people and places that populate our direct, lived experience, but from mere representations.

We have our friends, of course, but we also have Friends. We have neighbours, but we also have Neighbours. We have something better than real life. We have reality TV!

We have entered the world of the simulacrum.

JEAN BAUDRILLARD: Mais dans la définition que j’ai du réel, au sens où je l’ai dit : c’est-à-dire faire advenir un monde réel, c’est déjà le produire, c’est déjà quelque-chose comme un simulacre.

Pour moi, le réel n’a jamais été qu’une forme de simulation. Le principe de réalité, c’est la première phase, si on veut, du principe de simulation, quoi . . . Mon postulat ce serait : il n’y a pas de réel, le réel n’existe pas. On peut objectivement le cadrer, faire qu’il existe un effet de réel, un effet de vérité, un effet d’objectivité, et cetera . . . mais moi je n’y crois pas au réel.

SOURCE: Jean Baudrillard — Mots de passe (documentaire 1999)

At a certain point, the boundaries between the real world and the world of media begin to blur. Is television reflecting the types of people we are, or are we emulating the characters we see on TV? Are the sad songs we listen to the product of broken-hearted people or the cause?

But if nothing is less real than reality TV, what is the reality that that TV is attempting to portray? Does it even exist anymore?

This is no idle question. As pervasive as the online media has become, as important as our participation in that mediated world has become for our daily lives, a new medium has already appeared. The metaverse. Introduced to the public consciousness by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, the metaverse represents the apotheosis of the media revolution. Soon, the internet will not exist as a cyperspace that we access through our clunky smartphone gadget. Instead, it will be a fully realized, immersive, 3D virtual world that we can literally step into.

No matter our reluctance to enter this virtual world, we will soon, all of us, have the opportunity to enter the metaverse for ourselves, whether by putting on the glasses and adding an augmented reality layer to the world as we know it, or by strapping on the goggles and entering the cyber domain completely. And, after we do so, we may find the idea of living our lives in bare, unmediated reality will be as quaint, as unthinkable, as living in a world of smoke signals and clay tablets.

[Scenes from HYPER-REALITY]

We stand at a precipice. On one side is “reality”: the original, authentic, lived human experience.

And on the other side is the metaverse: the world of constantly mediated experience.

In the middle is hyperreality, that blurry space between the real world and the mediated world. And, living as we do on this side of the electronic media revolution, it is the only place we have ever known.

It has been suggested that the metaverse is not a space—not a virtual world that we can jack ourselves into and live a virtual life, like in The Matrix—but a time. Specifically, the metaverse is that time when our digital lives become more meaningful to us than our “real” lives. If that is the case, then who can deny that, for an increasing number of people around the world, that time has already arrived?

In this series we have examined the history of the mass media, from the Gutenberg Revolution to today. But if we don’t understand that history, then we will be like the ignorant masses identified by George Santayana, condemned to repeat a past that we cannot remember.

From one perspective, the history of media is merely the story of the development of the machinery of communciation. The movement from the printing press to the telegraph to the radio to the television to the internet to the metaverse is a story of technological progress, and each new technology brings us closer to the ideal of total communication.

But there is a more fundamental perspective, one that sees media not as a technology, but as the expression of our need as human beings to connect with others, to fight off our original state as beings cast alone and naked into the world through communion with others. But as our technology of communication begins to create its own world and as we increasingly place ourselves inside that media world, we would do well to ask ourselves, “At what point do we lose our essential nature as human beings? Once we’re jacked into the metaverse, are we still homo sapiens, or will we have become homo medias? Have we considered what that means? Do we care?”

Perhaps it’s inevitable that the curved mirror of the Gutenberg conspiracy has finally brought us here, to the black mirror at the doorway to the metaverse. Perhaps we were destined to end up here. Perhaps this is an expression of a fundamental urge that is part of human nature.

Perhaps. But it’s also good to know that this has an “off” button. That the real world still exists. That you are watching an image on a screen. And that the power to turn it all off is still in our hands.

The Media Matrix

Written, Directed and Presented by James Corbett

Video Editing and Graphic Design by Broc West

Recording Assistance: Murray Carr

Special Guest Appearance by James Evan Pilato

Series Title Theme “What Hath God Wrought” by KODOMOSAN

Transcript and links:

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