Much has changed since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a drastic and across-the-board reorganization of life and work. From home office and schooling to massification of meal and shopping deliveries, none of these were new two years ago, but today they’re no longer at the fringes of the market, but left, right and center. For many young parents, home schooling has meant becoming teachers, in a demanding environment where they had to handle other multiple roles in parallel: managers, employees, spouses, while being deprived of social interaction and life outside and sunshine.
Many generation Z kids and most generation Alpha kids had for their first time touched computers in an uncontrolled environment, where parents were too busy handling the COVID situation at home while trying to play the role of teachers, because teachers themselves couldn’t adapt to digital home schooling in short notice. Whereas on the Internet, advertising algorithms had been too happy to receive hordes of young newcomers. Even parents reluctant to give their kids full access to the digital world were forced to do it. Not all of us – myself included – were able to keep it under control.
We’ve tasted this new normal, and it’s becoming quite difficult to forgo it for right or wrong, and it seems that it’s here to stay. Truth is, we’ll keep ordering many delivery meal services, as we did during the pandemic, as well as shopping online on Amazon rather than on Main Street. In some cases, we’ll work remotely from home, and at most through a hybrid office model.
Computerized homework is another new normal phenomena. So many of us are computerized today, that teachers and schools have realized that many of the homeschooling features of the pandemic can be kept. Computerized education can be much easier, faster, as well as environmentally friendlier. To go digital, and have kids work from computers to do their readings, their exercises, their research, their homework and their tests seems to be beneficial.
It would be very efficient, if it was not because it also comes with one its biggest cons. And it is that computers also allow access to so many things besides schooling stuff. Computers allow kids to access a lot of content unrelated to their education, becoming a big distraction from school work. The Internet can be a marvelous tool, but it’s also an unrestricted space of anarchy. If kids are not properly supervised while surfing the Web, they can easily distract themselves and –worse– access harmful content. A friend of mine once told me that kids nowadays have seen more nude people than our grandparents did in their whole life. We can’t ignore the fact that the Internet is a quick-satisfaction oriented media. As in Tinder, if something lacks instant appeals within two to three seconds, it’s simply swiped away. It’s hard to fight back against this fast pace mindset ingrained by social media not only in our children, but in ourselves too.
Anarchic structures –like the way the Internet works today– lack stable equilibrium. Some form of order always tends to come out of it, as it has happened in the past with all great changes that have upended social rules and order, especially regarding big communities where children are involved. People eventually get together to reorder social interactions to avoid threats and harm, and improve children’s upbringing.
Something of this sort awaits the virtual space too. As we all join the digital world and create digital lifestyles of our own, we need to think of how we’re going to administer our children’s entry into it too, rather than deprive them of it, as long as it’s structured for them in a healthy way, according to our respective social values. I wouldn’t be surprised if at one point our kids are simultaneously citizens of their geographical country, as well as becoming “citizens” of several other digital worlds. To me, that’s what the metaverse will bring about sooner than later, if it’s not happening already.
Zuckerberg is right in that there’s a high probability for the existence of at least one successful metaverse which will encompass work as well as leisure time. It’s important to note that successful metaverses will not necessarily be Virtual-Reality (VR) oriented. Instead, many metaverses are already up and running without the need of costly and cumbersome VR headsets. And, for sure, several metaverses will develop and expand, to mimic physical reality’s diversity of thought, creed and interests. Metaverses already have digital police forces of their own: the moderators. Most likely, some of them will integrate schools, as well as transmit a definite set of values. The challenge faced by parents will be how to educate their children properly, with their desired values, if they don’t see what happens inside those metaverses. How far can we use them as spaces for education?
After all, virtual schools can be built, and they can be gamified. At its core, gamification means the process of applying game design and game mechanics to non-game contexts. Because how else can we retain our kid’s attention in today’s world, where attention span has been reduced to an average of eight seconds, and the need for immediate satisfaction has become so strong?
The gaming industry is backed by decades of research figuring out how to get people hooked onto something. Games are more than just tools to spend leisure time and have fun with friends. We find elements of gaming everywhere, in areas of entertainment, digital marketing, workplace and lifestyle. I believe one of the most effective areas of opportunity for this gamification is education.
Odds are that, at some point in the near future, we will have many metaverse societies, with their own culture, values, rules and moderators. They will integrate public services, crypto-banking, online shopping and delivery services, workplaces and schools just as well. People will be citizens of multiple countries, their geographical one, and several other virtual ones, the metaverses.
To some, this future might look scary, but it’s not necessarily dystopian; at least not if we take care of it.