Feelings in the Metaverse

[Note to Reader: This is not a piece about the Metaverse/NFTs/Crypto/ Web3 as much as it is about my many disjointed and complicated thoughts and feelings around all of this stuff. If you want to read more on this stuff itself and why I think it’s so dangerous, you can check out this and this and this and this (straight from the horses mouth)].

Rage. Red hot rage. Leaving blisters on my skin hot rage. Till it reaches a temperature so high that it becomes pure white. And then I fall. I open my eyes to see the big blue sky, stretching from one end of the earth to another. It’s a resplendent blue, the type that has whimsical shapes of cotton candy clouds, sometimes dense, sometimes fluffy, bursting forth with the potential it offers for boundless creativity. Will they have this in the Metaverse?

They say it’s the future. That it will change the world as we know it. That it will be the thing that finally takes the human race into the next level. But how? Blockchain isn’t solving the climate crisis. NFTs aren’t doing anything to re-distribute the heinously concentrated levels of capital. And metaverse sure as hell isn’t making anyone forget that the air we breathe and the water we drink and the food we eat is getting increasingly toxic. So what type of future are they really building?

Somedays I feel like the whole world has moved ahead leaving behind me and my analogue ideas. I see my friends jumping headfirst into becoming micro-influencers, social media marketers, digital artists, crypto-traders, content creators. I remember how in early 2018 I discovered that one of the categories Facebook had grouped me into was a ‘late adapter to technology.’ I still remember the sting of embarrassment I had felt, despite knowing better, looking down at my two models behind iPhone. How long before it is me who is rendered obsolete? 

Is it as bad as you say it is? Is the Metaverse really that big of a problem? You like to read don’t you. Imagine this. Imagine your favorite author, the woman whose words make you believe for one brief second that everything is alright. Well, she is hosting a reading on the Metaverse. You can sit in a cozy little bookstore while she reads out an excerpt from her latest novel. And then when she finishes you can raise your hand and ask her your questions and have her look at you as she answers and finally at the end of the event you can walk up to her and ask her for a personal digital autograph, all the while sitting at the opposite end of the planet. Will you not be even slightly tempted?

Some of us have endless green gardens at our disposal, some of us make do with a single tree outside our window and some of us are surrounded by heaps of waste so highly toxic that no living thing can emerge. How can there be one metaverse when our worlds are so different?

You are sitting in your room. A tiny, crowded space, in a massive, crowded city, in the wrong side of town in the wrong side of the globe. It’s hot, hotter than it’s ever been in your already pretty hot tropical country. Electricity cuts are normal, so you don’t have anything but your own hand fanning your face. Sweat is dripping down the side of your face, the heavy leather headset that’s been on you for hours making things worse. You are attending an office meeting in the metaverse where things are always fresh, dewy, and sanitized. A mosquito sits on your arm, and you slap it. You’ve learnt to kill those pesky little pests even without being able to see them. How long till they can upload my body into the metaverse?

They’ll say it’s opt in. No one’s going to force you to go to the metaverse. It’s always going to strictly be your choice. But is it really? Is being on Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp/Instagram really our free choice. Is the endless scrolling, the countless ads, the constant consuming, the emotional exhaustion, the changes in human behaviours, is that all the result of our free volition? Let this be a reminder to myself that even if I didn’t opt in- I do need to opt out. Because if I don’t stop scrolling now, if I don’t resist the power of a small box that I can switch off and keep aside, how will I resist when they come to alter our whole reality? 


#2 Things to do on the Weekend: Take A Walk Through Time

A historian with mild manners and a loud voice organizes heritage walks in Delhi all year round. He attracts a small but loyal crowd who follow him week after week along the corridors of yesteryears as he regales them with stories of times long gone. This week I join that eclectic group of people who woke up bright and early on Sunday morning to walk around a famous historical garden in Delhi. 

There is a lady with fiery silver hair. A tall gentleman whose wife helps refugees in Tunisia. Two architecture students whose pens always hover in anticipation over their notebooks. Two sisters wearing similar jackets who studied in a school very close to the garden. A mother with her child. A man with his mother. 

We start in 1936.  The origin story. Imagine a vicereine driving around land that has been newly designated the capital of the colony her husband has been sent to rule. She spots a beautiful, if dilapidated, mausoleum and then yet another, and then one more, all within a five-mile radius. She proclaims, “let there be a park” and so there is. 

It is now the 14th century. A young king, the third of his line, abdicates his throne to pursue a lifelong interest in Sufism. Before he does, he orders the building of a tomb on behalf of his father, the second of his line. The architect believes the top of the dome to be where his god resides, and the mason believes the lotus to be the seat of his god. So together they build a lotus atop a dome. 

Soon we find ourselves in pre-historic times. People are coming together to cultivate land and are in need of storing grains. So, they begin building pots. Massive, red-baked, earthen pots that store grain and seeds for the community. Because these pots hold the ‘seeds of life’, they come to signify fertility and fecundity and centuries later, young brides begin gently kicking the pot filled with seeds as they enter their marital homes. 

Suddenly it’s the 20th century again. 1960’s to be exact. A quiet stuffy afternoon in India’s second decade of independence. Two boys bunk school to roam the halls of a tomb that is surrounded by its own private garden. They climb through the dilapidated stairways and stuff themselves in the nooks and corners of the silent tomb, lazing and languishing. 

Just like this, what started out as a heritage walk on art and architecture becomes a trip through time, where in patterns that sometimes resemble zigzags and crisscrosses and other times the unending circles of the Tibetan infinity knot, the historians spins stories after stories that leave me dizzy. Until I filled with a deep sense of unease. It’s eating away at me, taking out all of the goodness of what I have learnt. 

I recognize it to be fear that stems from the knowledge that our future does not stretch out as far ahead of us as our past does behind us. That somehow after centuries of slow and steady progress, we have decided to make a clean break and are charting into terrifying territories that we may never return from. Will heritage walks exist in 23rd century? What stories will future historians share if we never build anything to last?

The walk ends. I chase after a young boy selling tea. With a cup of steaming hot tea, I sit on the steps of the last tomb, surrounded by endlessly green gardens as far as the eyes can see. 


Birds and Bees and Other Horror Stories

As a young girl at the ripe old age of nine finishing my first month in an all-girls boarding school tucked in the middle of the Aravalli valley, sex was on my mind. Maybe it was the sweltering heat in the sultry nights that gave rise to deep friendships, forged out of the danger of whispering secrets after lights out. Maybe it was the tossing and turning trying to decide which out of the two bed side partners fate had allotted you, you liked more. Maybe it was thrill of realizing that that the partner you liked more also liked you more. 

I still remember her; she was the most brilliant student of our form. There was nothing she couldn’t do. She was the smartest, fastest, strongest, most creative nine-year-old there ever was and she picked me to be her friend. She was also the daughter of two doctors who had sent her to the school equipped with a big shiny encyclopedia on the human body. 

It was silver in colour with colorful 3-D diagrams that would pop out if you opened the page, and little flaps which you picked up to reveal more information about the endlessly interesting piece of machinery that a human body is. Her head would always be buried in it, and last I heard she became a doctor too. But that night, after we had discussed all our hopes and dreams and deepest darkest secrets, she asked me if I knew how babies were born. I put on my most authoritative and sophisticated face and said yes, babies are born because of kissing. And she giggled and giggled but refused to divulge anything else. I think it took three additional nights of begging on my part before she agreed to tell me and what she told me horrifies me to this day on. 

She said, babies are born when men pee inside women. It was an innocent misreading on her part, but I was shaken to my very core, aghast with the world and my parents and everybody who indulged in this shameful shameful act. She said she couldn’t believe it too at first, but the facts were there plain as day in her book and promised to let me read it. I only fell asleep after we made a pact and swore to each other that we would never do anything like that. We eventually did read the book again and consulted a senior, a ten-year-old who was wise beyond her age, who solemnly shook her head and explained to us what actually happened. But I can assure you, it didn’t do much to calm me down. The biblical apple had been bitten and I was no longer welcome in the garden of innocence.