by MIKE MAGEE
1. relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.
1. a person who imagines or foresees a state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.
There are certain words that keep popping up in 2021 whose meanings are uncertain and which deserve both recognition and definition. And so, the offering above – the word “dystopian.” Dystopian as in the sentence “The term was coined by writer Neal Stephenson in the 1992 dystopian novel Snow Crash.”
One word leads to another. For example, the above-mentioned noun, referred to as dystopian by science fiction writer Stephenson three decades ago, was “Metaverse”. He attached this invented word (the prefix “meta” meaning beyond and “universe”) to a vision of how “a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future.”
“Metaverse” is all the rage today, referenced by the leaders of Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple, but also by many other inhabitors of virtual worlds and augmented reality. The land of imaginary 3D spaces has grown at breakneck speed, and that was before the self-imposed isolation of a worldwide pandemic.
But most agree that the metaverse remains a future-facing concept that has not yet approached its full potential. As noted, it was born out of science fiction in 1992, then adopted by gamers and academics, simultaneously focusing on studying, applying, and profiting from the creation of alternate realities. But it is gaining ground fast, and igniting a cultural tug of war.
Today multinational corporations are all in. Jason Warnke of giant consulting firm Accenture sees it as a power enhancer and multiplier. He says “…we believe we now have the opportunity to bring our people together in ways never before possible in the physical world.”
Not so fast, says Esther O’Callahan, the Gen-X founder of the online recruitment firm Hundo. She says the term is“… owned by young people who care more about community than profit and use it for the good of the real and virtual world. And if that sounds ludicrously naive and optimistic about it – I am and I’m not sorry!”
Karinna Nobbs, CEO of The Dematerialized, envisions the coming metaverse as a societal builder referring to it as “the next significant third space.” In doing so, she is appropriating a term made famous by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book, “The Great Good Place”. In it, the author advocates for investment in public spaces, outside of home and work that encourage congregation, civic engagement, and relationship building. Karinna sees her virtual company as a “third space” to converge and nurture the emerging digital fashion ecosystem.”
Not surprisingly, health entrepreneurs are all over the metaverse as well. Or at least they think they are. Many of the new ventures are led by current or former health executives, attracted by investor demand, selling marginal moves in telemedicine, robotics, behavioral health, consumer wearables, and the like.
Deloitte & Touche LLP report that digital health investment has quadrupled in the past four years, including $21.6 billion in 2020. They see health tech invasion of the metaverse as “a prescription for disruption by a growing base of health technology investors armed with funding from special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).” Investors are literally betting on an idea since SPACS go public without any existing business operations. They play to profit, not to disrupt.
Journalist turned tech analyst, AMP Creative’s Elena Piech sees the metaverse as “enabling us to be surrounded by information…this is the next iteration of life.” Could that work for health care, and if so, what might be the deliverables. Here are three:
Heal – When humans fall ill, they entrust doctors and nurses to respond in real-time with knowledge, touch, and accessible resources. Could a health metaverse allow for a more ethical, equitable, efficient, inclusive, and safer system of interventional care?
Health – Prevention and wellness benefit from patient-health professional relationships marked by compassion, understanding, and partnership. Could the metaverse reinforce trust and confidence, reliable information exchange, personalized health planning, and management of fear and worry?
Whole – Health is a function of a wide range of social determinants like housing, nutrition, clean air and water, education, and economic security. These resources are the products of good governance and healthy communities built around individuals, families, and societies. Could the metaverse, as a virtual “3rd space” contribute to community harmony, stability, security, and happiness in a manner that kept us whole?
When it comes to a healthy metaverse, what then is the takeaway? Our health is not a game. It is our life. And as Esther O’Callahan said, “…if that sounds ludicrously naive and optimistic about it – I am and I’m not sorry!”
Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian, Health Economist, and author of “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.“