The Metaverse for Morons: How You Must Prepare
Patrick Miller: Are you tired of tribalism?
Speaker 2: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.
Speaker 3: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.
Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?
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Speaker 5: You could put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
Patrick Miller: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?
Speaker 6: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican party? And the answer is absolutely not.
Speaker 7: From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote democratic.
Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.
Keith Simon: This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.
Patrick Miller: I'm Patrick Miller.
Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon. And we choose truth over tribe, do you? Okay, so a couple days ago, I think it was on the 28th, I heard that there was a big announcement by Mark Zuckerberg. And I don't really pay attention to those kind of things, they come and go, and I think of them more as sales gimmick, but I heard all these people talking about the metaverse. And I honestly thought it was a joke, the universe, the metaverse, I didn't know, is that real? And then the next thing I knew is Patrick had an article come out in the Gospel Coalition, explaining the metaverse. And I was like," Well, I guess it's real." So I was thinking that maybe you could help me understand, since you're the author of a big article on a big website, the private school kid could help the public school kid understand what the Zuck is going on.
Patrick Miller: That sounds great. I've had a lot of people ask me, what is the metaverse? They know I'm a nerd, I'm a dork, and I'm very interested in digital spaces, that's where I spend a lot of my time and energy. And the metaverse, just that term, really came onto our radar starting back in April. I don't know if you've ever done this Keith, you can go onto Google and you can look at the usages of words, when they start escalating, and April of 2021 is when the metaverse skyrockets. And that's not when the word was invented, it was invented back in the 1990s by a guy named Neil Stevenson, in a book called Snow Crash. And I am also a science fiction nerd, so of course I've read that and was familiar with it. But I'd been talking with a friend of mine, Ian Harbor, who's in marketing, and we'd been talking with the metaverse well before Zuckerberg made his little announcement. And so when he did, we're like," Well, I guess we better capitalize on this opportunity and start a conversation."
Keith Simon: You're amazingly normal for being so odd. So the metaverse-
Patrick Miller: Thank you, that's so kind of you.
Keith Simon: That was a compliment. I'd never heard of the metaverse until the last few days, but you're saying that this is a conversation that's been going on for a while among digital nerds like you. Has the meaning changed or has it always been this same conception of a digital virtual world that we could live in?
Patrick Miller: No, I think the meaning has changed, and we'll explore here in a little bit what the metaverse is, but what has escalated this conversation? No surprise is the fact that we've had a pandemic, all of a sudden, many of us are living huge portions of our lives online. You think about high schoolers who are doing Zoom classes or college students doing the exact same thing, or like you and I, we all of a sudden have remote employees, the only way we contact them is via Zoom or digital platforms. And that wasn't the case two years ago, and so, because of those changes that the pandemic has really escalated, it's changing the conversation around an old topic, the metaverse.
Keith Simon: Whenever I watch part of the Zuckerberg announcement, there were parts of it that seemed almost old hat, they're talking about working from home, it almost sounded like a better way to do what we're doing now. And I don't think I would've thought of that two years ago, I would've thought this seems weird, foreign, kind of like The Jetsons, flying cars. But when I watched it, I thought, yeah, this looks almost appealing and attractive to me.
Patrick Miller: That's interesting, because that might be something about your personality type, you like change, because I think a lot of people saw the Mark Zuckerberg thing and they had two different reactions. One was to laugh at it, like," Okay, this is a fad. This is a gimmick. This is a joke. This is a novelty." Which by the way, is exactly how people responded in 2007, when the iPhone came out, in 2008, whenever Facebook was opened up to the public, so you didn't just have to be college student or high school student, people all said," Oh, this is cute. This is fun," but they had no idea where things were going. So that's one reaction. I think the other reaction is negative reactivity like," This is evil." Someone commented on our article, they said," This is the new world order." I'm like,"What are we talking about? It's not lizard people who were inventing this stuff."
Keith Simon: Don't you think some people thought it was awfully convenient for Facebook to make this announcement now, it seemed like maybe they were trying to change the conversation about Facebook that's happening, and the culture, changing away from security or algorithms or what they do with your private information or how they're causing polarization in the world. So I think maybe some of it is a bit cynical, like," Huh? I wonder if that's really your motive, is to change the conversation."
Patrick Miller: I think that's part of it. I think the other half is that Zuck is very optimistic about this. It's a rosy description of what the future will be. And I think a lot of people watched this and they say," Well, yeah, technology has improved my life in many ways. But on the other side of things, it's made parts of my life harder. Facebook has not made my life better in, again, many ways." And so they're a little bit critical, they're a little bit cynical, I'm a little bit cynical about whether or not this is really in our best collective interest, and that's why we need to talk about what the metaverse is. But I think a helpful place to start is to have a conversation around how technology changes human life and how technology changes the church in particular.
Keith Simon: One piece of technology that we take for granted today is the automobile, but I've heard people say that the automobile changed churches more than maybe any other technology, and that is because the automobile gave you a choice of what church you were going to go to. Before you went to the church that was down the road, that you could walk to or ride your horse to, but with the automobile, now you get to choose what kind of church do I want to go to, and so that made churches have to present themselves in a way that were attractive to outsiders. They had to offer programs or have a certain preaching style or music style that attracted lots of people, because now you could drive by churches in order to get to the church you really wanted to go to. I mean, think of how many churches you drive by every day in order to get to the church you actually attend. So the automobile changed churches because now churches became more responsible to program in a way to attract people.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I mean, you can't have the modern day mega church, large church without vehicles, because people have to be able to travel from long distances to come to said large church. Another example of technology that radically changed the church, and in many ways actually has even more overlap with the information technology of the internet, and I think eventually the metaverse, is the printing press. I mean, it's a little bit hard for us to conceive of, but before the early 1500s, no one had a Bible in their house. The only people who had Bibles were monasteries or churches who could afford them because copying copies of the Bible was incredibly expensive and not just the Bible, but books written by great authors and great thinkers, you had to have a lot of money and you had to be literate to be able to actually engage with those.
Keith Simon: And so you can imagine that that consolidated power in the hands of the few, if you're the one who had the Bible, then you could interpret the Bible, determine who got access to the Bible, determine what languages the Bible would be in. And all of a sudden, when the printing press comes along, it gives ordinary individuals the opportunity to read the Bible on their own and come to their own conclusions about what it says. And so you get the proliferation of denominations, you get schisms and factions develop, and that leads to a lot of wars.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. 200 years of religious wars. And the printing press, I mean, what you're saying is that it decentralized knowledge. All of a sudden, anybody with a printing press could create pamphlets. Jonathan Rauch in his book, The Constitution of Knowledge, he describes this period in really interesting ways. When the printing press comes out, as you can imagine, there were nefarious characters who took control over a lot of it. They were printing off these crazy pamphlets that are saying insane things, and it took decades for the publication industry to become a thing, where they were centralized places who could say," These are voices you should listen to, and these are voices you shouldn't listen to. And we can decide who those people are because we have the printing press in our house." But it took a long time for those publishers to actually be able to do that.
Keith Simon: Sounds like a modern problem, doesn't it? I mean, that's the exact same conversation that we're having today, about the decentralization of news or information and who gets to control it and who gets to say," This is trustworthy." And so it's interesting to hear how these conversations come around in different forms.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And as you said, it led to the fracturing of the church. I mean, the amount of denominations we have today, simply would not be possible if the Catholic Church still had centralized knowledge, if they were still the only ones with the Bibles, the printing press is what makes that possible.
Keith Simon: And there are financial incentives in this. I mean, so if you own the printing press, then you're going to make money off of being spicy or controversial or having your own set of followers who like what you're putting out. And today, Facebook and other social media companies, they're making money by fracturing the church, their algorithms are just designed to keep you involved on their platform, but at the cost of anger and division.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So when we get to the pandemic era, people are finally becoming aware of how social media is impacting us and how social media is impacting the church. What you said is absolutely true. Facebook knows that outrage is a powerful emotion and they know that if they want to keep people on their platform, they need to keep them outraged, and the way to keep people outraged is to give them outrageous headlines. And so what that ends up doing is it ends up fueling social breakdown, and so now inside of churches, you are seeing people more divided than ever over political issues, and much of that division is coming from content that they're taking from places like Facebook, that are designed to create outrage. And so now the church is going through another, rebirth isn't the right word, but this is having a massive impact on how people think about how we do church together.
Keith Simon: So it's easy to focus on the negatives that come with these transformations, these technological transformations, but there's also a lot of positives to it. I mean, I don't think you want to live in a world without a car. I don't think you want to live in a world without the printing press. This decentralization has caused fracturing, but it also means that people get to decide for themselves. And we live in a society that values egalitarianism, individualism, we are suspicious of central authorities. And so if we don't have these new technologies, then we are dependent, we have to trust the elite, but we don't like that. So all of these technologies have good and bad to them, the reality is they change the world we live in and we, as Christians, have to adapt to the new world.
Patrick Miller: And so now all of a sudden a conversation is starting about the next generation of the internet. Some people call this web three, other people talk about the metaverse, those are overlapping Venn diagrams, we're going to focus on the metaverse today. And I'll say this in just a second, but the metaverse is still in our future, which means that we actually have a chance to think about it before it happens, to change our lives before it changes our lives. And that's why it's so important for us to have discussion, both an optimistic and sober- minded discussion of what is the metaverse and what does that mean for Christians, for how we think about ourselves and how we think about the church.
Keith Simon: So we're calling this episode, metaverse for morons, and I am more than happy to play the role of moron.
Patrick Miller: You're not just playing a role today.
Keith Simon: So I'm going to ask you questions and hopefully you'll be able to answer them. These are the questions that I have and I think other people have as well. And let's just start with something really, really basic, when Zuckerberg talks about the metaverse and you said this has been around, this term has been around for a while, what is it people referring to? Okay, let's start Patrick, what is the metaverse?
Patrick Miller: Okay. Let me start by asking a different question, which is, when is the metaverse, when is this thing coming? Because I think people start freaking out, the temperature goes up because we think because of Zuck's announcement, it's around the corner. This thing is not around the corner. The baby steps of the metaverse, the very beginning of it are at the earliest, five to 10 years away. It won't really be a thing for probably two more decades. So what's that mean? Get this Keith, this is going to be fun. It means that your generation is the legacy generation, the boomers, and you're phasing out and you're passing leadership off to me.
Keith Simon: Next week, when I find glass in my apple sauce, as you're trying to slowly kill me.
Patrick Miller: Man, that is brutal. So as millennials are coming into the highest level of leadership, gen Z is in the place of millennials, that middle tier, and then my children, generation AA, as they are coming out of college is when the metaverse will probably really be a all encompassing reality. But in the years leading up to that, it's like a baby taking its first step, so at that point, the baby is running, but the steps of the next five to 10 years were walking.
Keith Simon: Okay. So part of me feels like this is a little bit like The Jetsons, the cartoon, so we were going to have flying cars and we were told we're going to have self- driving cars a long time ago. And so it feels a little bit like hype that I'm not sure will ever be delivered on. Just because you can have a cartoon like The Jetsons about flying cars, doesn't mean it's real or ever going to happen. So don't you have a little bit of that suspicion, I don't know, maybe it's just talk of a lot of really smart people about a world they would like to create, but it's not really going to happen.
Patrick Miller: I hear that. And what I want to say to that is on the one hand, we don't know exactly what this is going to be. So yes, what we're talking about here as we're theorizing, we don't know. And yet I go back to the example of the always on mobile internet, people didn't think that that was going to change us the way that it has. People didn't think that... Remember when the iPhone came out and they had the app store, people laughed at Steve Jobs like," Who needs an app? I just need text messaging and email at the most on my phone." And think about how much that has changed us, people called it, they did exactly what you did, right?
Keith Simon: Well, it's a little bit different because at that point we had an iPhone, we had an app store and people laughed because they didn't get how much it was going to change us. What I'm saying is I'm not sure this is ever going to come into reality. If it does come into reality, I agree that it'll change us. And again, I'm not saying it won't, I'm just saying in the past we've had predictions and those predictions haven't come true yet and maybe never will. And so this seems like one of those things where some people are laughing at it, some people are ignoring it because they're just not sure that it's ever going to actualize.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And I think that's fair. And I think whenever we get into the concrete examples that are already happening today, we'll realize that actually what you just described as there is an app store and you don't know what it's going to be. Same thing with Facebook, when people said everybody's going to have a social media account, people laughed at that, and now we've got billions of people with social media accounts, you've got boomers with social media accounts.
Keith Simon: Imagine that. Okay. So get back to the question.
Patrick Miller: Let's get back to the question. What is the metaverse? Okay. Okay. So I'm going to read a definition from Matthew Ball, he's a VC with EpyllionCo, he manages a fund there. What they do is they are investing heavily towards the metaverse, so he's a leading thinker in this space is all I'm trying to say. Let's read his definition and I'm going to read it slowly because it is a little bit tough. Okay. The metaverse is a massively scaled, interoperable network of real time rendered 3D virtual world. Okay, so let's pause there. In other words, he's saying this thing is massive, it's not one giant virtual world, it's a world of virtual worlds which are rendered in real time. In other words, it's not pre rendered like when you watch a Pixar movie, someone rendered all of those 3D graphics ahead of time and now you're watching it. This is saying that what you're doing in the real world, in real time, it is being rendered as you are doing it. Okay. Let's keep going. Which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments. Okay. You got it now, right?
Keith Simon: Yeah. That made no sense to me whatsoever. I mean, all those words make sense in and of themselves, but when you put them all together, I'm not sure I quite get it. So maybe we could try the morons guide to the metaverse, so dumb this down.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, yeah. So let's start with what I just explained a second ago, the metaverse is a world of digital worlds. Here's what I mean when I say that. Again, after we wrote the article, I had people posting things, they're like," Oh, look at this platform, this is the metaverse, right?" And so they pick essentially really one game and say that game is the metaverse, and that completely misses the point. The metaverse is literally a world of worlds. Imagine all kinds of games, all kinds of spaces. Have you guys read, Ready Player One?
Keith Simon: I've read Ready Player One, love it. Seriously, it was good.
Patrick Miller: Did you read it or watch it?
Keith Simon: I read it because then watched it later, movie sucked, I'm one of those people.
Patrick Miller: Nice.
Keith Simon: The book is better.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, the book is almost always better.
Keith Simon: Yeah.
Patrick Miller: But you remember how in Ready Player One, he's able to go inside of all kinds of different games, and all kinds of different worlds, remember that?
Keith Simon: Yeah.
Patrick Miller: But remember how he does it with continuity. In other words, he's always himself. He takes that avatar into different places and maybe the avatar changes depending somewhat on the place, but he has continuity of self wherever he goes.
Keith Simon: In Ready Player One, he was physically present in those places.
Patrick Miller: Yes.
Keith Simon: I think that explains it. So both of them are virtual in that the person is not actually there, it's some technology that is projecting them there?
Patrick Miller: Exactly. Projecting them into all these different spaces. So Keith, you might have a digital house, your digital home space, and I might have my digital home space.
Keith Simon: Mine will be nicer.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, well it just depends who's got more Bitcoin.
Keith Simon: Is that going to be the currency of the metaverse?
Patrick Miller: Well, so we aren't going to get super into this, but blockchain is important as an economic mechanism. It probably won't be Bitcoin. Bitcoin's the first piece of blockchain technology that had any success, and it's actually incredibly limited as a platform, but, but, but yes, blockchain will be a part of what allows you to have a consistent self. You might imagine there's a safety deposit box inside of the blockchain that allows you to keep all of your assets, your sweet digital clothes, your sweet digital shoes, your sword, when you want to go play Dungeons and Dragons with all your friends, that kind of thing.
Keith Simon: So is this something that's for our leisure time? You go play games here, you go on vacation here, you could go maybe listen to some music here, but you don't actually go to a job here in the metaverse, you still got to go to work somewhere?
Patrick Miller: I don't know that we're going to be able to draw a line firmly between those. I mean, part of how blockchain, for example, will work in the future is that you'll have players, video game players who are playing video games to create resources that they can live off. This goes to the Ready Player One point, remember how players are able to actually play the game for personal resources. Now I can get into the details of how that works. So some people's jobs might very well be video games, but yes, I think a lot of it's leisure. Dan, are you familiar with Roblox?
Dan: I'm not actually.
Patrick Miller: Oh man. Okay. So here's a test. If you have a child under 18, go and ask them what Roblox is. And if they're under the age of 18, they'll probably know what Roblox is, if they're over the age of 18, they'll probably have no idea what it is.
Keith Simon: So I have a 19 year old, so he is right on the edge of that, and I will ask him, and Dan has a one year old.
Dan: I have a one and a half year old.
Keith Simon: I'm sorry to cut her short.
Dan: She knows mom, dad and dogs so far.
Keith Simon: And Roblox.
Dan: And Roblox.
Keith Simon: And Roblox.
Patrick Miller: Okay. So Roblox is this platform that allows players to create worlds using the platform. So it's a world of worlds, if you will. And what happens in there, sometimes people are creating games, like you say, Keith, other times they're creating social spaces, other times they're creating things that you haven't even dreamed of or thought of before, and that's the point. Will you work in the metaphor? Some people very well might do a lot of their work on the metaverse, the same way that we use Zoom. It's not a video game, but I might show up to my office in San Francisco, despite the fact that I live in Columbia, Missouri, and I'll be there via AR, other functionality.
Keith Simon: AR?
Patrick Miller: Augmented reality.
Dan: So could we get a California salary in Columbia, Missouri, hypothetically?
Patrick Miller: Oh man, that is a great question.
Dan: That would be sick.
Keith Simon: What's the difference between AR and VR?
Patrick Miller: Yeah, that's really good. So VR is virtual reality, so that is technically you imagine people putting on the Oculus goggles and they've got a real time rendered virtual world that's all around them. Augmented reality is more like you put on a set of glasses that allows people to be projected into your space. So a great example of this by the way, is Pokemon Go. If you have your phone, you can look around at your environment and it will project into the environment, a Pokemon, a little monster, that's what augmented reality is. So you might have these glasses on Keith and I live in a different city, but we can work side by side because I'll be projected through your glasses, into your real space.
Keith Simon: So one of the things that pops in my mind as I hear you talk is that this sounds really expensive. And so what-
Patrick Miller: Oh yeah.
Keith Simon: What I'm hearing in is, and especially when I watched clips of the Zuckerberg announcement, is I'm starting to visualize that they're going to be the haves and have nots, and that there's going to be an elite group of people. And I don't mean just the upper 1%, but maybe the top 10% of income earns, top 20%, but this isn't going to be available to everybody. And so what I'm starting to see is that there's going to be groups who can experience all this cool stuff, work from home, work in the metaverse, and then there's just going to be ordinary people doing the ordinary jobs.
Patrick Miller: That's so interesting because I saw it the exact opposite way. I saw this as an opportunity for people, kids to be able to make insane amounts of money, followers. You think about the kid that won the Fortnite championship, he won three point something million dollars. And so isn't this more of an opportunity for people to jump in?
Keith Simon: Well, I bet it was the kid of well off parents.
Patrick Miller: Probably was, most gamers are.
Keith Simon: So my point isn't the age thing, I could imagine kids doing it, my point is it's going to take a lot of personal economic resources to take advantage of this.
Patrick Miller: So there's a lot of answers to this question, and I like that, we're going afield from the main thing. What you're talking about is computing power, Keith, which is you have to have an expensive device that can do all this computing. Chances are in the metaverse, computing is going to be offloaded. In other words, a company might pay you when you're not using your laptop, to use your laptops computing power for some other user out there. Now, of course, there's going to always be economic divides that exist, but the second half of this is just realizing, this is how technology works. Things that are really expensive right now, become incredibly inexpensive in the future. Here's a great example of this, in the early 90s there was this video game called Doom. Have you ever played doom, Daniel?
Dan: I watched my dad play Doom.
Patrick Miller: Oh, that's so funny.
Dan: I was the kind of brother that would watch my brother play video game games, watch my dad play video games. I was really killer at watching video games.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. You were doing Twitch before there was Twitch. Okay. So this is a really high end video game, it's a first person shooter, one of the first of its kind and you have to have a high end PC to run it when it comes out in the early 90s. There are people today who have managed to run Doom, which required a high end PC, on pregnancy tests.
Keith Simon: Pregnancy tests? They a little chip in there?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So these new pregnancy tests, they have little cheapy screens and that's how they show you whether you're pregnant or not. They're running Doom on pregnancy tests.
Keith Simon: So your point is that technology evolves pretty quickly and what starts as expensive, gets cheaper, and what takes a lot of power and resources, they eventually put into a pregnancy test on a little chip, right?
Dan: Does it still work after you pee on it?
Patrick Miller: That's a great question, I have no idea.
Keith Simon: Yeah, okay, so maybe you're going to be right, and maybe all this will get democratized pretty quickly, but it's starting to sound like, to me at least, that for quite a while, there are going to be a lot of people who have a huge head start. And I guess your point is going to be, that's called life, that's true of anywhere, including this world.
Patrick Miller: There's going to be early adopters who are in this way earlier than other people. So back to the buyer question, what's a, metaverse, it's a world of worlds, world of digital worlds, which not only exist in virtual reality, but can also be mapped onto real life reality, it can be layered, you might say, onto real life reality. And it's not just that, it also includes the seamless travel of digital goods. So here's an example of this. I have X amount of followers on Twitter, but if I go onto Instagram, I have very, very, very few followers on Instagram. And there's no way for me to communicate to my Instagram followers," Hey, if you follow me over here, you should be following me on this platform as well." That's because I don't have continuity from Twitter to Instagram. This is one of the key parts of the metaverse, which is that when you go from one platform to the other, your relationships, your digital goods, they transfer. So if I had a Twitter account and then I go over to Instagram, now all my Twitter followers are also following me on Instagram, that's the seamlessness of the metaverse.
Keith Simon: All right. So Patrick, what's it going to be like to live in the metaverse?
Patrick Miller: Well, okay. So of course, remember what I said a second ago of we're guessing to some degree, the metaverse right now, it's a like a zygote, it's like a little embryo, the baby isn't fully formed and whatever the fetus is, a fetus is very different than a zygote. You can make guesses based on the zygote, where things are going to go, but that's where we're at right now.
Keith Simon: So like you we're saying earlier about Pokemon Go, that you can see things on your phone, in your current environment that aren't really there?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So imagine on our table right now, Keith, if I had my phone out, looking through the lens of my phone, I could see a Pikachu sitting on the table between us.
Dan: Now that'd be a rare one. I wouldn't see you seeing a Pikachu immediately, you seeing a Bulbasaur.
Patrick Miller: Okay, okay, a Bulbasaur, thank you, that helps. Keith has no idea what we're talking about.
Keith Simon: No, I don't have any sores.
Patrick Miller: It's all right. So let me give one of my favorite examples right now. There's a new TV show, it's on Fox, it's called Alter Ego.
Keith Simon: I just love the idea of you sitting down in your La- Z- Boy watching Fox, Alter Ego.
Patrick Miller: I've only watched clips from the show, I haven't watched the whole show, but it's the concept that interests me. So the way it works, it's kind of like American Idol, you've got judges who are judging singers, but instead of coming on the stage live, the singers pick out an avatar.
Keith Simon: No, no, it's not like American Idol, it's like The Masked Singer, is what it's like, isn't it?
Patrick Miller: Yeah, that's right, yeah, yeah.
Keith Simon: I mean, I've seen commercials for both during NFL football and it looks like The Masked Singer.
Patrick Miller: You're actually totally right, yeah. So it is more The Masked Singer, except instead of a singer in a mask, it's a digital avatar. So the judges are watching a digital representation of the person who is performing, perform their music, and you don't get to see who the person is, all you see is their avatar, they even have avatar names, bizarre names.
Keith Simon: And so how is it different than The Masked Singer? It's the same show? It's like Taco Bell, everything's the same, it just comes in a different form?
Patrick Miller: Yeah, yeah. You're obsessed on the analogy, but what we need to attend our attentions to is the fact that you have people, this is what they say, they say," Look, because of my physical appearance, I can't perform on stage."
Keith Simon: Because I'm ugly.
Patrick Miller: I'm ugly, or I don't look the way that people expect someone like me to sing or they say," I have such high social anxiety, I couldn't ever possibly get on a stage." And they say," But when I'm in my alter ego, when I'm in my avatar, then I'm free."
Keith Simon: So your big point here, if I understand it and I'm not sure I do, but we're already seeing places in our world where people are choosing images, choosing identities to represent themselves. And those identities and the choices are going to proliferate, they're going to have more choices. And we're not exactly sure how it's going to play out, but we're already seeing that happen now in small ways, in a show like Alter Ego.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, and again, they're associating themselves strongly with these alter egos, with these avatars, the avatar is a part of their self. We've already talked about Pokemon Go, so we'll move past that, but let's talk about a different example. There have been concerts that have happened inside of video games, so a few examples, Lil Nas X did a concert in Roblox, 21 Pilots also did a concert inside of Roblox, but probably the biggest one was Travis Scott, the rapper, he did a concert in Fortnite that by the end had over 30 million eyes on it. That is far, far, far more than the Super Bowl.
Dan: Now I attended this concert.
Keith Simon: You went to-
Dan: I went to the concert.
Keith Simon: On Fortnite,
Dan: On Fortnite.
Keith Simon: Okay. Fortnite was a game, help me understand, Fortnite was a game that my kids played years ago when they were younger, maybe they still do, I have no idea.
Dan: Yeah, don't judge me.
Patrick Miller: It's the most popular game on the internet still.
Keith Simon: And so how do you go to a concert in a game?
Dan: I honestly thought that it was a better experience than a lot of concerts that I've been to.
Keith Simon: Were you just sitting on your couch watching the concert on television?
Dan: No, so I was interacting with the concert is what I would say.
Keith Simon: Like high fiving the singer, up on stage with the singer?
Dan: Well, no, so there's all these people around, so you're playing a game and then the concert started and there's this massive Travis Scott that just comes in, in a planet form.
Patrick Miller: It's like Godzilla Travis Scott.
Dan: It was so cool. And I have the subwoofer blasting, I have my speakers going super high and I'm just in my basement with all these people, and we're just running towards Travis Scott in the game.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So it's cool, there's all kind of altered physics. So there's one point where characters can do these super gravity jumps, where they're jumping way high into the air and moving around, they're dancing around and they're interacting and there's different worlds. And so this song happens in this world and then we move to a different world to watch a different song in a different place.
Keith Simon: Do you have glasses on, like virtual reality glasses?
Patrick Miller: No, it's just a video game.
Keith Simon: You're watching it on your screen, on a television screen.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, but you're interacting with it. It's not like a Pixar movie, it's not like I'm watching the Pixar movie of Travis Scott.
Keith Simon: You're interacting with it. What are you choosing?
Patrick Miller: You're moving your avatar around, you're playing a game in the concert.
Keith Simon: With Travis Scott singing on the stage.
Patrick Miller: Uh-huh(affirmative). Yeah.
Keith Simon: crosstalk.
Dan: It was like you were in a world, at one point you were in a water world, just swimming around with people and Travis Scott, just doing Astroworld. I mean, it was amazing.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. If you watch the videos, it's a pretty cool experience. But what we're trying to highlight is that all of a sudden now you are having concert venues, not existing in the real world, but existing in a virtual world. And as Dan just said, you have an experience you could not have in the real world, one that you even just said, I almost preferred to being in a real concert.
Dan: And I know that's going to upset a lot of people because, oh, you can never get past the real world experience. I've been to a ton of concerts. Let me just compare it to, I went to a Maroon 5 concert, drove two hours from Columbia, paid$ 200 on a whim, that was stupid. And I had very nosebleed tickets and I couldn't hear it all, and it wasn't and exciting, and I was so far away that I felt so disconnected from the actual experience. What would you rather have, a free, awesome experience with loud sound and great visuals or$ 200 gone and a waste of time?
Keith Simon: Right. People say that about going to a sporting event, an NFL game, a college football game, you can get a better seat on your own couch watching it on your television. And so you're saying it's be better to be home and to be participating virtually because more than it's just convenient, it's that there are opportunities for interaction that you wouldn't have.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I mean, if Dan had wanted to, and I don't know if he did this, he could have been in that concert with his friends. They could have been talking via chat, they could have been singing along, I mean, you can have a pseudo concertish experience, but it was very interactive. And so it's not even like sitting down and watching an NFL game, it's like if you could watch an NFL game, except all of a sudden you feel like you're next to all of your friends sitting inside of the stadium, having an NFL like experience.
Dan: And the drinks are cheaper.
Patrick Miller: That is the truth. So again, all I'm trying to highlight here is that you have people again, experiencing a event inside of a virtual platform. And again, this is the zygote of what the metaverse will be like. Another example, one thing people say is they're like," Look, you can't simulate actual presence." For example, I need to be able to see someone's facial expressions to be able to communicate with them. But anyone who has an iPhone and knows how to have fun, has probably played with the memojis or the animojis, which is this little feature where you can turn yourself into a cartoon character.
Keith Simon: I've never done it, but I've seen other people do it. And one thing I'd like to say that's consistent across the board is everybody's, what do you call it, memoji, looks more attractive than they do.
Patrick Miller: Oh yeah, of course.
Dan: There's a little pile of poop memoji though, or it's the animoji?
Patrick Miller: That's the animoji.
Dan: Oh, okay.
Keith Simon: I mean, everybody, I'm like," Wow, that was you 20 years ago?"
Patrick Miller: There's no wrinkles feature. But actually you're highlighting the point. I mean, which one do you want to be, Keith?
Keith Simon: Well, I'm neither right now. Yeah, I get the attractiveness to it, but I also get the danger of it. Because I think it was Brad Paisley, this song years ago, I'm Cooler Online, right?
Patrick Miller: Yes.
Keith Simon: The point is that everybody's cooler on the dating app than they are in real life.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. But what's cool about the memojis or the animojis is that your eye iPhone is shooting infrared light and it's bouncing back and it's using all of that information coming in to track 30, 000 unique points on your face.
Keith Simon: No wonder we all have cancer.
Patrick Miller: Well, it's not just that. I mean, our iPhones, most people don't realize this, if you have an iPhone 11 or an iPhone 12, it's a radar and everywhere you go, it's mapping. For example, the Pokemon Go thing, how does it know where the table is and where to put the Pokemon? It's using radar technology. And so everywhere you walk around, there are radar images coming into your phone constantly, of the space that's around you. And so again, my whole point here is you can create a simulation of human presence when you can emulate their facial expressions, when you can emulate the physical spaces that they're sitting in, and our iPhones are already doing this, this is not a future thing, this is something I can do right now on my iPhone.
Keith Simon: Did they ask us permission to do all this?
Patrick Miller: I'm sure they did in one of those long forms that you need a PhD to read.
Keith Simon: And I just hit accept, cause I wanted to get my iPhone set up. Yeah.
Patrick Miller: Yep.
Keith Simon: They're sneaky. So your point, I think, if I get it, let me just make sure, is that technology right now is recording the world as it is, so that-
Patrick Miller: In real time.
Keith Simon: In real time, so that we can manipulate it in the future for the virtual world?
Patrick Miller: That's how it will, I think, be used in the future. But the point is when you're sitting across the table from your virtual worker, and you're wondering how can they have an avatar that actually is moving its hands around and its face is showing their actual facial expressions, I'm sure there'll be a Zoom function where you can turn all that off, but that's how it works. It's already possible right now. I mean, we've done it on FaceTime, we have a remote employee and sometimes we'll turn on the animojis while we're talking to her just to bother her. And so she's seeing us talk, but we've got little baby faces on our heads.
Keith Simon: I've seen people do that and okay, cool. That's you, you do you.
Patrick Miller: Okay. Next example of what it's going to be like, so someone might be like," Okay, yeah, maybe you can get someone's facial expressions and maybe you can hear them, but something you can never replace with in person is touch." This is where things get a little bit creepy. Haptic technology has developed incredibly recently.
Keith Simon: Haptic, is that the name of a company?
Patrick Miller: Okay. So here's a great example. On your iPhone, most people don't realize this, when you're typing if there's a function on like your phone feels like it's vibrating every single time you tap a letter, that's haptic technology. It's not vibrating, it's using a little sensor inside of it to create the sensation of typing. That's what haptic technology does, it's a sensation creator.
Keith Simon: So this is like a ride at Disney World. You're sitting in a chair and you feel something on your neck or you feel the chair vibrate at scary moments?
Patrick Miller: Yes. So that's a very analog, old version. Haptic technology can create precision level physical experiences. So the PlayStation 5 just came out and I have a PlayStation 5 and I've messed around with some of this just to experience it. And the controllers, they can actively simulate rain, it's one of the most bizarre things you'll ever feel. It literally feels like raindrops.
Keith Simon: Only on your hands?
Patrick Miller: On your hands. Yeah, only on your hands, but it feels like raindrops dropping on your hands.
Keith Simon: You have a PlayStation 5?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I try to keep up to date, man. I'm hip to be-
Keith Simon: Are you a gamer, and I didn't know it?
Patrick Miller: I play video games occasionally, I've told you this. You're acting surprised.
Keith Simon: I didn't know you had a PlayStation 5.
Patrick Miller: I like staying up to date on the games, man, you got to play them. But it's not just that, there's actually now haptic gloves and they're able to physically simulate flying an airplane. So you feel yourself pushing forward the ignition, I don't know what technical terms are, or turning dials, and it feels very real to real life, it feels like the dial is there. And if you have a VR headset on, when you reach to grab the dial, you feel it in your hands. Now we're just seeing haptic technology happen in your hands, eventually we will probably see the birth of haptic suits that can give full bodily experiences. That's where I said things start getting a little bit creepy and weird, but the point is we are headed in that direction.
Keith Simon: So we're not going to need other people in our physical world, we're going to be able to live virtually in a world. Is this like The Matrix where they hook you up to the chords and you end up in a completely different world that's not real, and you are living in a projection?
Patrick Miller: I mean, that's kind of what VR is. The difference is, look at The Matrix, it's the sensations you're feeling are happening inside your brain, what we're talking about is simulated touch.
Keith Simon: All the weird stuff you can come up with is already happening now, it's just you have to have it in public, you have to do it with other people. This is going to allow you to do it private by yourself.
Patrick Miller: Yes, absolutely.
Keith Simon: Is that the difference?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And again, so remember you and I are having a digital meeting and we come up, you and I aren't touchy people, but let's just imagine this kind of thing happened in our real life.
Keith Simon: Now the best part of COVID is that no one touched me.
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: Now that we're coming out of COVID, people are starting to touch me.
Patrick Miller: I agree with that.
Keith Simon: I'm like,"No, stop."
Patrick Miller: A normal person's bubble is 32 inches away from them, Keith's is six feet away from him.
Keith Simon: For you, more.
Patrick Miller: But imagine you're working and you're like," That's an awesome idea," and you give that digital person across from you a high five. If you have a haptic glove on, you will feel the high five when it slaps.
Keith Simon: Okay.
Patrick Miller: Okay. It's weird, I know. Okay. So there's so many other examples that we can get into here. For example, one that I think's really interesting is Microsoft's PlayFab or Amazon's GameLift, these are artificial intelligences that match make gamers into games together. So," Hey, I want to play a game, but I don't have any friends to play with today," it'll match make you with like leveled players, people at the same level.
Keith Simon: I needed that when I was a kid, I never had anybody play with me. Okay. At some point in this, are you going to explain to me NFTs?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Well, we can definitely do some NFTs, but my only point there is saying in the metaverse, people won't just be match made on games. They'll be match made for maybe Bible studies, match made for small groups, match made for shared interests.
Keith Simon: Okay. So let me see if I get it right. I go to a church small group and I don't really like some of the people there, but I have to deal with them because I was put in this group, they live in my neighborhood or whatever it is. But now on the virtual world, I won't have to have the losers in my small group, I'll be able to create a small group of all stars, much like myself, and then we can all sit around and do it. So I won't have to deal with the people who are extra grace required, is what they call them?
Patrick Miller: Uh-huh(affirmative).
Keith Simon: People like you.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, people like me. No, that's exactly right. Maybe less so I'm with the all stars, more so the algorithm knows what your personality is and it understands what the proper balance of a group would be. In other words, a group's going to have a certain balance of personality.
Keith Simon: So Zuckerberg is going to pick my small group for me?
Patrick Miller: Well that might be the case. And by the way, there's already some companies that are beginning to do some of this stuff for churches. So again, this is not just imaginary world. Now that's for in person, but" Hey, I want to study the Book of Revelation today. I wonder if there's any revelation small groups?" Now I'm in a group and these people all have personalities I like and they share similar convictions and we're having a great Bible study all of a sudden.
Keith Simon: It's cool. I'm not sure, it's all good, but it's kind of cool.
Patrick Miller: Okay. NFTs, non fungible tokens. We've got a little 20 second video that will perfectly explain them to everyone. Here we go.( singing) So now you've got it. An NFT is a discreet piece of digital property.
Keith Simon: Discreet meaning unique?
Patrick Miller: Meaning unique, it's yours. So your shirt that you're wearing right now, that is Keith's shirt. I can't copy and paste your shirt, there's no way for me to do that that I know of in the physical world. Now-
Keith Simon: Maybe in the metaverse you can.
Patrick Miller: Well, we could both have the same shirt, but you would have to have one shirt and I would have to have one shirt. Does that make sense? So I'd have to have a discreet shirt, you'd have to have a discreet shirt.
Keith Simon: Okay, so?
Patrick Miller: Let me give a different example. Let's say you love playing Dungeons and Dragons in the metaverse and you have a sword that you have played with and you have leveled this sword up to its max level, it is a level 99, dragon slaying, whatever, sword. Okay. You've worked really hard to level this thing up, you want to be able to take that sword into a different game or you want to be able to take that sword into your Hangouts with your friends or even better, you want to sell that sword to a total newb who's never played the game before and they want this super leveled up sword. That's an NFT. I can sell you my discreet sword, I give it to you, it's no longer mine. And all of this information, as the rap video said, is stored in the blockchain. A blockchain is just a digital mathematical ledger that's keeping track of where goods go, and it does this using math. We don't have time to get into all the details of how blockchain works, but this goes back to my point of you having a digital lockbox or a digital bank account where your resources, things you have, you're the only person who has a key to be able to get inside of that, access it, pull things out, change it, no one else can do that. That's at the heart of what an NFT, blockchain, how all these things integrate with one another.
Keith Simon: And so the world within the world of the metaverse will recognize this powered up sword that you talked about, and all these different worlds will recognize that now I'm the owner of said sword.
Patrick Miller: And that guy's not anymore.
Keith Simon: That guy's not anymore, and that sword still contains all the power that it had when he sold it to me.
Patrick Miller: Exactly. Now it might be when you go into different worlds, for example, it's like visiting different countries, there are different laws in different countries, so some countries might say," You can't bring that sword in here." But the point is that for the countries that do allow said sword to exist and come into their thing, you would be able to do it. You can think about it like Lego blocks. You link together all of these little Lego blocks that are your things, you can take a Lego block off and give it to someone else, but because they're all built the exact same way, they can fit together into a single shape. This is my set of property.
Keith Simon: So in order for something to qualify as an NFT, it has to be digital, is that correct? So you wouldn't take, say a guitar, a famous guitar, that's not an NFT because it's not digital, it's just a physical guitar. An NFT by definition is a digital piece of property.
Patrick Miller: It's a digital piece of property and it is stored in a blockchain, that is the heart of what an NFT is. And again, I know a lot of this is complicated, but if you can just copy and paste your sword, your sword has no value. You can't sell it to someone else, because they'll go,"I'll just copy and paste someone else's sword." And that's what we're getting at is you need to be able to own things so that you can do economics inside of the metaverse.
Keith Simon: I'm not sure it's so much complicated as much as it's like learning a different language, it's just a new set of sounds and ideas that we're not familiar with. Everything you say kind of makes sense, it's just foreign to me. But what you're saying is that as this slowly develops, it won't be foreign to maybe my kids' kids.
Patrick Miller: NFTs are great for creators. For example, let's say I'm a musician and I create a song. Well, right now I have to go through a massive platform like Spotify, which maybe gives me three cents for every download that I get, and Spotify makes the bulk of the money on the music that I've created. Well with an NFT, all of a sudden, I could, out in the digital world, release my song and I would be able to reap the rewards without a Spotify being out there. I could set up my NFT so that, for example, every time my song is sold to Daniel and then he sells it to someone else, I make a certain amount of money off that sale. In other words, I keep ownership of the NFT wherever it goes in the future. Let's say I level up that sword, I could say," You know what, there's going to be a smart contract," and from this point forward, every time that sword is sold, I get 5% of the value back to myself. So let's say in 10 years, that sword has tripled, quadrupled in value, it's a piece of art that everybody wants, I get to benefit from it in the future. So if I'm an artist and no one knows who I am right now, but in the future they do, and are passing around my art and they sell it off to someone else, again, as its value increases, the amount that I get in the future increases as well.
Keith Simon: Okay. So I get how this is going to affect a certain kind of person, but I'm wondering, is this going to affect everybody, is everybody going to participate in this, the everyday average person going to participate in the metaverse? All right. So Patrick, is everybody going to participate in the metaverse, does this affect the everyday person like me, like Dan, or only the nerds like you?
Patrick Miller: That's a great question, and of course the answer is In the future, not everybody's going to participate in the metaverse, just like not everybody participates in social media, but in the future, the vast majority of people probably will be connected in some fashion to the metaverse. The metaverse is an analogy to the internet, who's not connected to the internet? Now, maybe not everybody has a Facebook account or a Twitter account, but almost everybody is connected to the internet, and in the exact same way, the metaverse is the next evolution of the internet. And so, yes, almost everybody's going to be connected to it, unless they're living in an Amish community. Now, the part that maybe not everybody will do, but I think the vast majority will do is creating these avatars, these digital versions of our ourselves. And it's not hard for us to imagine, gen Z is one of the most introverted generations in history, and yet they are digitally extroverted.
Keith Simon: Okay. So let's go to the avatar thing for a second. In the metaverse, will I have a lot of different avatars that I can be, and so each day I get up and choose who I want to be, or is there one avatar assigned to me, or that I create, and then I have to have that for the rest of my life?
Patrick Miller: I think it will be customizable. A really good analogy to this is how gen Z uses Instagram. So I only have one Instagram account, but if you talk to someone who's gen Z, they might have two, three or four different Instagram accounts.
Keith Simon: And that's depending on who they want to present themselves to be, what community they're going to work in?
Patrick Miller: Exactly. So it's the idea of a finsta, this is a Instagram that I'm only going to give to this select elite group of friends, where I show myself to be who I really am, but I'm going to have a public Instagram account that is the fake version of me. So you can imagine the exact same thing with a avatar, I might have one avatar for my close friends, but maybe with the people I don't know, I'm walking around a beep, bop, boop robot.
Keith Simon: Well, that's interesting, because you can even see today that there are different, like you said, in social media people project different images or in dating apps, like we referred to, or even in the gender ideology, you get to pick who you are, you are your self expression, not who you are defined by your body. It almost removes limitations, and I get to project whatever image of myself I want to be. And so I guess my question is, is our desire to present our self expression, is that creating the metaverse or is the idea the metaverse creating this desire within us now, this fledgling, like you said, a zygote desire to express ourselves, according to what we want? I don't know if I'm saying it right, I just can't quite figure out how this is coming together, which is causing which, or is it just all bubbling up from the same ideology?
Patrick Miller: I mean, I think that is such an interesting question, and I don't think either of us really have the answer to it, but what you said hit me. We live in the most self- expressive society in human history, period, stop, end of sentence. We live in a society where who you are is primarily defined by you. In fact, becoming who you are is a task that every individual has to undertake for themselves. In the past, if I lived even 200 years ago, I would've been Patrick Miller son of Gary Miller, who was an educator, and so I probably would've been an educator as well because I would've stayed in the family business. Family was the identifying feature of my life. Religion would've been another one, and so I would've strongly identified as a Presbyterian. In other words, my identity was given to me externally and now we're living in a society where the opposite is the case, external identity doesn't matter, you need to create it for yourself internally.
Keith Simon: Yeah. So I've read enough to see that happening in our world, that our identity was given, our identity was defined by community, like you said, and now that all seems so five minutes ago, and we are living in this future where we create our own identity. I'm just wondering, what's the relationship between that and the metaverse, are we going to even have more options to create our identity now in the metaverse?
Patrick Miller: I think so. And I mean, I think you're highlighting this for a good reason, which is you might not have the metaverse without this philosophy existing underneath it.
Keith Simon: It seems exactly right that the metaverse and the radical gender ideology and all this other stuff, has come out of a worldview that is relatively new on the scene.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And I think it's going to be one of the major ethical questions that Christians have to face. The Bible says that we're made in the image of God or in Latin, imago Dei, and now all of a sudden we're going to have the possibility of making me into the image of myself. In fact, on Instagram's feed for their actual account, Instagram's account, there was a post, they said," Make yourself in your own image."
Keith Simon: So that completely contradicts how the Bible defines us.
Patrick Miller: Absolutely. And the Bible says that our identity isn't something that we achieve, it's not something that we create.
Keith Simon: It's given to us by God.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. It's a given, it's something that's fundamental of about who we are and we've completely inverted that.
Keith Simon: And yet you can't ever change that, at least you and I believe that we can't really ever change that, this is who will continue to be the image of God given to us by God. We do not create ourselves in our own image, we don't create ourselves at all. So there seems to be this huge conflict between a biblical world view of human being and the metaverse's world view of the human being, but not just the metaverse even our current cultures view of the human being.
Patrick Miller: Well, and you're making the point that the metaverse is just an extension of how we're thinking today. I saw a great tweet by Shane inaudible, he said the metaverse is the moment in time where our digital life, we might say our digital selves, are more important than our physical selves.
Keith Simon: Well that's today for some people, right?
Patrick Miller: You're totally right, yeah.
Keith Simon: I mean, the metaverse has come today if that's the definition of it.
Patrick Miller: But I think the point we're making here is when you look around our culture, we have an epidemic of anxiety, we have an epidemic of depression, and I would argue one reason why we are so stinking anxious right now is because we feel this pressure to self create, to self actualize, to self express, and deep down in the core of our heart, we know that we don't know.
Keith Simon: Yeah. I think in that book, The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, and the idea is that the more choices you have, the more options you have, the more paralyzed you become. You think a world with more options is going to be exciting and give you more freedom and opportunity. But what turns out to be the case is that it doesn't. If you're given a choice of six pieces of candy to choose from, or you're given a choice of 30, you'll like the piece of candy you selected with six options, more than you will with the 30, because the one with the 30, you're always going to be going," Well, I wonder what else I could have chosen. Maybe I would've liked that better." So now if you look at all the identities you could have, again, today, but also even more so in the future, in the metaverse, it seems like you're going to have unhappier people because there's all these things you could have been, what if I'd had done this. And I assume that we're still only going to live 70, 80 years, so you still have a limited amount of time to project yourself and to choose the images you want. So it might be that social anxiety and social depression and all these things, keep increasing because of the pressure to get it right, and to create yourself. And when you have more and more options, it's just not going to work out, I don't think, is it?
Patrick Miller: No, I think it's a really good insight. And what happens to us when we focus our attention, our sense of value on a meta self, not the real person, what happens to our character when we're focused on who we are online, more than we're focused on who we are in person? I mean, I think about the promise of the Bible being resurrection. It's not the resurrection of my avatar, it's not the resurrection of my Instagram account, it's the resurrection of me, this physical embodied person, whose body, whose physicality of how I look, how I speak, how I think, all of these are givens that I did not choose, they're things that God gave to me that I have to live out of. That's the part of me that gets resurrected, not the meta me.
Keith Simon: So the Bible values embodiment, the human body, creation, the physical world in a way that the metaverse doesn't.
Patrick Miller: No, I mean, the metaverse is fundamentally platonic. Plato had the idea the material world's bad, the spiritual world's good, physical is bad, mental is good. Well, the metaverse is entirely mental, it's entirely disembodied, and so it really is a way of living your entire life out in an idealized, immaterial fashion. And the Bible, in a real sense, rejects that.
Keith Simon: So I guess it's pushing us to answer a question eventually, and I don't know if we're going to do it in this conversation, maybe it'll be a future conversation, but should Christians participate in a world, a metaverse world, even if it has some benefits like you get to go to a Bible study with the cool kids, even if it has benefits, should Christians participate in a world that fundamentally runs counter to the Bible?
Patrick Miller: Well, I think that's a good question, and maybe a way of reframing that is chances are Christians will participate. So how do we participate? And part of why I say that is we have already all kinds of disembodied interactions. I mean, think about how much of our relationships happen digitally online without an embodied thing. My wife, this is a great example of this, she likes Marco Polo, it's this little app where you take videos of yourself and you send it to someone else. I notice women tend to like it more than men. Do you use it, Dan?
Dan: No, I did it for just a couple weeks when it was popular at first and then stopped.
Patrick Miller: I think it's because honestly, women are more attuned and people are going to call me a sexist, but I think women are more attuned to facial expressions and the things you can get over video that you can't get over text.
Keith Simon: I remember boys and girls played Marco Polo in the pool.
Patrick Miller: Okay.
Dan: Boomer Alert. Wow.
Patrick Miller: All right. So anyways, she's got this app and with her best friends, her closest friends, they are sending these videos back and forth to each other all the time, and it's how they stay updated on life. These are her best friends, but she might only see them twice a month. She works full time, they work, their lives don't have a lot of natural crossover because of the vehicle, the car, by the way, that wouldn't be the case if we didn't have cars, we'd all live in the same neighborhood.
Keith Simon: Well, she wouldn't be friends with any of those people, if you didn't have cars.
Patrick Miller: No, that's also fundamentally true. And so their relationship has really grown both in person, but especially online in this digital format. And so I don't want to look at my wife and say," Well, that doesn't count, unless you have that conversation in person, fake conversation." Well that's ridiculous, we all know that's stupid.
Keith Simon: Well, right, but I think seeing a video of someone, I know what you're going to say to this, but I think seeing a video of someone is a little different than seeing an avatar of someone through your virtual reality glasses or your augmented reality glasses.
Patrick Miller: Well, in some ways it's actually not that far from it. Let's just say you're able to get at a close to photo realistic avatar of Keith.
Keith Simon: Maybe it'll seem so real you'll think you're in the presence of that person. I guess that's the goal.
Patrick Miller: And on one level, I actually want to say, this is one of the pros of the metaverse, is that by bringing us closer to an embodied experience, in a way it might be a better way to communicate and connect digitally, than for example, on Twitter, where someone control the you know what out of me and say terrible and mean things, but it's not their avatar, it's not their face doing it, it's just this faceless dude with these little laser balls coming out of their eyes. What is that, by the way, on Twitter, have you seen this?
Dan: It's a cryptocurrency thing, that when people are super into cryptocurrency, they have the lasers coming out. Tom Brady did, it's super cool.
Patrick Miller: It's so dumb. But anyways, you see my point. We all have relationships that have probably formed digitally. I have friends that I've never met in person that I communicate with on a regular basis via text, via phone calls.
Keith Simon: Yeah. I mean, I get it because I want to say, well, but you're presenting yourself as Patrick Miller, but kind of, you're presenting yourself as a version of Patrick Miller that you want them to see.
Patrick Miller: Which is what I do in person, by the way.
Keith Simon: Yeah, I get it. I mean...
Patrick Miller: So here's my point, as we're exploring this, because you're asking should we participate? And I think a better question is how do we participate? So in the same way that on Twitter, I need to ask, how do I participate in this disembodied experience? Am I going to speak with kindness? Am I going to speak with love? Am I going to be unkind? Am I going to project a version of myself which doesn't exist? Am I going to lie about my achievements?
Keith Simon: So in other words, we have all the same questions that we have today.
Patrick Miller: Yep.
Keith Simon: They're just in a different world, but those are all the exact same questions we should be asking today in real person relationships in real life, sitting around an office or in a home or online, these are the questions that we should be asking, and so we're going to ask the same questions. So it turns out they're the same questions asked in the Bible. And so thousands of years go by and lots of things change, but the human heart doesn't and our call to follow Jesus doesn't really change that much.
Patrick Miller: I agree. What I will say is as a parent of a generation AA who will very much so live in this world, I am thinking right now, how do I help my daughter to value in person relationship?
Keith Simon: Why, because you just said a second ago it doesn't really matter?
Patrick Miller: Whoa, whoa, whoa, I don't know how we got there.
Keith Simon: You just said it's not really any different.
Patrick Miller: No, I didn't say it's not any different, I'm saying that we are asking the same questions today, we already have... and by the way, Paul had disembodied relationships, the guy wrote letters to people all the time, that's disembodied. I think that oftentimes our best relationships are a combination of both embodied and disembodied relationships. My closest friends will always be people that I know in person and that I get to see.
Keith Simon: Whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on, hang on, hang on, I think the point you've been making this whole time is that from the beginning, at least for a really long time, we've had parts of our life, parts of our relationships have been disembodied.
Patrick Miller: Yes.
Keith Simon: In that as we project in the future, it's just going to be gradual changes.
Patrick Miller: Yes.
Keith Simon: That continue to go down this path. And you've been saying that maybe even, like through Marco Polo, your wife has closer connections, closer relationships, and we can work with people at a distance and feel like we're right there with them, and that we can have real relationships, get to know people because you're always projecting an image in person or through Twitter or eventually in the metaverse through your memoji or whatever we call it, avatar. So now you're coming back to me and saying," No, in person relationships, those are better, and I need to teach my daughter to value those."
Patrick Miller: Okay. I appreciate what you're saying, you're making me be clear. Here's what I'm trying to say. Just like as a technology has improved, we have become increasingly tempted to live more of our lives online, to do the thing, we're all sitting in a room, looking at our phones and not engaging with each other.
Keith Simon: And is that bad?
Patrick Miller: What I'm trying to say is that we will live a disembodied life online, but that can never replace a embodied life with real people. In other words, we need to have both. And as technology improves, the temptation to live more and more and more of my life disembodied, and less and less of my life embodied, that temptation increases. And so what I'm saying to my daughter is," Hey, you're going to be online, but I want you to be one of the few kids that realizes that the in- person relationships you have are really valuable." And that's something that you do need to be a full human, you cannot leave behind embodied relationships. And so maybe those digital relationships should help strengthen those in- person relationships, but remember what goes first, and I do want to say this, I think that embodied relationships get the priority in our life. My wife, my children, the people, you who are sitting at this table with me, you have priority in my life over the people that I know digitally.
Keith Simon: Okay. But that's fine, and it sounds wonderful and noble, but in order for it to make any real sense, you've got to explain to me why the in- person relationship is better than the, I guess, we'll just call it digital or not embodied or I don't know, whatever you want to call it, why is that in- person relationship better?
Patrick Miller: I think a few things I would go to. Number one is obviously this is the fundamental way God has created us, and the most embodied relationships are the most profound. So this is why, for example, sex is kept inside of marriage. I mean, sex is about the most embodied thing that you can do, and it is for a very particular embodied relationship. But I'd also go to the apostle Paul, who I just made the point, he had disembodied relationships, but he said over and over in his letters," I wish I could be with you. I wish I could come to see you in person." In other words, we see this continual valuation of in person having a certain kind of priority over the disembodied, and I think it's because there's nothing that can replace the analog experience, the full bore, seeing, touching, sitting alongside, hearing, I mean, all of that. The metaverse, it might get close, but it will never be what that thing is, and it will never approximate the life on life friendships that you can have in person when you're living alongside someone.
Keith Simon: Okay. So I get that this is all new, the metaverse is new, Zuckerberg just made this announcement, we've all just been reading and learning about it, I get that, I'm the moron and you're the private school kid, I get all that. But as I listen to you, it sounds like you're talking out of both sides of your mouth, it sounds like you're saying two things that don't quite fit together, and I get why, because there's this tension and you want both things to be true, but it sounds like to me that the metaverse is going to get to the point where it might be better, especially new generations will actually think it is better than the in- person experience. Now they're not going to procreate, and so they'll be dead pretty soon.
Patrick Miller: I get what you're saying. And actually, Keith, I think what we're underlining is that we have a very anemic theology of embodiment and disembodiment. I think about embodiment and disembodiment on a spectrum, it's not an either/ or it's a thing that happens across a spectrum and certain relationships might bounce in and out of either of those categories. But my fear with the metaverse, this is the sober mindedness, is that it's going to be so intoxicating that people will diminish to their mental Health's detriment, they'll diminish embodied relationships that I think are fundamental to being human and to being a healthy person.
Keith Simon: And that's what's happening right now.
Patrick Miller: It is.
Keith Simon: It's just weird to hear this part of you come out, that wants personal embodied relationships. So great, let's move on. So last question, Patrick, how is this going to change our concept of church, following Jesus, doing church together?
Patrick Miller: Well, I don't know if you know this, there are already VR churches.
Keith Simon: There are?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. There's VR churches, they're trying to do VR baptisms, I think it's actually incredibly weird. We're kind of, by the way, we're in this funny phase, remember when the iPhone came out and then everything that came out after it was I, fill in the blank. It's like, iBooks, iWatches, iThis, that's what's happening with VR. It's like VR this, VR that, VR church. And on one level, I appreciate it, because they're trying to reach people in VR reality, but this is something we have to think about. I think we got a little skit from John Crist here.
John Crist: Tired of having to wake up and get dressed and drive across town just to attend your favorite service? Introducing virtual reality church. Start by choosing a church building that meets your needs. Tired of the stress of having to choose a Sunday morning outfit? Never make a fashion mistake again, because virtual reality church will style you based on your denomination. Not a people person? Select the introvert experience to completely eliminate the welcome team, meet and great time, connect cards and that awkward hold hands with the person next you thing we still do.
Patrick Miller: All right.
Keith Simon: I love that. Especially you don't have to touch anybody.
Patrick Miller: You don't have to touch anybody.
Keith Simon: But notice that what he's talking about is some of the things we've been wrestling with, is that you get to create the experience you want, and so even your church becomes a matter of your self expression.
Patrick Miller: Uh- huh(affirmative). Yeah, I mean, it is crazy to think about, how do I want to dress, how do I want to look? And as we already talked about the Travis Scott concert, I know for a fact 20 years from now, there are going to be churches that have mega campuses inside of virtual reality. And actually on one level we can name all the problems with it, but I start with what I see as the positive. If the metaverse is going to be the place where a lot of people are living their lives.
Keith Simon: So we need to plant a church there, right?
Patrick Miller: We have to plant a church.
Keith Simon: We want to talk about Jesus in that world.
Patrick Miller: Yes, you have to be missional. I mean, there's always these tensions between people's practices and what people think of as good practices, and then people who are missional, who are going to say," No, we have to reach people where they're at." Those two groups have always been in combat with each other.
Keith Simon: And they need each other, right?
Patrick Miller: They do.
Keith Simon: We need both sides of that conversation to say," Be careful that you're not promoting and adopting to a culture that ultimately runs counter to the Bible and is bad for human beings." On the other hand, that's where people are living their life, and so I want to talk with people about Jesus, I want to help people follow Jesus wherever they are.
Patrick Miller: I agree with that. And you and I tend to lean into the missional side, I think it's part of our DNA, so it's hard for us to hear people say," Oh, you can never do church inside of virtual reality." I say," Well, you're going to have to," because there's going to be a generation of people, and let's think about gen Z, largely they will be either unchurched, so they never had a church experience in their life, or they will be de- churched, they've left the church, they aren't involved in church. And I will tell you what, they're not going to step into a church once this is all a thing, they're not going to step into a church unless they can visit it first in a virtual format.
Keith Simon: Well, I was going to say, people are already doing this, before people come into our building, you know they've taken advantage of all kinds of digital resources and have checked it out online. And even when we're talking about people selfishly creating churches that fit their own personal needs, in a lot of ways, people are already doing that now, right?
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: This is the idea of the car, and we drive past four or five churches to get to the church that we like. It's not for perfect, but it's the best church that we can find for us. So it's all along a continuum.
Patrick Miller: Well, it is. I mean, think about it for a second. If you want to go to the hipster church in town, you can find the hipster church in town. If you want to go to the Christian nationalist, where you have the flag flying thing, you can find that church. I mean, we have churches that are divided by race. I mean, there are so many different kinds of churches and you just made the point, you can drive right past them very easily. So people are already doing this.
Keith Simon: So this is consumerism on steroids, it just gives you more opportunities to fashion a church the way you wanted to.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Although, it's interesting, it goes back to your point about optionality and how optionality makes us less satisfied. It does make me wonder to what degree people today, because they have so many more options of churches, are less satisfied with their churches in general because they've become consumers and they have a kind of," I'm going to the mall to get my services today."
Keith Simon: Oh, I'm convinced the paradox of choice is a real thing. I think that dating apps, now there's 1, 000 people, 10,000, 100,000 people that I could have a relationship with. And so why settle with this person in front of me, with all of his or her flaws, when the ideal person is a swipe away?
Patrick Miller: That's actually a great point, and I've seen this happen with men in particular, who will not commit themselves to your relationship because they have this idea that this next ideal person is just down the line, just another swipe away. And I do think that's a risk that will run in the meta church reality. I mean, literally another church is a swipe away. Right now, people are so used to scrolling, and if this person's boring me, if this story is old, that this real is blah, I just swipe and I'm in the next thing. And that might be what meta church is like," Oh, worship today was a little bit of a bummer," swipe," Oh great, now I'm in this place. I like this better, I'm going to stay here." That's a very different thing even than driving around from church to church, because you're stuck once you arrive.
Keith Simon: So you can see that we, as Christians, we have a lot to figure out. What's community like? What's it mean to be created in the image of God? There's so much that we have to figure out in this future world, but they're the same questions that we've been wrestling with for hundreds, thousands of years, we're wrestling with them today, so I don't think it should be too scary. Okay. So Patrick, let's try to land this plane. When do you think the metaverse is coming and what should we expect? What are the next steps in front of us?
Patrick Miller: Yeah, I think the next steps in front of us are actually pretty clear, what we need to do is shape followers of Jesus. That might be ourselves, it might be our children, it might be our friends, but we need to shape ourselves to be prepared for this world. And I think part of that is remembering that we do still need to embrace embodied relationships, we do still need to embrace the givenness of our identity, that God defines who we are, I don't define who I am. And these are themes that we need to maybe emphasize more and more, not just for adults, but even inside of children's ministries. But I think maybe the most important thing that the church can take away from is this, the local church should be a place that accepts you as you're made, not just as you're projected.
Keith Simon: Oh, that's good.
Patrick Miller: And that's what we have to remember as a church, is we need to, 20 years from now, still be a place that it does not matter what you look in VR, AR or any of those other things. The thing that matters most to us is who you are as a person and that we would accept you and love you and embrace you as you are, made by God.
Keith Simon: Okay. Can you explain the difference between VR and AR one more time?
Patrick Miller: All right, on that note, we are closing down this episode.
Keith Simon: Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Patrick Miller: And make sure it's at least five stars.
Keith Simon: Stop, no, just be honest. Reviews help other people find us.
Patrick Miller: Okay, okay. At the very least, you can share today's episode, maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.
Keith Simon: And if you didn't like this episode, awesome, tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe_, we might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
Let's be honest: We're probably ALL morons when it comes to the metaverse! So, in this episode of Truth Over Tribe, we're doing our best to break it down for you. Keith and Patrick dive into what the metaverse is... well, Patrick teaches us and Keith asks the questions most of us are wondering. Today these two explore the origins of the metaverse, how technology has affected the church, what happens to our character when we focus more on our online persona than who we are in person, and most importantly, how you must prepare for this monumental technological change. Listen now for a deep dive into this digital world!