The heart of tech is coming to the heart of the Mediterranean. Join TNW in València this March 🇪🇸

This article was published on January 6, 2022

How metaverse avatars could level the playing field for remote workers

Every day is a good hair day when you're a cartoon

How metaverse avatars could level the playing field for remote workers
Tristan Greene
Story by

Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

You either log off ashamed of your own face, or you stay on Zoom long enough to become a narcissist.

Those are the options being presented by researchers, pundits, and a host of other people who started writing about COVID-19 and working from home a few years back under the pretense things would be back to normal by Christmas… of 2020.

It’s 2022 now and we’re hitting a fever pitch when it comes to pontificating on the finer nuances of human psychology through the microscopic lens of a web cam.

“Not everybody hates looking at themselves on Zoom” proclaims WSU Insider’s Sara Zaske.

Their article references recent research from Washington State University associate professor Kristine Kuhn. In a survey of more than 80 workers who’d been displaced from the office and forced to work remotely due to COVID-19, Kuhn found that some folks didn’t like seeing themselves on camera and others did.

Per the research:

Two studies of people attending regular virtual meetings, one conducted with newly remote employees from a variety of organizations and one with business students shifted to remote learning, test this assumption. In both studies, the association between frequency of self-view during meetings and aversion to virtual meetings was contingent on a dispositional trait: the user’s degree of public self-consciousness.

Kuhn’s work recognizes that individual results may vary, but it’s interesting to note the general divide.

Whether or not you’re comfortable on a Zoom call isn’t necessarily a good indicator of employee value or productivity.

If you, for example, are a news anchor, it might be a big deal. But most of us should reasonably expect to be able to retain gainful employment whether we’re good on camera or not.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world. People who thrive in front of their own digital visage can potentially get a leg up on those of us who’d rather not be forced to make eye contact with themselves.

And, worse, people who experience genuine anxiety at the prospect of spending time on camera every day can find themselves somewhat ostracized as society pummels toward the complete normalization of the idea that being employed means being monitored on camera.

Luckily, the big silly zeitgeist of 2022 is certain to be the metaverse. If you’re wondering what the metaverse is, it’s whatever any given company’s marketing team says it is.

Here’s the only important thing you really need to know about the metaverse right now: it won’t be a VR-only experience. A small percentage of the population simply cannot experience VR without getting sick.

And, unless you work in the VR sector, that would be arbitrary and purposeless discrimination.

The metaverse will have VR components, but the big sell here is that the metaverse is its own complete “thing” unto itself. So, you probably wouldn’t log in to the VR metaverse and then log out of it to go on a videoconferencing call.

The future that big tech sees for all of us is one wherein your presence in the metaverse is as permanent and unique as you are. If you buy an NFT hat for your avatar to wear, it’ll be there in VR. It’ll also automatically update to your verified social media accounts and all your connected web profiles. You don’t go to the metaverse, it’s just there.

This means there’s going to be a huge impetus for companies such as Meta (formerly Facebook) and Google to integrate metaverse concepts into their business software. In other words: Google Meet is probably going to go to great lengths to incorporate some form of metaverse avatar integration right there in the app. Gmail will probably have metaverse integration. Metaverse all the things!

Sure, we can do stuff like that already. We’ve all seen the hilarious videos of important people accidentally turning themselves into wacky avatars. But the metaverse threatens to do for silly things like cartoon avatars and paying real money for fake hats what the internet and Facebook did for self-photography and non-traditional media enterprises. It’ll legitimize, normalize, and make them profitable.

Why? Because there’s gold in them thar hills! What’s the point of convincing a tiny portion of the population to buy really expensive NFTs when you can convince a giant portion of the population that it’s just as important to have a nice shirt on your avatar as it is to shower before you physically go to the office.

No matter how you feel about the metaverse, digital shirts, or big tech, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind: if these predictions come true, I’ll never have to be on cam again.

I can roll out of bed, click a button to dress up my avatar in a business suit, and look presentable for a meeting with my company’s CEO. Meanwhile, in reality, I look like someone who stuck their finger in a light socket and I’m wearing footie pajamas.

That’s the only future I want to live in.

Get the Neural newsletter

Greetings Humanoids! Did you know we have a newsletter all about AI? You can subscribe to it right here.

Also tagged with