The future

What is real, anyway?

The Metaverse is coming

WITNESS ANY videoconference call, and it is striking how awkward it still is—everyone is in boxes, looking off in random directions. Microsoft tried to fix this recently with “Together” mode for its Teams application. Created by Jaron Lanier, a virtual-reality pioneer, it does away with boxes and puts everyone in a shared virtual space such as an auditorium. All participants see the whole group at once, as if they were all being reflected in a huge virtual mirror. Mr Lanier says this allows social and spatial awareness functions in the brain to work more naturally, and makes it harder to notice irregularities in eye contact.

For Mr Lanier, “Together” mode is a small contribution to a philosophy he holds dear—that, as technology develops, it should keep people in mind. Instead of asking “is videoconferencing good or bad?” or “is VR good or bad?”, he says, the real question is “how can we make this more human-centred?” He sees virtual realities as a path to that goal, by making computing more human-friendly.

Take posture, for example. Sitting at a keyboard, locked in position for hours and focusing on a fixed screen is a recipe for a range of physical complaints, from sore necks to…