Rest with these words for a moment. Settle back into them and feel how well they sit—truth is the best lumbar support.
Every one of us, man, woman, and child, is searching for the same thing: home. Kings, with cupboards smash full of crockery, have their favourite cup and the right shelf to rest it on. Beggars, with no shelf or cup to speak of, have their usual haunts, their particular corner—though multitudes tramp by.
Whether for an evening or a lifetime, we shape our environments to our patterns and tastes. Leaving traces. Footprints and coffee cup rings. Here have I dwelt; I could do no other.
Milton describes Adam and Eve’s “blissful bower” in his epic poem, Paradise Lost. With its “roofe of thickest covert was inwoven shade Laurel and Mirtle…” Even before the horrors of predator and storm, we fashioned our evening bower, a retreat from the vastness, a room of our own.
Ivan Illich—priest, philosopher, and social critic—was concerned that the process of industrialisation and the coeval commodification of space had disrupted this art of living, silencing the vernacular of dwelling—unique to each performer. The dawn of the “commute” had given rise to homo castrensis—billeted man—seeking his shelter, a convenient garage to store the workforce overnight. Illich commented that contemporary settlements have become largely homogenous and, increasingly, not owned by their occupants.
As a result, the items we leave behind are no longer the artefacts of our dwelling but clutter for our successors to sort through and dispose of. The marks we make on walls are considered “dents — wear and tear… only the rich may move a door or drive a nail into a wall.” After moving ten times in four years, I appreciate the weary monotony of packing and unpacking boxes. Why bother putting up pictures only to pull them down again and pay a fine for the scuff marks? What opportunity is there really to “dwell” in the sense that Illich conveys for those of us who do not own our own homes?
Significantly, so-called “commons”—places for social interaction and creative engagement—are increasingly squeezed out to make way for vendors of commercial exchange. Can the loss of tangible dwelling help to explain the appeal of altered and virtual reality and the rising star of the metaverse?
Abhysheq Shukla describes the metaverse as “a reflection of our collective desire to transcend physical boundaries and immerse ourselves in a world of endless possibilities.” No longer constrained by Newton’s laws or council permits, in the metaverse, we have the liberty to conjure castles in ethereal spaces, to forge empires in pixels and data. Already, the siren calls of these digital realms, unburdened by the limitations of the tangible, have captured the imagination of over 400 million users. Augmented reality devices that promise to heighten and beautify the immersive experience of the real world have leapt in usage from 0.81 billion in 2021 to 1.4 billion in 2023.
At the same time, critics of Augmented and Virtual Reality have been accused of “reality privilege.” Their views shaped by the relative comfort and creative potential of their own lives, without reference to those for whom the metaverse presents an alternate, more beautiful reality.