“The Metaverse is not just VR in new”

Interview with tech journalist Thomas Riedel

Digitalisation & Technology, 01.09.2022

Thomas Riedel is a start-up expert, tech journalist and host of the German Metaverse podcast. He talked to //next columnist Markus Sekulla about the Metaverse, Crypto, WEB3 and NFTs. Thomas Riedel says: “The crypto industry urgently needs to be regulated, if not banned in parts. Technologies that have such drastic energy consumption should really not be used in such a time of energy scarcity and the immediate threat of the destruction of our nature.”

Tech-Journalist Thomas Riedel

Tech journalist Thomas Riedel

Hello Thomas, hardly anyone is as well connected in the digital scene in the Rhine-region like you are. I have seen you on stages and moderating many startup events. What are you currently focusing on?

Two things are keeping me busy at the moment: podcast productions and the Metaverse hype. Podcasts, because that has become my second mainstay. For example, I'm currently hosting and producing the third season of the Gründerzeit podcast for the Rheinische Post, and I'm producing the deutsche-startups.de interview episodes, among other things.

On the topic of Metaverse, I had already started a Metaverse podcast last year right after Connect 2021, which is Meta's in-house developer conference, which now also includes a newsletter and a Meetup. I had been looking for a topic to showcase what I had learned during the Corona pandemic on the topic of future literacy, which is not yet talked about much in Germany. And what can I say: I am overwhelmed due to the positve feedback and the amount of listeners. If you are asked to be a Metaverse expert for television, you must be doing something right! 

That’s for sure :) When do you think the Metaverse could break through to the masses and what factors have to be right for the technology to cross that threshold?

It is forbidden to try to predict the future, I have learned from futurologists. It's smart not to commit, even if it's a bit more boring than loudly proclaiming: I know exactly what the future will look like! It's smart because it's really not possible to say exactly when something will happen. Especially in a very volatile environment. And I think there is no question that we are in such an environment: because of the Corona pandemic, the Ukraine war and the fundamental threat of climate catastrophe and the associated problems in production and supply in the industry. In addition, what we are talking about is technically feasible in principle. But as you also asked correctly, adaptation is the sticking point.

Many of the technologies that we would theoretically need for the metaverse are already there: Virtual reality, for example, has quite comfortable headsets today with very good software to run them. The number of people who get sick of it goes down as the level of optimization goes up. Never before have so many devices been sold as this year. The Meta Quest 2 alone has now sold close to 15 million units, which is more than the XBox has ever sold. And yet the Metaverse is not just VR in new. The Metaverse is a network of VR experiences that are connected in such a way that you can walk from one to another without even noticing. Kind of like clicking on a link on the internet and going to another website. In the metaverse, that would be going from, say, a virtual cafe to an office or a store without having to log in again, load a new app, or suddenly have to deal with a completely different resolution, avatar, and operation. 

“Actually, we still have to clarify what the Metaverse is actually supposed to be good for. And that is more a usecase question than a technical question.”

Thomas Riedel, tech journalist

Back to the question: Actually, we still have to clarify what the Metaverse is actually supposed to be good for. And that is more a usecase question than a technical question. As soon as that is cracked, it could start. But this use case does not yet exist, which clearly tells users: Now I need a Metaverse access device! With the iPhone, for example, that was access to the real Internet via a mobile device. But what will that be with the Metaverse? Even Mark Zuckerberg, who started the hype, predicts 5 to 10 years before we reach that point. So the question is complex. And I would like to repeat myself here: Anyone who already knows exactly when the Metaverse will be here, or even proclaims that the Metaverse is here, is acting dubiously and wants to sell you something. Consultant services for example. Or NFTs.

When discussing the topic with people, you often find that all the buzz words get thrown together: Web3, Crypto, Blockchain, Metaverse, NFT and more. Many people don't realize that these are different things. Do you have similar experiences there?

Unfortunately, yes. But I think it's normal at the beginning of a hype. People first have to think about it and discuss it with each other. Unfortunately, consultants and dubious businessmen, including fraudsters such as those in the crypto sector, take advantage of this and act like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. What then leads to the fact that our financial system suffers, or corporations fall for the scheme: Become part of the metaverse today! They don't notice that these are often 2D Internet walking simulators with flanged-on blockchain, because they get one-sided advice. Or because the truth is less important to them than the buzz. Irresponsible in this day and age.

There is a lot of very popular content of yours on LinkedIn and Twitter describing the negative environmental impact of NFT and Crypto. Can you summarize those for us?

To clarify what a problem NFTs are, I like to use the work of an expert who was also on my Metaverse podcast the other day. Dirk Songür, Global Strategic Innovation at Microsoft regularly analyzes NFT products from corporations.

Most recently, he took on the NFT project of a major fashion label. The marketing department celebrated it as a success, as more than 11,000 NFTs were sold within 24 hours. However, the campaign produced 1,700 tons of CO2, which is roughly equivalent to 170,000 real shirts.

A well-known sports shoe manufacturer celebrates itself for virtual NFT sneakers, but produced 7,437 tons of CO2 by that project, which is the amount of CO2 equivalent to producing one million real sneakers.

When a large blockchain technology company launched its new NFT project over three months ago, they caused 18,000 tons of CO2 damage. That's the equivalent of 10,600(!) flights from New York to London. In four days.

„Yes but Thomas, there are also blockchains that do not require so much energy!“ Yes, but why doesn't anyone use them then?! Because they don't get as much attention and the price increases on these Chains are not as promising. Because at the end of the day, this is about speculation.

What can we do about it as a society or perhaps as an individual?

I am an advocate of education. I firmly believe that through education we can solve most of our problems on earth. Next to money and food&water, education is one of the most unevenly distributed resources on the planet, even in Germany. This means that we can rather not rely on it in the short term, even if we have to work on it urgently, as with the other points.

Until then, we are forced to take measures to prevent people from destroying the conditions for our life on this planet.

In plain English, this means that the crypto industry needs to be urgently regulated, if not banned in parts. Technologies that have such drastic energy consumption should really be discontinued in such a time of energy scarcity and the imminent threat of the destruction of our nature. 

“It is important to understand that promises of the future are not facts. The future is a space of possibility, and we should actually be talking about futures.”

Thomas Riedel, tech journalist

I know you don’t like to make predictions for the future, but besides the Metaverse, what other technologies will be significant in the future that perhaps not everyone is thinking about today?

In addition to the metaverse, there are technologies that hold further promise for the future. Quantum computers promise dramatic increases in performance in the future, which should help calculations of complex systems like the weather system. Japanese researchers have managed to chase 317 terrabits per second through a fiber optic cable in the lab. The previous record was 44, an important milestone for building the metaverse and expanding the planetary communications infrastructure, which the researchers say could probably be applied relatively easily to existing infrastructure.

Energy generation is an important field, which is why trillions of dollars are being invested globally in researching working fusion reactors. This may also answer the question of where all the energy will come from in the future to power an immersive metaverse network while we struggle to deal with the effects of the climate catastrophe we brought about centuries earlier.

It is important to understand that promises of the future are not facts. The future is a space of possibility, and we should actually be talking about futures. Because when we speak of futures, then it suddenly becomes clear: There is not one future, the fate to which I am helplessly exposed. But one of these futures can be seized and worked towards. This raises the question: Where do we want to develop? With humanity and science, we have everything we need to seize futures. So we don't need to wait for some new technology. 

Thanks so much Thomas for your time and your thoughts!

Interview: Markus Sekulla

Markus Sekulla

Author: Markus Sekulla

Hi, I'm Markus. I'm a freelance management consultant in the field of creative/digital communication. In my free and working time, which is not always clear-cut, I like to focus on new work, trends, gadgets and sustainable iedas. In my real free time, I'm quite a health freak: eat, run, sleep, repeat.

Markus Sekulla on LinkedIn

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