Since Facebook rebranded itself as Meta back in October 2021, the word ‘Metaverse’ has entered the lexicon, with most struggling to, or pretending to fully understand what it means. While Zuckerberg showcases a Sims-reminiscent virtual avatar of himself occupying what seems to be a Google Meet in 3D, it can be clearly difficult to fully grasp what the Metaverse is, in the same way explaining the internet before the 90s would not have been accurate to what we experience everyday.
Essentially a proposed extension of the internet, the Metaverse is a virtual, occupiable, interoperable, omnipresent environment that continues to exist, even when you’re not in it. As technology continues to move towards more engaging mediums - from text, to audio, to video and now independently interactive - the metaverse positions itself to be the next evolutionary step. This step is a literal one, as we go from simply viewing a connected network, to stepping into a new [uni]‘verse’.
What will we be able to do in the Metaverse?
Well, almost anything. All of the tasks that you would do online, and indeed offline, from shopping, to gaming, to meet ups; this will all be able to take place inside the Metaverse - an environment that blurs the lines between VR, AR and actual reality, and which will be accessible via any of the many devices we currently own. The Metaverse will allow you to exist, in a whole new space, with a whole new body. Whilst the current prototypes display cartoon-like avatars, eventually we will be able to have a life-like rendering of ourselves, as close to what we look like in real life, or indeed, as far removed from our true appearance as we desire. With these cyber-representatives of ourselves, we will be able to do whatever we want, go to a digital-wherever we want, and even more difficult to comprehend, whenever we want. Want to travel back to Ancient Rome? In the Metaverse, that’s a simple, instantaneous outing. Education, communication, gaming - all of this will likely become more immersive and, in theory, much easier than it currently is. You won’t connect with someone online - you’ll meet them online and the term ‘Google it’ may soon be replaced with something else. Something Metaversal.
One of the most significant parts of the Metaverse will be the establishment of a new economy. Creators, coders, designers, etc, will be able to create virtual products and experiences for people to enjoy, with no restrictions on what can be created due to resources or finance - only one’s ability to code. In the past twelve months, we’ve seen NFTs takeover the art world, and this is just the beginning. And much like NFTs, all of these transactions will be processed in cryptocurrencies. We’ll be able to invest with our Ethereum, and Litecoins, cryptos existing ability to verify the authenticity of a virtual product.
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What does this all mean?
First and foremost, the metaverse is likely to impact everyone’s lives, in the same way that the internet did, there’s no question about it. However, the extent to which it will impact us all lies somewhere between unknown, and extremely significant. To some extent, this may sound like a dystopian Black Mirror-esque vision of our current society, with people willing to spend hours occupying a new world. While some could argue that many people have been doing this for decades with gaming or our ever increasing time spent on the internet, the introduction of VR and AR into our daily online experiences takes it all a step further, with many experts already fearing a collective dissociation from reality, and dissatisfaction with real life, especially with excessive consumption of the Metaverse.
In addition, the internet, and more specifically social media, have shown a clear bias toward showing us all the content we already agree with, exacerbating political polarisation. Going a step further and having a manipulated world you’re living in, and not just a newsfeed, could see political polarisation reach new extremes. The same goes for moderation of harmful content - something which is, again, present in our current online experience. We are in uncharted territory - a newly discovered, limitlessly vast and extensive world, and just as we would with a newly discovered world, we should tread with caution. The Hype is Real That being said, the Metaverse has the potential to revolutionize our world. Since the birth and growth of the internet and social media, we’ve realised a lot of the issues that arise from a digital, interconnected world, where people can operate autonomously and anonymously. If we can learn lessons from our prior experiences on the internet, we have the ability to benefit from a truly unique and infinite new world. The hype is real - as long as we can recognise what reality truly is.
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