For many, it can be a struggle to wrap your head around the idea of a virtual reality where almost every action that can occur in the physical world can also occur in the virtual online world. ‘Metaverse’ is the name given to this online parallel. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash”. Linguistically, ‘Meta’ is derived from the Greek language meaning “after or beyond’, translating the ‘metaverse’ to the ‘beyond verse’, and that is exactly what it is. It is an additional world beyond the one we currently exist in that allows endless possibilities from within the confines of your own physical home.
Why the sudden spike in interest of the metaverse?
Recently media giant Facebook’s CEO Mike Zuckerberg announced at the Connect 2021 Conference that the company would be renaming itself ‘Meta’. What followed this announcement was a worldwide spike in interest around the metaverse and the opportunities it can provide. However, it is not a new concept, the possibility of it becoming mainstream has just shifted to become more realistic with the increase in technological capabilities. Looking back on Meta’s movements, in 2014, they bought Oculus, producer of virtual reality headsets, indicating an advancement in their services. Despite the name change coming somewhat prematurely, it shows Meta’s ambitions to grow beyond its current scope and move into the world of augmented and virtual reality. Recently with the release of ‘avatars’ and the ‘builderbot’ prototype, the progression builds.
So, what is the ‘metaverse’?
The metaverse is a 3D virtual and augmented reality that provides a futuristic styled world that users exist within in the form of avatars. Games such as Fortnite and Roblox have already begun using this technology with tens of millions of active daily users. These games allow you to create 3D avatars and enter the virtual world either in 2D or 3D.
Roaring success has come from both of these games, however, this parallel reality does not end with them. The metaverse is seen as a way to bring people closer together, more so than ever following the Covid-19 pandemic. Cases have seen the metaverse used to host virtual concerts by the likes of Ariana Grande, children’s birthday parties and make it easier than ever for people to work from home. Essentially it is viewed as the successor to the internet.
Zuckerberg recently discussed the metaverse taking on the role as the successor to the internet, stating that:
“the next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied internet when you are in the experience not just looking at it. We call this the metaverse and you are going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine; get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create, as well as entirely new categories that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today”.Mark Zuckerberg
What are the next stages?
The question that can be quite hard to answer is “does the metaverse actually exist?”. At this point in time, the various platforms referred to when talking about the metaverse incorporate elements of it, rather than there being an all-inclusive metaverse currently existing. What is meant by this is that we do not have one fully digital world that combines all aspects of our life. There may be platforms that support elements of the metaverse, but not one that combines all the current platforms. We may be able to interact on them, build, and create experiences, but Zuckerberg believes it will take around 5 to 10 years before key elements of the metaverse will become mainstream.
Over time, it will take many companies, developers, creatives, and others to contribute to the metaverse to make it the giant that Zuckerberg envisions. The power that will be needed to sustain the metaverse will also be incredibly high, so methods to enable this will need to be enacted.
How will it impact you?
With this 5 to 10 year prediction, currently, there are not many drastic impacts. In saying this, engaging with the metaverse could see you presented with job opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, social relationships with others you wouldn’t have otherwise, and the possibility of working remotely with ease. In summary, it will make the world feel a lot bigger and a lot smaller at the same time.
Despite these additional opportunities, the metaverse will have limitations that the physical world does not. Providing food, and accessing healthcare will be confined to the physical world. Your avatar will allow you to exist in this parallel reality, however, a presence in the physical world is still necessary.
Concerns around this technological development are not in short supply. Overstimulation of senses, addiction, issues separating reality from an online world, various privacy issues, eroding sleep, and messing with social patterns are a few raised by various members of the medical community. The technological world is gaining more and more momentum and allowing undertakings we never thought possible.
What can be said is that there are still many questions around where we are heading. How will law regulate a virtual world? What other purposes will arise that we have not yet considered? As aspirations for the metaverse become more of a reality, we will be faced with many issues, needing viable solutions.