Ready, Player One?
Imagine a world where your digital self is brought to life, in any shape or form that you can think of; a world where all the products you can think of are just a touch away, quite literally. Imagine the possibility of a world where the very internet that you surf and browse through is brought to life in a simulated, virtual reality, right in front of your eyes. This world, or the concept of one, has been dubbed the “Metaverse”.
Mark Zuckerberg, in a June 2021 announcement, put forth his idea of creating a Metaverse, or a “virtual environment where one can be present with people in digital spaces”, with the aim of creating an “embodied internet, which one can be inside of, instead of simply looking at it”, and set the ball rolling of what may be the most likely candidate for a successor to the internet.
Before we dive into the Metaverse conversation, some context is in order. The term “Metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephenson in his dystopian science fiction novel, “Snow Crash”, referring to his vision of a digital, virtual-reality based world that had evolved beyond the Internet. While the Metaverse is far removed from the very intense depictions in science fiction literature and films, the core concept of a metaverse remains the same – elements of video-conferencing, cryptocurrencies, email, virtual reality, social media and live-streaming, integrated right at the convergence of physical, virtual and augmented realities to create an all-encompassing experience.
It bears keeping in mind that no definitive definition of a Metaverse has been unanimously agreed upon. The concept has presented itself in various iterations – games, social media platforms, and cinema (most famously in “The Matrix” series), or more recently through games like Roblox and Fortnite, both of which include virtual spaces and a digital economy. As perhaps a precursor to the Metaverse experience, or a “Metaverse-lite”, if you will, various celebrities and brands like Ariana Grande, Hyundai, Vans, and Travis Scott have been part of brand activations in Fortnite.
A technological wonderland that we’ve been dreaming of for ages. A melting pot of the virtual and physical realms. What could go wrong?
As has been the case with all technological advancements in human history, though, the rough outlines of future solutions are devised well before the technical ability to execute them. The Metaverse, as it stands today, is in its infancy. Simply put, the technology required to create a globe-spanning experience that integrates social media and real life is still in development.
The VR headset has been around for ages, and yet it hasn’t been adopted by the masses because the technology is clunky and the prices so high that most people wouldn’t even consider buying one. The logistical requirements to bring this idea to fruition are humongous, to put it mildly. Furthermore, the framework for governing a Metaverse needs to be created as well. Most tech communities believe that the Metaverse should be an open and inoperable system, instead of being dominated by one single entity.