When you hear Mark Zuckerberg talking about the metaverse, you’d be forgiven for not quite understanding what the hell he’s talking about. Usually, you end up thinking he’s just being a bit crazy or else he’s talking about something that’s coming and it’s hard to put it in specific terms.
One analogy which works for me is where the metaverse is compared to what it was like when people talked about the ‘internet’ back in the ’70s. People said the ‘internet’ was a “new form of communication” which was in the process of being built, but no one really knew what it would be like in reality. This could be similar to what the metaverse is – something which is being built and is going to be big, but it’s difficult to describe.
But seriously, what does the metaverse mean?
Before we outline some sort of description of the metaverse, remember the term ‘metaverse’ refers to how we interact with new technologies. These new technologies include virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) which combine aspects of the both the digital and physical worlds.
To access the metaverse, you don’t have to be in a VR or AR though. A virtual world, as you’d access it when you play Fortnite on a PC, game console or even a phone, could be accessing the metaverse.
The metaverse is also about a digital economy, where users can create, buy and sell goods. And, in the more positive visions of the metaverse, it’s all exchangeable, so you can take virtual items like clothes or cars from one platform to another.
Currently, we have programs with virtual identities, avatars and inventories which are all tied to the one platform, but the metaverse could allow you to create an identity which you could take everywhere.
Some will say we already have elements of the metaverse in our digital worlds already – and we probably do. For example, players can buy and sell goods in the World of Warcraft and Fortnite has a range of virtual experiences. It’s easy enough to put on an Oculus headset and you can be in your own personal virtual home. Is this what the metaverse means?
We’re all trying to figure it out
People all over the world are trying to figure it out. There’s even a new Salesforce ad out which has been made in time for this year’s Super Bowl and it has some cheeky responses to Zuckerberg’s proposed metaverse. Commenting on the ad, Salesforce said in a statement:
“Lately, it seems some folks have their head in the stars, fascinated with the metaverse and Mars. At Salesforce, our business is more grounded, and we believe we can defy gravity without ever leaving the planet.”
But back to the burning issue about what is the metaverse?
The thing is, the metaverse is more than just one game or one type of VR but it’s probably correct to say a company like Fortnite creator, Epic Games, is building parts of the metaverse. There are lots of other companies building more parts of the metaverse and these include Meta but also Nvidia, Unity, Roblox and even Snap. They’re all working on building the infrastructure that might become the metaverse.
But while this gives us an overall view of the metaverse, it can go a lot further than this. Some say the metaverse will include fake houses where you can invite all your friends to hang out in. Microsoft seems to think it could involve virtual meeting rooms to train new staff and chat with your remote colleagues.
These notions are pretty much just that right now. But this is clearly where it’s all going. At one point during Meta’s recent presentation on the metaverse, the company showed a scenario where a woman is sitting on her couch scrolling through Instagram when she sees a video a friend posted of a concert that’s happening halfway across the world.
The video then cuts to the concert, where the woman appears in an Avengers-style hologram. She’s able to make eye contact with her friend who is physically there, they’re both able to hear the concert, and they can see floating text hovering above the stage. So, this is what we could be doing eventually.
The metaverse is floating these new ideas and – similar to how we first thought about the internet and we didn’t really quite get how we’d all give up magazines and newspapers and just read what was on our screens one day – the metaverse looks set to become the brand new thing where we’re using technology in a totally different way. Some say future versions of the metaverse will be able to handle thousands or even millions of people at once so this is what we’re moving towards. But there are a few problems which will need to be sorted out first such as the fact VR headsets are still not too comfortable and many people get some motion sickness if they wear them for too long. But if VR and AR headsets become light and breezy so people can wear them on a daily basis, then who knows what could happen. We can only wait and see.
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