Behold the “metaverse” – a label that seems to be everywhere, but almost everyone struggles to define.
Facebook famously changed its parent company name to Meta last October. Less than three months later, computing giant Microsoft forked out $68.7 billion to acquire game developer Activision Blizzard. From Apple to Google to the big wigs on Wall Street, other significant names are all dabbling with the technology and investment future.
So, what exactly is this metaverse thing?
Experts dub it the next giant leap in computing – like how computers went from these flat, slow mainframes to personal devices, then into your handheld device and now… metaverse. Think of an immersive, 3D variant of both computing and the world wide web rather than a specific style or type of technology. It’s the next wave following the text-based communications we first had way back when the internet became a thing – namely, email and pretty vanilla messaging systems like AOL and MSN chat. Over time, more and more media became mainstream, such as pictures, uploaded videos, and eventually on to live streams. Now we need the next generation of communication. (Did you think tech would pause when the revolutionary smartphone came out?)
The metaverse is poised to become the place in your pocket that parallels your physical existence: a hyper-realistic virtual space where your avatar does cool stuff and is likely recorded on a blockchain so you cannot be wiped or canceled. Imagine an aesthetically abundant infinite arena where you can play sports, games, shop, go clubbing and travel the world with other people alongside you, should you so desire it. You choose. You drive and define your avatar life.
Much of this emerging, interconnected metaverse already has its roots in the virtual reality gaming arena, where users have donned headsets and motion-sensing controllers for years, connecting with avatars far and wide. Players clock victories and subsequently build up computerized currencies that enable lavish items for their online self (yup, kids now know how to identify a Louis Vuitton purse).
And now, with the advent of 5G, faster internet speeds and a growing number of users worldwide, it’s easier to imagine a fully-fledged, lifelike existence we can tap into at any time and place, forging fast friendships and experiencing a shade of life at another level.
Still a work in progress, the metaverse has interactive capabilities far beyond a video game. Conceptualize being able to host a dinner party with guests across the world, locking eyes with your best friend on the other side of the country to dance at a music festival, even getting married without all the enormous expenses of booze and dresses you won’t ever wear again, attend important business meetings without leaving your bed, and go shopping down Rodeo Drive without having to trek through Beverly Hills and L.A traffic. Fashion companies like NET-A-PORTER are already creating retail spaces inside Nintendo gaming platforms. Other big chains are preparing to sell products to wardrobe-savvy avatar workers ahead of your important presentations. The metaverse will also transform the way crimes are solved – picture a top forensic expert who can pop on a headset and comb through a scene instantly, searching for clues and interviewing critical witnesses.
For many, it seems like a wayward and almost silly sci-fi concept – but what your avatar says, does and projects in the virtual space is ultimately poised to become an extension of you and will become something of a brand extension for individuals, e-commerce, companies, and conglomerates.
However, the advent of the new also introduces a gray area in crime and digital privacy. It will eventually likely spawn a fresh bevy of laws and regulations. For example, Facebook came under criticism earlier this year after a user filed a complaint that she was “virtually gang-raped in the metaverse.”
Moreover, this space brings with it a virtual economy with its own currencies independent of the standardized government regulators. The metaverse is ultimately set to expand the digital economy and, in due course, the world economy, particularly the blockchain technology that makes cryptocurrencies and NFTs viable.
And even though the concept of this fully executed digital universe, aka “the metaverse,” has really only gained traction in recent years – especially amid the protracted lockdowns of the pandemic – the word was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” The author depicts a metaverse as a comprehensive digital existence alongside reality.
Although there is plenty of debate about his new universe, financial bigwigs are already banking on the idea that it will function equally with our physical lives. Citi recently projected that the metaverse would be worth $800 billion by 2024, reaching $13 trillion by 2030 and attracting five billion unique users.
Goldman Sachs estimated the value of the metaverse at $12.5 trillion in December, predicting that a third of the digital economy will exist in such a format by the end of the decade.
Much like navigating the internet in the 90s, we are all trying to wrap our heads around the next steps. But one thing is almost inevitable in a deeply uncertain world – the metaverse is coming and here to stay.