What Is the Metaverse?

Recently, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus rebranded to become Meta Platforms with a new logo, a version of the infinity symbol. 

On the face of it, this may be seen by many as an opportunity to draw focus away from the problems currently faced by their flagship social media platform, Facebook. In reality, it signifies their commitment to a new project that promises to change the internet; the metaverse. 

While Meta is not the only company working towards the creation of a metaverse, they are likely to be the ones that succeed first, and as such, take control of this brave new world. But what is the metaverse and when will we be able to experience it?

Let’s take a look at everything we already know about this exciting new venture. 

What Can We Expect From the Metaverse?

We’re promised a totally immersive internet experience that draws on mixed reality, this includes a combination of elements including virtual reality and augmented reality. 

Users will use glasses and maybe even contact lenses to view the world. Haptic gloves will allow us to touch and physically interact with the metaverse. 

Within the realm of the metaverse, it will be possible to interact socially with others either as avatars or as holographic projections. Businesses will be able to set up their stores, restaurants, and offices within the metaverse, allowing people to come together digitally in a way that has never been previously possible. 

When Will the Metaverse Be With Us?

Meta claims that the metaverse will become mainstream within the next five to ten years. However, many of the pieces of the metaverse are already in use today such as VR goggles, smart glasses such as Snapchat Spectacles, and Ray-Ban Stories sunglasses. 

Software such as the collaborative workspace Horizon Workrooms is already available in beta form in the Quest Store, and Horizon Worlds is in a beta invite-only phase.  It’s likely that we’ll see a gradual shift to the metaverse starting now. 

Where Does the Name the Metaverse Come From?

The term metaverse was first found in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel ‘Snow Crash’. In the book, Stephenson imagines a future virtual reality-based version of the internet which is more like a massively multiplayer online game, where user’s avatars co-exist with system daemons. 

Metaverse is a portmanteau of ‘meta’ and ‘universe’. ‘Meta’ comes from the Greek for beyond, or after. 

Who Is Developing the Metaverse?

Currently, there are a few hats in the metaverse ring, most notably, Meta and Epic Games. 

With 2.9 billion monthly users on Facebook, and almost 1.4 billion using Instagram, these social media platforms have the users to achieve the kind of momentum needed to engage people in this new iteration of the internet. And, with Oculus, Meta is already developing the technology to access the metaverse. 

Mark Zuckerberg has said that Meta will be hiring 10,000 new employees in Europe to work on the metaverse. The company is also poised to spend $10 billion on its development. 

Epic Games boasts 350 million players on Fortnite. Their plan is to extend the sandbox game to become a true metaverse. They’re already testing the possibilities, examples of which include the Marshmello and Travis Scott concerts held within Fortnite, which attracted 10 million and 28 million virtual attendees respectively. 

In Teams 2022, Microsoft plans to introduce mixed reality holograms and virtual avatars. Microsoft is also working on virtual 3D connected spaces that can be used by businesses. In addition to this, the company is also working with the U.S. military to create augmented reality devices for training soldiers. 

Elsewhere, the Chinese conglomerate, Tencent – which owns everything from social media apps to stakes in Hollywood production companies – has also joined the race. 

Tencent’s route toward the metaverse could be via gaming, however, it is also exploring social networks, and augmented reality options too. 

How Did We Get Here?

The metaverse is the obvious next step for the internet. As technology has developed, so too has the internet. Back in the days of dial-up, the internet was a very flat, text-based experience. 

Social media ushered in web 2.0 allowing users to interact online, and advances in mobile technology brought cameraphones, smartphones, faster internet connections and increased use of video. 

Now, with the advent of 5G internet, the development of world-building software such as Unity and The Unreal Engine, and advancements in virtual reality tech, we’re nearly at a fully-immersive, massively interactive internet that sci-fi has been predicting for decades.  

What Will Be the Benefits of the Metaverse?

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the metaverse will be that it will make working from home even more commonplace. This will help cut carbon emissions and reduce the amount of time it takes to get to your desk each day. 

It is hoped that the ability to see holographic projections of friends, colleagues, and loved ones will provide users with a greater sense of connectedness that text, photo, and video based communication channels just can’t provide. 

What Concerns Are There Surrounding the Metaverse?

We’re all quite well associated with the apocryphal visions of the metaverse from movies such as The Matrix, Tron, Ready Player One, and the TV series Black Mirror. But will it really be a nightmarish dystopia?

Many of the concerns that have been raised already stem from existing criticisms of social media. Early critics of the metaverse say that the issues within social networks need to be addressed first, or these will carry over into the new internet. 

Problems such as the amplification of divisive online hate speech, the proliferation of fake news,  the pervasivness of targeted marketing, in addition to the mental health issues associated with too much screen time, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy may all become magnified within a more immersive online experience. 

Aside from the societal problems, there are broader political concerns. Whoever wins the race to become the dominant tech company within the metaverse, will yield a lot more power and stand to earn a staggering amount of money. 

This could make the tech companies of tomorrow further from the grasp of control of the world’s governments than they already are. 

What Do You Think of the Metaverse?

The metaverse promises to bring exciting new developments that will change the way we work, play, and socialise. 

Whether we’re five years away from the metaverse, or ten, its development is inevitable and it will be with us before we know it. But what do you think of the metaverse? Will it make life better or create more problems for society?

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