Mark Zuckerberg recently released a video explaining a project his company has been working on for some time: The Metaverse. This blog article explains what it is, how it may shape our future, and what challenges and opportunities are part of this new technology. For the metaverse is coming – and sooner than we might think.
What is the Metaverse
meta- is an old Greek prefix meaning ‘beyond‘. Today, the word is used in English to describe something with a self-reference. For example, you could say that a discussion is a meta-discussion if the discussion discusses the concept of discussions. Or something is a metajoke if the joke is about the concept of jokes. In our example here, the metaverse is a world about our world – it describes the real world by imitating it on a higher level.
The concept of the metaverse has been the topic of many sci-fi stories already. Ready Player One, The Matrix trilogy, and Snow Crash all include a version of the metaverse. Essentially, the technology allows humans to leave the real world behind consciously and enter a virtual world that allows them to interact with other people as well as with the virtual world. Some games use this technology too to connect players. Fortnite is one such example. You run around in the Fortnite world with your avatar and play the game. But you can also meet your friends’ avatars, hang out, go to concerts, buy stuff using the in-game currency, etc. – and it’s this freedom to do things besides playing the game that makes Fortnite a metaverse.
The Challenges of the Metaverse
In many sci-fi stories, we see how humans disappear into the metaverse, escaping reality completely for the sake of fun and pleasure in the virtual world. Some of the critique being voiced today sounds similar: Will the metaverse bring about global escapism and make us lose touch with reality?
We cannot say for sure, of course. If the metaverse is done well, it is sure to be attractive for a lot of people seeking entertainment. Today, hours and hours are spent watching series on Netflix and playing games. The metaverse speaks to the same audience. If this is rolled out, a lot of people are sure to spend a lot of time in it.
One of the questions we need to ask ourselves is what influence this will have on the global divide. We are already a highly divided species: rich and poor, east and west, developed and developing. The risk is that the metaverse will divide us even further. There will be those online and those offline. Those who are in the metaverse and those who can’t or won’t. At some point, our whole lives could be lived in the metaverse, and if you don’t want to be a part of that online world, then you will not be part of the lives of all the people in the metaverse. We might end up having two parallel universes – one online and one offline.
In addition, what would happen to the offline world if a large fraction of humanity no longer actively participated in it? Would human societies fall apart? Would the environment and animals thrive? Would live on planet Earth win or lose?
The Opportunities of the Metaverse
Although the metaverse holds potential for some intense disruptions, it also offers us amazing opportunities. For one thing, working remotely together could be improved by a lot. Imagine you put on a pair of VR glasses, log yourself into the metaverse and find yourself in a virtual office with your colleagues. You could have real like interactions despite physically being miles apart. The same goes for teamwork within the pirate’s community or mentorSHIP sessions. You would be able to connect more directly with people from the other side of the planet. Perhaps, we would become a global community to a much greater extent because we could connect with anyone from anywhere.
In times of global pandemics, the metaverse would also offer us a way to safely socialize with each other in lockdowns and could help us stay positive in difficult times. Loneliness could be reduced in this way, also when in times with no pandemics. Of course, an online connection isn’t as strong as an offline connection, but it is a lot better than no connection, and online connections may foster offline ones.
In addition, it might be possible to extend access to quality education. If you don’t have a school nearby to go to, you could tune in online and go to the school you desire. This could also solve the issue of lack of housing in big cities. With the metaverse, you could study at a university in New York while living in a smaller city, located hours away from the university facilities. This would also put less strain on the transportation systems and traffic, which would be good for our cities and the environment.
What do you think? Are you excited about this new technology? Or does it worry you? Or perhaps both?