You’ve may have heard from one news source or another that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced his intention to shift Facebook from being a social media company to being a “metaverse company.” Zuckerberg stated that he wants to create the “feeling that you’re really there with another person or in another place,” with avatars and digital goods and the like.
And even if that particular event didn’t register on your radar, you’ve probably heard the term “metaverse” bandied about somewhere. But what exactly is this metaverse thing?
Well, in the minds of most people who either use the term or are investing in the concept, the metaverse is the next evolutionary step of the internet. It’s an alternate digital reality where people can work, play, and socialize. You can think of it as a restructuring of the web in such a way that you can step into it with virtual reality and interact as if you were inside a multiplayer role-playing game world. Users will slip on their VR headset and do whatever they normally would on the internet, only in a single avatar form and in a fully articulated virtual world.
So, you could go to a business meeting for a “face-to-face” with your avatared coworkers. And then you might hop over to spend a bit of virtual time in some gorgeously crafted park with social media buds. Or maybe you’d join up with friends for a little shopping at that huge virtual mall you’ve been wanting to visit. All while sitting on your couch.
The point is, in the new metaverse you’ll be able to do pretty much anything from anywhere. And the only limitations are the coding abilities of the web-based world-crafters and your own VR computer set up.
Crazy Yesterday, In Demand Today
Now, you may be thinking: Yeah, sure. That’ll never happen! But people were saying the same thing when someone first started talking about this crazy idea of tapping into something called the “internet.” Trust me, it wasn’t all that long ago that the bizarre idea of having a computer in your house or a phone in your pocket was outlandish. These days there are some who can’t even imagine a world without them. And odds are the metaverse will be the same.
Of course, lots of industries besides Facebook are already gearing up for an immersive metaverse future. Brick and mortar businesses, for instance, are seeing the wisdom in doing VR business not only with employees but with other industries anywhere in the world, without having to leave their front office.
Gaming has certainly been building in that direction for years with the likes of Fortnite and Roblox. And people have been flocking to some of those VR worlds for reasons other than a little gameplay fun. During the pandemic, folks were reported to have relocated their weddings to the Animal Crossing game and shifting their school graduations to Minecraft.
For that matter, you may have already attended a VR business meeting or spent an evening at the virtual movies if you had the requisite VR gear at home during the pandemic. And if you did, you also know that there are already lots of apps designed to help people connect in their virtual worlds.
Of course, a big step toward the metaverse will be connecting all those various VR world pieces. And then they need to be made “interoperative” so people can travel from one virtual space to another and keep the same virtual presence wherever they go. And things are shaping up in that direction. The new online platform Ready Player Me, for instance, lets users create a 3-D avatar that they can then use in hundreds of different virtual worlds, including VR games, VR Chats and Zoom meetings.
Does Any of This Matter?
So, that’s what the metaverse is supposed to be some day. But should you care one way or another about it now? Well … yeah, probably. You may not be ready to pony up for the latest VR gear and a top-notch, mega-graphics-card-packing computer, but keeping tabs on how this new digital world is shaping up could be important.
I mean, Zuckerberg and others probably won’t create a ready-made virtual world like the one in the recent Spielberg movie, Ready Player One, but they are pushing forward with their own visions and monetary desires. And when those dream worlds come to fruition, we’ll be inundated with all the many ways they hope to change our lives.
It only makes sense then that we, the huddled masses, should keep our eyes on the process and get involved now—maybe even take a few steps to help the result be as friendly and adaptable to our concerns as possible. Wired magazine published a recent article, for instance, proclaiming that it would be wise if the public pushed back against an all-consuming big tech control of the metaverse.
“The platforms where the Metaverse is being created have become walled gardens, increasingly centralised and controlled by corporate interests. Facebook owns WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus, giving them ownership of our friends, our behaviour, our gait, eye movement and emotional state,” authors Toby Tremayne and Ryan Gills noted.
That article is worth a quick read even if you’re not a tech-focused sort. And lots of other publications out there have a finger on the topic.
We may not have a fully functioning virtual metaverse right now. And hey, like the internet, it will likely grow on us a little bit at a time. But this go-round we have a pretty solid idea of what to expect in a changing online world, and an even better idea of where we’d rather things didn’t go. And that’s a good beginning. Or at least, a virtual one.