How Metaverse Will Start and Would We Want It To Succeed?
Ironically, the book, which coined the term Metaverse, was all about why it was not such a great idea!
I remember reading about the term Metaverse in ‘Snow Crash’, a cyberpunk classic, written by Neal Stephenson in 1992. I read it in 2005, at height of the internet revolution.
In the book, people, as digital avatars, escape into an alternate reality world, called the Metaverse, to escape a dreary, dystopian reality. A reality that is controlled by a handful of mega corporations.
The Metaverse in the book is an extremely addictive world with people never disconnecting and avoiding reality at all costs. It’s also a class conscious world where people with money access the best parts of the Metaverse. The rest are looked down upon. Their avatars also look blurry to denote their lowly status!
The plot of the book is about the hero of the novel racing against time to prevent a virus from being uploaded to the brains of the hooked in users, which will have digital and real life consequences.
Metaverse was written to be a warning, not something to be emulated!
So Facebook has become Meta and suddenly Metaverse is the cool new term to throw around. Of course, Google, Apple, Microsoft among others have been working towards a metaverse future for a while.
So lets break down what does Metaverse mean exactly?
Metaverse is basically four things
One, A digital universe in which individuals and companies operate their own spaces (much like going out in the real world and claiming a space for your home and office and paying rent).
Second, Avatars which is essentially your unique identity that can theoretically live a life dictated by you and as per the laws of the multiverse.
Third, digital persistence and synchronicity, which essentially means that its all real time and whatever changes happen, are permanent
Fourth, a digital economy with digital money and digital assets with encryption acting as the trust factor
Here is the interesting part of the idea — all of the above already exist today in one form or the other.
Think about it
Companies already exist pretty much on the internet. The last couple of years have shown that physical offices are optional as well. Avatars, Digital synchronicity and digital economy are things that any gamer would feel at home right away.
Fortnite, ostensibly a free game, makes billions from microtransactions from players who like to dress their avatar in a wolfskin dress to go out and slug it out with other differently dressed avatars. A multiplayer game world like that of ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a living breathing world in which you are one of many characters and it’s a world that goes on living without you.
And with the rise of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, Multiverse is probably the answer to them moving out of speculative trading and finally finding their place in the sun.
But here’s the thing — If all the elements already exist, what then will make all the elements into a Multiverse?
Ah, here comes the most funny answer — Headsets!
Yup, the headsets that we have always been seeing around in hi-tech ads. Which we have been promised will bring about a revolution for many years now.
For anyone who had the opportunity to try them on, the common feeling is — a sense of an underwhelming experience. The VR (virtual reality) headsets are currently nowhere close to providing the deep immersion that a true multiverse would need for you to confuse it with reality.
Zuckerberg himself admitted as much, noting that billions of dollars will need to spent by Meta (erstwhile Facebook) over many years to make the multiverse a reality.
How will the Metaverse start for you ?
Even though perfection is probably a decade away (if not more) — as the headsets improve, expect to start seeing some interesting changes especially in a few fields.
Among them, workspaces (virtual meetings of avatars without awkward Zoom fails), education (virtual classroom where teacher ‘sees’ you and cameras cant be switched off!). Expect innovations in e-commerce or as it may be called virtual commerce or v-commerce. Cryptocurrencies will start going mainstream and digital asset ownership (like NFTs) will start becoming more common.
Many expect that this will be as far as the technology can take us as there may practical constraints to how immersive the tech can be made without costs becoming prohibitive for mainstream adaptation.
But suppose, just suppose, Meta (or one of the others) pulls it off. And we all have access to fully immersive metaverse where all our senses (including touch — with smart sensors) can be fooled into believing the digital for reality.
Suppose the metaverse of ‘Snow Crash’ actually comes true?
In her book, ‘Reality is Broken’, Jane McGonigal wrote of why games are so addictive. Because it gives us an element of control that we lack in real life. Games can make you into what you want to be — if you keep at it.
Reality will always suck in comparison.
Add the brain hacks that big tech has perfected — Metaverse can be a world where people can get lost in, permanently. If gaming rehabilitation centers are opening just for games on a screen, will Metaverse just be opening the pandora’s box?
A truly immersive Metaverse, an unified experience might very well break us.
We are reaching the limits of what our paleolithic human brain and body can endure. With social media and constant attention grabbing entertainment, all of which is permanently on, we already have attention disorder, digital addiction, depression, anxiety and loneliness. An increased tribalism is growing with our inability to distinguish fake from factual news leading to loss of critical thinking. All high paying jobs are already sedentary leading to an obesity epidemic.
A perfected Metaverse can blow up all these factors.
But there is some distance before we get anywhere close to this. For now, its a work in progress and like all things in science, the end results can go either way. It will be an interesting journey.
But then again, just think of the distance that video games have travelled in less than a decade in realistic graphics and believable world building. As an example see ‘Last of Us Part II’ launched in 2020.
So the distance to having something like a true Metaverse may not be very far off.
Till then, watch ‘Ready Player One’ on Amazon Prime to have a safe, fun romp through such a possible future world that Metaverse can bring in. Or play ‘Last of Us Part II’!