“Metaverse” is currently a major buzzword in the world of finance, business, and technology and like all buzzwords its definition is vague, contested, and manipulated by the ambitions of the people using it. “Metaverse” as a term was first used by Neal Stephenson in 1992. He wrote the novel “Snow Crash” and used the Metaverse to describe a virtual world in his imagined future, a 21st-century dystopia.

In Snow Crash, the metaverse is a virtual reality depicted as a planet-encircling market where virtual real estate can be bought and sold by users who can create and inhabit 3D avatars of any species/form of their choice through VR googles.

A VR interface, digital ownership, and avatars are the three elements that still prominently feature in current conceptions of the metaverse but none of them are essential to the bigger picture of what the Metaverse should properly be defined as. 90% of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change, if you replace the phrase “the metaverse” with “cyberspace” in a sentence. That’s because the term doesn’t define a specific type of technology, but rather a broad shift in how we interact and visualize technology.

In Layman’s terms, the metaverse is an artificial universe made possible by AR and VR technology. It fuses the real and virtual worlds, giving users a 3D space to meet, work, shop, and do everything that you can on the internet, in real life, and more. By wearing a VR headset, you would be able to “attend” a business event or even a virtual concert, go to the mall and sit courtside at an NBA game – all as if you were physically present there at that time.

We have already established that the Metaverse is an artificial universe but it is worthy to note that its interoperability is a core component of the metaverse which means that entering the metaverse is easier than people think. Just as like the internet, the metaverse is also as easily accessible. If you have access to a VR headset, you can access the metaverse (although a VR headset will cost about $300).

You will also need to download the right applications to gain access for example The Sandbox which is one of the most popular metaverse games. Supporters of the metaverse envision its users working, playing, and staying connected to friends, family, and colleagues through everything from concerts and conferences to virtual trips around the world. As such a diverse virtual ecosystem demands, things in the Metaverse cost as well as generate money.

People in the Metaverse can transact in decentralized virtual financial systems powered by cryptocurrency. This includes marketplaces where users can buy, sell and exchange goods and services such as digital assets like avatars, virtual clothing, and NFTs. You can also own and sell land in the metaverse and many people are actively purchasing digital property as an asset that will appreciate with time.

Popular properties available for sale on the Metaverse are The Sandbox, Decentraland, and Cryptovoxels, which are all available on OpenSea. By some estimates, the annual revenue cap for virtual realities could be worth as much as $1 trillion across different areas like advertising, digital events, and e-commerce.

The metaverse is also fully decentralized. It isn’t owned by a corporation but by all of its users, who have control over their private data. The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) led by the creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee (A man who hasn’t overly monetized his brainchild) decides the standards for the metaverse.

The development of the Metaverse is also heavily-reliant on Blockchain technology which is largely still under development. Blockchain has proven to be a useful technology for six important areas in the Metaverse: digital proof of ownership, digital collectibility, transfer of value, governance, accessibility, and interoperability. Anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved which makes blockchain tech an ideal fit for the metaverse as it provides a transparent and cost-effective solution.

Entertainment has never been so real! We already have seen the advent of virtual reality games like Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, and Doom. ABBA Voyage is a virtual concert experience that will feature digital versions of the biggest pop acts in the world and DJ Marshmello and Trevor Scott have already performed virtual concerts within the Fortnite platform. In the future, we will even be able to put on VR goggles that take us right to the middle of the action, whether it’s on the football pitch or behind the scenes.

The metaverse is also already changing how we shop. IKEA was a pioneer with the Place app which uses augmented reality technology to place furniture into our rooms so we can visualize how they will look before we purchase. With companies like L’Oreal and Avon, you can virtually try on makeup through their app or website so you pick the perfect shade for your skin.

Apple also allows you to view their latest gadgets in your room using augmented reality, and Bolle not only lets you virtually try on their sunglasses – they even use virtual reality to show you what the world will look like through different lenses! The metaverse will continue to build and expand on these kinds of immersive retail experiences.

In the future, we’ll see the metaverse providing expansive learning opportunities in many different circumstances, including formal organizations and schools, corporate training, and personal improvement. Children can already take lessons in different places at different times through immersive VR and AR technology. In Poland, teachers are already using the VR game Half-Life: Alyx to teach science lessons. The Metaverse will greatly enhance and revolutionize the learning process.

The metaverse is also providing innovative ways to improve our health and wellness. Virtual Reality counseling is already available, and therapists are using VR goggles to provide therapy for patients. Surgeons are also using augmented reality technology to guide surgical procedures – and they can train for operations using digital twins. At home, a lot of VR and AR wellness apps are available to us – you can be guided to do yoga from augmented reality!

The metaverse is also transforming the way we invent and create new things. Creatives are already using digital twins (virtual replicas of objects) to simulate what projects will look like in the real world. Formula 1 is creating new race cars and trying them out on virtual tracks using virtual reality. NVIDIA now offers an omniverse where you can create the complete structure of a building in a virtual world, put on your VR goggles and take a walk around the building. You can even see what the building will look like at sunset, when it’s empty, and even under different weather conditions.

As Sigmund Freud famously said in Civilization and Its Discontents, “If there had been no railway to beat distance, my child would never have left town and then I would need no telephone to listen to his voice”. In other words, the phone only helped us connect because other technologies drove us apart.

The majority will agree that a face-to-face conversation builds deeper connections than technological communication so what will life feel like when real touch and interaction are replaced by sparse communication through avatars? We’ve seen how the main focus of human interaction on social media platforms has led to higher rates of depression and anxiety worldwide. Remember that while social media promised to bring us closer, it’s only been of a supposed benefit to those industries that depend on collecting data.

Many will hold the metaverse in such high esteem that they find it way more addicting than the real world, because of its heavily enticing attributes. This has the potential for dire consequences which will ultimately change the lives of its users.

As we spend much longer in virtual spaces, what’s going to happen to the living, breathing world around us? If we spend our entire lives within the metaverse, will we care what happens to the environment? What if the Metaverse will do nothing to slow the decline of deep friendships in post-industrial countries? What’s going to happen to the relationships and communities forged over physical and biological memories? A completely virtual existence will diminish authentic human experience and interaction, and that’s not something I’m willing to sign off on.

It seems inevitable that the Metaverse will be a heavy part of all our lives in years to come but as we step into this new world, we should ask ourselves if the human connection isn’t an excessive price to pay for the Metaverse’s amazing potential.

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