A new reality: The Metaverse

What does the future hold for us? From envisioning flying cars, to living on Mars. Another concept gaining momentum within the media is ‘The Metaverse’. A conceptualised idea which connotes a world beyond our universe as we know it, one that exists in a virtual realm but feels just as real. The possibilities are endless, where meeting people across the world will seamlessly occur through avatar representation and the trade of objects as small as clothing and as large as houses will occur across one online platform. The concept almost appears unfathomable considering our current technology. But how is this already integrating into our daily lives and what does this foreign, alternate reality mean for the future of our economy?

The metaverse remains a highly controversial notion. Just as the internet was unimaginable to people living in the 80’s and the smartphone was incomprehensible to people in the 90’s. The metaverse can be described as the inevitable future of the internet but how it will exist remains unknown. This is because unlike past technological feats the metaverse does not refer to one specific type of technology. But rather a broad shift in how we interact with technology. One article compares it to games such as FIFA and Minecraft. The player controls a character or events on the screen with the help of commands and buttons. But now, instead of sitting at the console and watching the game unfold on the screen, the player could be inside the game, participating not from the outside but as a character embedded within it.

The idea almost sounds like we’re constructing the Matrix. A world in which our reality is reimagined on a digital scale. A very unsettling thought. But why are some of the biggest firms in our current age such as Facebook on the frontier of its evolution? What are its biggest advantages?

Firstly, increasing the affordability of experiences. Just as the internet unveiled limitless access to knowledge and information. The metaverse will radically increase the affordability of a wide range of products and services. Giving poor to middle-class people the opportunity to virtually experience world travel and high-quality interactions to embark in remote work that is unavailable locally. As Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, stated, ‘think of how many jobs didn’t even exist a few years ago. I expect the Metaverse is going to open up a lot of opportunities for people in the exact same way.’ This can be envisioned as the job market would undergo a monumental technological shift with the increase in labour productivity. Allowing for an increase to individual wealth.

With global warming disastrously impacting our climate, deforestation causing the extinction of rare animals and the depletion of the ozone layer. The metaverse provides an alternative consumer domain that minimises the damage to the planet. Workplaces and school gatherings can occur online meaning a reduction to vehicle emissions and planes can be eliminated through virtual travel reducing the demand for fossil fuels. The demand for clothing will reduce as there will be endless possibilities to customise your avatar. And the production of tv’s and smartphones will be replaced by VR headsets and holograms which require reduces environmental damage.

One of the largest economic potentials of the metaverse is constructing an autonomous economic system. In which you can produce, buy and sell digital goods. This includes integrated non-fungible tokens (NFTs) which provide evident proof of ownership. It allows for authenticity within trades as there are unique, digital records kept within the digital platform. It also, provides ease of transferability. For example, if two individuals are required in the same room for a deal, the metaverse allows this to occur seamlessly eliminating the hassle of flying and translators. But also, purchases can be simultaneously used in the real world as the digital and physical world are fundamentally integrated.

But with all its advantages, like anything, the metaverse also poses terrifying dangers. These mainly surround overall control and the gathering and protection of data. According to articles, ‘current MR prototypes have face, eye, body and hand tracking with sophisticated cameras. Some even using EEG technology to pick up brain wave patterns’, allowing for the analysis of consumeristic decisions. This allows for the manipulation of your thoughts and actions with MR to optimise consumption. Highlighting the urgent implementation of a policing system so no one company can ever exert control over individuals’ privacy. A similar problem was faced when the World Wide Web (WWW) was created. As it evolved open standard protocols were introduced and were freely available to be adopted and shared by others. Acknowledging the influence and knowledge the internet stores regarding banking details, political standpoints and personalised marketing strategies to target an individual. The level of data the metaverse could collect for a single individual would be monumentally larger.

Looking to the future, the potential growth of virtual reality to construct a new world seems unimaginable. But this future is inevitably approaching, and it is important to understand what is being created as it will impact our lives tremendously in ways we cannot describe or fathom now.