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What is the Metaverse, and what does it all mean?

What is the Metaverse, and what does it all mean?

Ah, the Metaverse.

No, it’s not a dystopian reality straight out of The Matrix. And no, it’s not just a new version of Zoom. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s either (or both) of those things. The Metaverse, in all its simultaneous complexity and vagueness, is considered the future of technology. And so it, technically, doesn’t exist yet.

Wikipedia defines the Metaverse as: “A network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. In futurism and science fiction, the term is often described as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world that’s facilitated by the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets.”

Whew. Okay – but what does all of that actually mean?

The key takeaway phrase here is ‘virtual world’. An easy way to think of the Metaverse is to imagine it as an extension of our current internet landscape – the core idea of the Metaverse being it’s an online ‘place’ that overlaps with our physical world, whether that’s through wealth, socialising, shopping or entertainment.

The term ‘metaverse’ first crashed into mainstream lexicon back in 1992, when coined by the writer Neal Stephenson in his novel ‘Snow Crash’. It was then reimagined in the Ernest Cline novel ‘Ready Player One’. In both these works, this ‘metaverse’ refers to a fully realised digital world that exists far beyond the physical one we live in.

So is Facebook the Metaverse?

Let’s get this straight – Facebook doesn’t own the idea of the Metaverse, and it’s definitely not original to the company. What Mark Zuckerberg has done is rebrand Facebook to Meta, therefore announcing their investment to the promise of the Metaverse as our digital future.

But they’re not the only company to do this – where Facebook’s idea of the Metaverse includes fake houses to hang out in with your digital friends, Microsoft is more passionate about things like virtual meeting rooms and even brands like Nike have started preparing for the coming Metaverse with patents for virtual shoes.

Don’t we already have a virtual world?

Yep, to an extent. We already have a plethora of platforms like Skype and Zoom, NFT’s have become sliiightly more mainstream, millions of people are spending hours a day in virtual spaces like Roblox and Fortnite, and cryptocurrencies are now ‘real’ investments. But even with all this technology, we still don’t have access to a totally immersive Metaverse.

Take the digital economy, for example. Right now, most platforms we use have visual identities or inventories that are tied to that one platform. We buy crypto, it stays crypto (for the most part). There’s not a lot of crossovers.

But in one type of vision for the Metaverse, we can create, buy and sell virtual goods from one platform to another. Everything is accessible, our lives are totally interoperable. Where right now we access the internet through a screen, the Metaverse might see us ‘walking’ through it using different types of technology.

What does this mean for us, the everyday internet users?

The important thing to remember is we already exist and contribute to parts of what is considered the Metaverse. Uber tracks our ride and Netflix offers us personalised recommendations. But the Metaverse theory asserts that this level of digital and physical connection will continue to grow.

Which is (probably) exciting. It means our digital future is likely to be an evolution of all the coolest technology that we currently enjoy day-to-day. Sure, it might be confusing and overwhelming to us now, but only a few decades ago the Internet was considered scary and abstract too. And now look at us!

A few key definitions to help you understand the Metaverse concept:

Virtual reality

Where you chuck on a headset and deep dive into an immersive digital world. Current VR uses headsets, rather than glasses, that allow users to experience a full 360 degree world.

Augmented reality

Where a digital world overlaps with our physical world. Think the Pokemon Go phenomenon!

Mixed reality

Still in its infancy, MR is a combo of VR and AR elements. In MR, a person could interact with both virtual and real-world objects at the same time.

Blockchain

A decentralised, distributed ledger that records the origins and details of a digital asset. Totally unalterable. Most commonly associated with cryptocurrencies.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

Blockchain-based certificates of ownership over digital objects – think memes and artworks!

Cryptocurrency

Any form of currency that exists solely digitally or virtually and uses cryptography to secure transactions. Cryptocurrencies use a decentralised system and are nearly impossible to counterfeit.

Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPGs)

Huge scale interactive games, that many people consider the basis of the Metaverse. Would involve people interacting in shared virtual spaces, like shops, concerts etc.

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