If you don’t understand what the metaverse exactly is, you are not alone. It has quickly turned into a buzzword but people lack the understanding of the term. What is potentially considered as the future of the internet is not exactly as simple as it sounds. Nearly six months ago, the famous social media brand formerly known as Facebook, rebranded itself to Meta. Alongside this, the company also announced that it was shifting its focus towards building a metaverse. Yet, during all this time the word metaverse has not gained any substantial meaning. As of now, it seems to be an amalgamation of ideas that are connected to virtual reality. However, metaverse or ‘the metaverse’ has been successful in gaining market traction. A lot of marketing hype is created especially by Facebook, a company that imagines the future to be completely reliant on the virtual reality. While it goes without say, the company foresees capitalistic gains from a platform like this but largely it is absorbed around the idea of defining a new future in terms of cyberspace. So, what exactly is ‘the metaverse’?
What is metaverse?
To simply to words, the metaverse can be defined as a digital / online space where people can interact like the real world. This would essentially be done through digital avatars. Wait! This sounds familiar. Yes, it is. The movie ready player one based on the novel written by Ernest Cline somewhat depicts the plans Facebook has for the metaverse. A cyber space with digital avatars but real identities. The idea, in hindsight, is to create a virtual world that can simulate the real world. To be more specific, when companies use the word metaverse they are talking about technologies that not only can communicate with each other but continue to function even when a user is not interacting with them. In other words, a cyberspace that is based on a virtual world or worlds that continues to exist and function even when you are not present, just like the real world. The access to it is not only limited to VR but would essentially use a spectrum of technologies that include, pc, game consoles and even phones for that matter.
But, isn’t this already happening? There are companies such as the Epic games or Roblox that have already developed digital platforms that not only allow you to interact with people in a digital environment and the environment itself but also facilitate trades of digital assets. Additionally, these platforms continue to function even when you are not online, what’s different? While the idea of metaverse is similar to as referenced above, its not entirely it. Calling Fortnite or any other digital space, for that matter, a metaverse is just like calling “Google” as the entire internet. Google might be a major part of the internet but is not the internet. To further elaborate on this, the existent platforms might share a part of what the metaverse is supposedly going to be but they are not entirely it. You can surely go online, socialize, take part in games, trade assets and buy things but it does not assimilate real world experiences. On the other hand, the metaverse is more focused around a merger between the real and digital world. A world where real life incidents would be experienced digitally. But more importantly, a place where reality would be exaggerated to a different level altogether.
The big tech as well as small startups have stated to integrate the idea of virtual worlds into their infrastructure. Tech giants such as Microsoft and Meta are already working on building technologies that would allow the metaverse to happen. Similarly, many smaller companies such as Nvidia, Roblox and Unity alongside others are also participating in the process. The fact that metaverse would not be reliant on a singular form of technology is one of the major reasons for its popularity. Facebook envisions it to be a universal platform where companies as well as users can seamlessly operate and interact with each other.
However, all of this seems too futuristic. It is impossible to understand the idea where companies would abandon their individual platforms to merge on a singular platform that also grants the user access to their competitors. Moreover, tech critics see this as a way of packaging older technology under a new label. They believe that the industry is moving towards a forced disruption whereas it should navigate itself towards AI in a liner manner. It is also argued that there is no guarantee that people would want or accept such a radical shift where they prefer a digital world compared to the real one, even if somehow Meta is able to replicate real world dynamics into the virtual world. Even though investors are pouring their money due to the hype of the project, it does not indicate that it would be successful. The industry is already full farfetched ideas and there are numerous failed investments such as the 3D TV’s, Google Glass and Amazon’s delivery drones.
The rise of cryptocurrency and NFT’s alongside new and better VR headsets launching every day, is making people to believe that somewhere in the near future this might be possible. But, if you spend enough time having a conversation with someone about the metaverse, you end up reaching to a point where everything somehow goes back to the fiction film ready player one, which is impossible to replicate for now. Even though some companies have come aboard for the project, the current technology or the pace things at which things are developing, it is not possible for a metaverse to exist in the near future as of now. This also partially because a digital environment like this would require immense computing power. For now, we lack on that heavily. All in all, the tech industry heavily relies on futurism for its ideas to become marketable and metaverse is no different.