Real-Real and the Virtual-Real: The Metaverse Story

Global News and Perspectives

Albus Dumbledore famously said (in Harry Potter), “Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”

On October 28, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company has renamed itself Meta Platforms Inc, Meta for short, to emphasise its foray into the metaverse.

Let us be clear here. Facebook the website and the app will continue to be the same. It is the company that has donned a new avatar. The company will continue to own other apps such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus VR and more.

So, what exactly is the metaverse?

Metaverse (noun): meta + universe

Meta (adjective): self-reflexive, transcending

Without a doubt, metaverse is the latest buzzword in the tech industry, maybe even beyond it. Simply put, it is a logical development of the Internet from what we knew it to be. From being a leviathan-esque store house of data, the Internet evolved to include communication systems and is now going one-step ahead to create virtual worlds/ universes that you can enter, interact and practically live a whole another version of life in.

How do you enter this universe?

Well, the internet of course. Keeping the latest tech advancements as the benchmark, you will also need virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smart phone applications or basically any other device that can virtually port you into a world of your own choosing.

It is not easy to buy the tech tough. At least, it wasn’t. VR headsets used to cost around £1,000 and require a £1,500+ gaming PC to go with them. Now, Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 does the same job for $299 with no PC required. The cheaper headset lets you move around freely in a VR space with no wires, and can even track your hand movements.

If you have watched Ready Player One,  you know exactly what it is. The movie is set in 2045, and people enter a metaverse called OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). They choose avatars, go on quests, meet people, make and lose money and literally get all of life’s social-emotional interactions from a reality that is virtual.

We are in 2021 and it is already real.

What can you do in a metaverse?

Think Google Earth. It gives you a 3D representation of anywhere on Earth drawing data primarily from satellite imagery.  With a VR headset, you can explore the streets of Manhattan while sitting in Bangalore. You can get an arial view of the city or choose to follow the traffic (although we are not sure why you would ever want to do that!). You can stand in front of specific buildings and even enter some of them that are open to the virtual public.

Very soon, it will be integrated with other aspects of your life online.  You can not only explore a store virtually but also do your shopping as you look at a product through your VR headset. It will also get to the point where you can say try out clothes virtually.

It is not just shopping though. With Facebook’s entry to the domain, it is obvious that your social media is also going to be integrated into the metaverse. You could also attend a virtual concert, get the whole experience while in the comfort of your home, jump from one museum to another, one country to another or even attend real meetings while still being remote. The possibilities are literally endless.

How is it different from Augmented Reality (AR)?

AR tech, as the name suggests, simply augments parts of the real-reality that we live in. A surgeon can use an AR headset to practice surgery, explore the possible complications before doing it on a patient. Your social media filters give you a dog’s ears and a snout for instance. Or even PokemonGo for that matter is all tech that augments reality.

Virtual Reality and metaverses are far more immersive than that. In addition to augmenting the world that you actually live in, you can literally experience walking on Mars or through the halls of Hogwarts or Middle Earth. You can survive through a zombie apocalypse, play ping-pong with a robot or walk through Starship Enterprise.

Leslie Shannon, Nokias Head of Trend Scouting, referred to the importance of the metaverse, or spatial internet. The spatial internet is the culmination of everything that AR and VR are developing today. Its the idea of taking information about things, locations, or historical events and actually locating that information out there in the world where its most relevant.”

What are its implications?

Quite literally, the world as we know it is changing. Metaverses will have significant impacts on our economy, culture, personal preferences, and our coping mechanisms. Businesses and marketing will have to target digital avatars than real people. Virtual real estate or appearances might soon have their own values. Travel, education, healthcare, hospitality, and fashion are some industries that will undergo a complete metamorphosis. The nature of entertainment will also undergo a sea change.

Brands will be part of creating metaverses for, advertisements will continue to exist there too. The process of creation will be in the hands of a few people and corporations. It also means, as a society, we need to re-evaluate our ethics, values, and rules. For, running your competitor’s car off the road in a metaverse and in the real world is, in no way, comparable.

Who are the players?

Well, there is Facebook becoming Meta. Other than that, here are some of the big players joining the race to build metaverses:

  • Microsoft with Mesh for Teams
  • Google
  • Roblox, a video game corporation
  • Nvidia, a computer chip maker
  • Unity Software Inc
  • Snap Inc
  • Autodesk
  • Tencent Holdings
  • Epic Games
  • KuCoin, a cryptocurrency exchange

A “Meta”morphosis

This is going to be the new face of the Internet. Are there concerns? Yes absolutely. Will the metaverse be an escape from the real world? Yes, but is it always a healthy choice? We will end up developing a new set of defence and coping mechanisms. If we are going to live in a virtual world, experience everything there, what will be its implications on health?

Businesses, people who are dependent on real-world experiences are going to be affected during the transition phase. With Facebook leading the charge, concerns about data sharing and lack of privacy also abound.

We will only have to wait and watch. As a technological advancement, the metaverse is tremendous. The possibilities are endless. Can you believe it? It was in 1992 when Neal Stephenson introduced this word as a concept in his science fiction novel “Snow Crash”. In less than three decades, we are talking about virtual universes. If the tech becomes accessible to all, the world is quite literally in our hands.

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