The hype passed quite quickly this time. With the rise of interest rates and the sudden and drastic fall in the value of crypto, we have seen less attention directed towards the metaverse. There are still articles about new platforms, unicorn valued start-ups, and brands moving into the virtual world every day. But the craze is over.
Having said that, the Metaverse is not a fad. It is here to stay. Big tech, big venture capital, big media, big sports, big fashion, and gazillions of start-ups are investing big time in this. All that money and effort will not evaporate, it will turn into something, and that something will eventually turn into the Metaverse over the course of the next few decades.
We have explained the Metaverse before. Here is a simple definition: Virtual spaces providing immersive experiences. Each of these five words are important and we are in touch with each of them on a daily basis. The internet is already virtual. It replaced letters with e-mails, telegraphs with instant messaging, and many other applications which we love and can no longer live without. Human beings need spaces, to get together, to socialize, to dine, to train, to teach, to celebrate, to sleep. While some of these will never be virtual, many of these can be done in virtual spaces. Covid showed us why and how the hard way. We love experiences, we pay for experiences, we enjoy experiences, brands, events, even education and healthcare are all about experiences. If we can make those more immersive, meaning better visuals, better tastes, better smells, better interactions, we will embrace them, we will pay a premium, we will tell our best friends about it. We receive and consume many services, goods, and experiences from certain providers. Some of them are very close to us, like our internet provider, our smart phone manufacturer, our e-mail system, the apps we use daily, and some games, and some other activities we do, in the physical world and the virtual world. We are prosumers, consuming services and using platforms to produce our own content and experiences, and share them with others.
We moved from The Stone Age into settlements. We went through Medieval times and reached Enlightenment. We experienced the Industrial Revolution and ended up in the Information Age. This evolution of human civilization just goes on and on. With about 5 billion smartphones out there, almost eveyone is on the internet and on social media. How can you expect them to remain satisfied and stand still? Impossible. Curiosity, ingenuity, serendipity, and creativity will fuel progress and development, with good outcomes and some bad side effects.
It is normal to change
Do you really believe our children will be satisfied with the experiences we find cool? Did we like what our parents played? No. Just look back at entertainment and sports. Winding back from Netflix to TV to radio to village theatres to ancient nomad storytellers. Look at Formula 1 with Hamilton and co, compare that against Fangio’s era in the 40s and 50s. Huge differences by all means. The same is true for football, NBA, tennis, and almost any sport. Today we play on a PlayStation or an Xbox, yesterday those were board games, and before that we were occupied with finding food and shelter, maybe playing with some little toys made from bones or wood. Do you want to go back to that or would you prefer to advance in a good way?
The Metaverse will not fall from the sky ready-made. We will build it. All of us. As inventors, as entrepreneurs, as consultants, as content creators, as policy makers, as activists, as thinkers, and as consumers. If we like something, it will spread and scale and evolve. If we don’t like something, it will diminish and disappear.
The future is in our hands. If we are all more conscious about how the virtual future should look, the probability that it will evolve and eventually look like that is much higher, if we don’t spend all our time thinking and talking about it.
The boundless playground of the Metaverse
In the mind-map below you can see an incomplete list of components and considerations surrounding the Metaverse. Many things are only in the making. Many will need decades of technical, societal, economical, and political evolution. As the internet has matured over the last three decades, the Metaverse will also need some time. So, please be patient. No need for FOMO.
Will the Metaverse be the future of our workplace and our go-to playground? I doubt that. I think we are social beings. We like, or even need, physical proximity and touch. Something happens when we sit next to each other, look each other in the eye, and shake hands. We are genetically coded to be social and physical.
The hardware side of the story
Having said that, virtual gives us great opportunities, which we learned with the mobile phone and the internet. Everything is in the palm of our hands and at the tip of our fingers. Banking, music, entertainment, messages, photos, navigation, just to name a few applications we use several times every day. The Metaverse will make these more immersive, more inclusive, and provide a whole new set of new possibilities. Once it overcomes the limitations it has today concerning visual quality, capacity of people in the same place, and expensive and cumbersome hardware to wear on our heads.
Talking about hardware, wearables will be an important part of the Metaverse. But VR headsets are heavy, they are expensive, they get quite hot, you lose touch with the real environment, and most importantly many people (me included) get motion sickness very quickly. So, this is not feasible. The technology has to significantly improve. The world of entrepreneurs, in the past Silicon Valley especially has proven, that technological evolution is exponential. Within a few years, maybe a few more, AR/VR/XR will be much more affordable, much more powerful, and much smaller than today’s devices. The most used wearable on the planet as of today are Apple’s AirPods. Augmenting them with a smart watch and with smart glasses, all connected to our smart phone, makes a quite powerful and tempting combination. You can guess who is best positioned to provide us this equipment.
When will the real impact of the Metaverse begin?
The most likely reader of this blog post is a business professional. You may wonder about when this will impact the business world. Actually, it already does. The big tech companies of the world want to provide you with virtual conference rooms, including those famous legless avatars. Will that improve the conversation? I doubt it. Will some like it? Definitely. Will it improve over time? Of course. So, it’s here to stay.
Fashion brands have started to discover the Metaverse. Events, fashion shows, live concerts, showrooms, digital versions of physical goods, and other experiments take place, slowly but surely. The same happened during the early days of the internet in the 90s. Not everybody hopped on the bandwagon. Banks were super conservative about this technology reserved for nerds, geeks, and hackers. Today, mobile banking is the norm.
The disruption is not just about the experience. It goes much further and deeper. With the introduction of Bitcoin the world entered a new age. Slowly but surely the world of finance is becoming disrupted via decentralization. Is it really as decentral as they claim? Will it really liberate and democratize the financial world as they hope? I doubt it. Time will tell. Let’s hope for the best and participate in building a more just world.
As with all technologies, the Metaverse itself is not evil or a saviour, it will become what we as humans make of it. If we all become addicted to short videos and shooter games and forget to go out into the physical forests to get some fresh air, we may turn into virtual zombies. But if we embrace the novel features, create genuine and beautiful content, find the balance between the virtual and physical, tomorrow will be much better than today.
I’m an optimist. And I truly believe that the majority of people are as well. We will find our way into a better world, as we have done for the last several millennia. Get ready for the Metaverse. Good luck and may the digital forces be with you.