The Metaverse: Overhyped VR or Future Reality?

The metaverse is set to fundamentally shake up the way we live, work, and play. But what is it? Is it all just hype or really the future?

You’ve likely heard a lot about the metaverse lately. Collins Dictionary shortlisted metaverse among the words of the year in 2021. The same year, Facebook went all in by changing its name to Meta, a sign of its long-term intentions to create a virtual world that will transform our lives. Numerous other technology companies are also investing hugely in the metaverse too — Amazon, Microsoft, NVIDIA, to name a few. These are big names putting their weight (and financial might) behind building the metaverse.

Origins of the metaverse

The term metaverse is not exactly new. It was first coined in the 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash written by Neal Stephenson. The novel imagines a virtual world known as the “Metaverse”, in which users are able to interact with each other through their avatars. Written in the early days of the Internet, the author was no doubt envisioning what the Internet would one day become.

The metaverse really came to prominence though back in 2003 when the online multimedia platform Second Life was released. It allows users to create avatars through which they can interact with other users in an online virtual world. Sharing many of the features thought up by Neal Stephenson over ten years prior, Second Life lets users explore, discover, and create an online world where they can socialize, shop, learn.

Yet 20 years ago, the technology and underlying infrastructure was not sufficient to support a truly immersive, large-scale metaverse. Fast-forward to today, and the building blocks needed to create a true metaverse are becoming reality.

What is the metaverse?

There is still much debate about what exactly the metaverse is. That said, most definitions converge on it as a virtual 3D space that bridges the digital and physical worlds, and one in which users can interact with each other.

The most common ways to experience the metaverse will be through virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) headsets and glasses. But the metaverse is not just a fancy name for VR. Just like how the Internet is a network of networks, the metaverse will be a network of 3D worlds. Indeed, some have referred to the metaverse as a 3D model of the Internet.

What will it be like in the metaverse?

If you’ve ever tried on a VR headset or a pair of AR glasses, then you’ve had a peek into what the metaverse will be like. But so far these experiences are limited to very specific scenarios, and immature technology means that the experience can be lackluster. A true metaverse will be able to virtually represent many — if not most — of the features we’re accustomed to in the real world. For example:

  • Social interactions: While many people might imagine the metaverse as a place where we can interact with others through cartoon-like avatars, the potential the metaverse has to enable social interactions is much, much more than that. Once avatars become nearly indistinguishable from our real selves, we could potentially interact with friends and family just like we’re in the same room. Despite the vastness of the metaverse, it will bring people closer together.

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