It sounds like a place that only exists in a science fiction book, but it is making us ask some crucial questions.
When we saw the word, Metaverse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to our mind. Metaverse sounds like a place where fictional superhero characters have built their base of operations, and make plans to safeguard the planet. But as much as we like to believe that the metaverse is something that was created by Stan Lee for comics, it is an actual thing that exists in planet Earth right now.
The word gained traction after Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, told his investors that, as quoted by Bloomberg, “In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company.” So, what is metaverse, which Zuckerberg calls as “…the ultimate expression of social technology”?.
The term metaverse was coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash. The term was further popularised in the Ernest Cline book Ready Player One. Yes, it is the same book that was adapted by Steven Spielberg into a big-budget film in 2018. If you have watched the movie, you would have a clear idea of what we are describing here. Metaverse is an immersive virtual world where people can spend time together and hangout, much like how you can do today with virtual reality. Zuckerberg explained that you will be able to “teleport” between different experiences.
Virtual reality (VR) is a crucial part of the metaverse, and that’s why Facebook has invested heavily into Oculus and other VR and AR (augmented reality) projects. However, Zuckerberg said that the metaverse isn’t just virtual reality, and it will be accessible across all different computing platforms; VR, AR, PCs as well as mobile devices and game consoles. In an example, Zuckerberg said that we might be able to watch a 3D concert in the metaverse from our phone and this will blend 2D and 3D elements.
Changing The World
In the film Ready Player One, we saw one metaverse, which was shared by everyone. At present, we don’t have something similar to that, but there are companies working on creating it. Because of the lockdowns, family reunions are taking place on Zoom, weddings have been relocated to Animal Crossing, graduations are taking place on Minecraft and people are virtually trying on clothes. Since the pandemic has already shifted most of our activities online like the ones mentioned before, companies working towards a shared metaverse makes absolute sense.
When the internet became popular, companies changed their marketing strategies and moved most of their advertising from print media to online. In the same way, the metaverse is also expected to change the way in which marketing is being done by companies. Forbes writes, “How people act and what their preferences are in the metaverse could be totally different from how they behave and what they shop for in real life. Add to that the layer of business to robot to consumer, where virtual assistants and robots own the relationship with the consumer, and it all starts to make sense.”
In metaverse, people can choose their own avatars to represent themselves. So, fashion becomes a major part of designing a character or being represented by an avatar. According to Forbes, virtual fashion house and designers will have a chance to enter a whole new market of digital-first clothing. Entertainment will also be moving slowly to the metaverse. One such example of this is John Legend’s Bigger Love virtual concert, which used the Wave XR’s technology. The concert was to raise funds for charity, and it was seen by 5 lakh live attendees.
Metaverse is coming, and it is going to change our lives, just like how internet changed the way we sent letters to others in the 90s. Change is inevitable, and we agree to that. But the question that we have is who will regulate this metaverse? When we get into the metaverse, it will have access to our information, so what guarantee do we have that Facebook will keep it safe, and not use it to manipulate our opinions and choices.
When Facebook and Google were offering their services for free in the 2000s, we didn’t understand fully on how the transaction worked. Their services were given to us in exchange for our data. At that time, we didn’t know why they were collecting our data, what they will be doing with it, and how their algorithms worked. We didn’t think that the data collection was harmful, until we found out about the data privacy scandals, and the misuse of our information. Later, we also understood how their algorithms were filled with biases, and how the companies didn’t do enough to control the spreading of misinformation, hate speech, and harmful conspiracy theories.
We left the big tech companies go unchecked for so long, and look where it has led us. At present, we are struggling to regulate them, and sometimes it looks like that we are too late to do so. If tech giants are going to be creating their own metaverses, or one shared metaverse, they should be regulated. Because they will have access to data points such as movement-tracking, eye-tracking, neural input and biometrics. These data points gives them more edge to affect our moods and use them to manipulate our opinions, sources of information and community — in real time.
Governments should get together, and formulate policies to protect our data, safeguard our well-being, and make sure that people have control over what could be done with their information, not the companies. An article by Wired says, “As the pandemic pushes us to the edge of the Metaverse, we must choose between the well-trodden path of corporate control, conflict and abdicated responsibility, or that of true user sovereignty with individual control, equal representation and a connected future that benefits people, not profit.” So, the metaverse is coming in the future, and this time, we should make sure, that we all have control over our data, and not the tech giants.