The frenzy over the metaverse is new, but the idea of it is two decades old. In 1992, author Neal Stephenson coined the term for his virtual world in his novel Snow Crash. In the simplest description, the metaverse is the physical and digital convergence of experiences, services, and identity, enabled by an array of new technologies.
Think of it as the internet’s next evolution, where people can work, learn, play, shop, meet, and explore in interconnected communities. Websites become interactive virtual worlds, links are replaced by portals between those worlds, a digital avatar replaces your username, and the keyboard and mouse are replaced by mixed reality interfaces. Software and hardware will allow us to move seamlessly between physical and digital spaces, augmenting the real world and creating new shared digital experiences.
That vision is now leaving the realm of sci-fi pages and movies and coming closer to reality, thanks to new technologies, changing consumer habits, and the fact that businesses see massive economic opportunity ahead. Established brands are staking their claim in cryptocurrency, gaming, and NFTs. Facebook changed its name to Meta last year and announced its intention to be a metaverse company, not a social media company. This digital universe has also captured the growing attention of venture capital firms, with startups (including OpenSea, Animoca Brands, and Sandbox) attracting millions of dollars in funding.
The rest of us may wonder: Has the metaverse’s moment finally come?
We think so, but only if the technology that underpins all of its future activities can replicate (or improve upon) what’s in the physical world. That means secure cryptocurrency that will enable us to buy and sell physical and digital items; customized avatars that can express our personalities, job roles, and moods; and interfaces that let us move in and out of digital worlds and interact with others where and when we choose.
Jump into the metaverse
Imagine your persona in this virtual space is as richly detailed and unique as the “real” you. Your work avatar might wear designer digital clothes, while your gaming avatar might don a custom pair of NFT-certified Nikes. Picture having a wallet filled with cryptocurrency, tied to your real-world money, to invest in virtual real estate, buy concert tickets to see your favorite band perform, or attend sporting events and conferences. Going to work might look completely different: Meetings won’t require getting in the car or launching Zoom; instead, you’ll put on your VR headset and proceed to your virtual office. In your off-hours, you might visit an NFT art gallery or dance to your favorite AI-powered DJ at a digital club.
The metaverse promises to be a digital twin of our physical universe but without physical limitations. It presents endless possibilities, but is the technology ready to deliver them?