The Metaverse Beckons….

These days, the buzz word is ‘Metaverse’ with Facebook announcing in October that it changed its name to ‘Meta’. The word ‘metaverse’ was coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book ‘Snow Crash’

If you read bits and pieces of what it is going to mean, it indeed sounds much like science fiction. So, what exactly is ‘Metaverse?  As per the online Merriam Webster dictionary the ‘metaverse generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work.’

Not just Facebook, all big tech companies today are working towards creating virtual universes in different areas where aspects of social media, online gaming, augmented reality, virtual reality, and cryptocurrencies converge.

As and when the metaverse actually comes into being, you could wear a headset or some other sleek product, enter virtual spaces as yourself or some avatar, and interact, work, play, transact or be entertained in an immersive manner. In that universe you will be able to not only see and hear in three dimensions, but even feel and touch. Over time, virtual reality will be in a sense not much different from physical reality.  

Think about current online meeting platforms. We often wait in a virtual lounge to be admitted to the room, attend online as oneself or in an avatar. Many of us have watched 3D movies in theatres. Online games presently use virtual and augmented reality. The metaverse in many ways has already crept into our lives.

The technology is going to improve, the gadgets needed to experience it become better – and it will all converge towards the ‘Metaverse’ that most tech companies are trying to prepare us for.

On the highway to the omnibus Metaverse, many such arenas will come into play. Finance is moving towards Cryptocurrencies and DeFi (decentralized finance), art and culture has been taken over by Non-fungible tokens, businesses are using some of this in training and onboarding, while entertainment will become a totally immersive experience. Will a time come when all these arenas will converge to one communal experience, where a user can move from one activity to the next seamlessly? This only time will tell.

In the future, as the digital universe converges in the Metaverse there will be new and different challenges. There will be issues of privacy, data capture, security, even ‘land grab’ and intellectual property issues in the virtual world. Already companies are patenting digital products. Appliances like glasses, gloves and headsets will also see transformation, and their cost will determine accessibility to the Metaverse. For a seamless hop from one activity to another, there would have to be collaboration and standardization among tech companies.

It sounds like fantasy and farfetched. This creation of an alternate universe, available at the click or press of a button where we can live another life may also frighten some of us.  However, the future being talked about is not so far away, and we are all going to be affected and lured into it by choice or necessity. The world is moving towards a point where the digital will be equally if not more valuable than the physical.

First published in Hindi in the Dainik Bhaskar on 30-11-2021


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