What is the Metaverse?

Metaverse — the latest buzzword currently bombarding the Internet. It’s likely that you’ve heard of it since Facebook announced its rebranding and transition to the metaverse, but what is it all about and why is everyone talking about it? 
 
Simply put, the metaverse creates online spaces that allow people to interact in a more immersive way. It’s being called “the next evolution of social interaction”. 

As with any technological advancement threatening to change the way we experience life, it has been received with mixed reactions.  
 
On one hand, you have coders, blockchain developers, crypto artists and other technologists who generally welcome the metaverse with open arms. They recognize the advantages and potential of connecting people around the world in ways we’ve never seen before.  Yet for others, these ideas have been met with a sense of ignorance, dismissal and even fear — fear that the digital world will weaken our instinctive human interactions and disconnect us from the natural world. 
 
We can expect pros and cons when discussing the evolution of humankind but information is still the greatest tool. In this article, we’ll explore the metaverse and its potential in a little more detail so that you can build an informed opinion of your own. 

The word

The literal translation of metaverse is “beyond the universe”, and was first mentioned in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. In his book, Stephenson envisioned people meeting in and exploring virtual reality environments using their digital avatars, often just to escape their dystopian existence. A more recent example of an illustrated metaverse is the 2018 movie Ready Player One, in which gamers could become part of separate digital realities using special goggles, full-body haptic suits, and even treadmills. It enabled the gamer to fully engage in their gaming experience.  

The possibilities

A fully functioning, life-like metaverse doesn’t exist yet, so at this point, we can only describe how it may look in the near future. The rough idea is that the metaverse will be an immersive internet which will provide people with the same possibilities they have in the real world, such as free movement, ownership, and exchange of goods and assets. Additionally, it will be a place where users can spend time interacting with each other in any virtually created location. 

This hybrid of real and virtual spaces will enable people to play games, work, shop, exercise, and interact socially whilst being in their preferred physical location, such as at home, for example. People from all around the physical world will be able to meet in the same virtual place. They could meet on the shoreline of a digitally created beach, where they’ll be able to watch the sunset, hold conversations and have the same sense of presence with one another without leaving the comfort of their homes. 

With the metaverse, it’s likely that many Internet activities will move from 2D experiences, like reading text or viewing pictures and videos on a screen, to 3D experiences. Therefore, instead of using a phone to view lists of products when shopping, users can walk around a virtual store and view the products as they really are. You are not just viewing the content, you are a part of it. Another concept is augmented reality (AR) technologies that would bring digital items and people to the physical world through holograms. They would move, feel and appear as real people, connecting the physical and digital world. 

The fact is that nobody knows exactly how the metaverse will turn out. Still, with the recent developments in blockchain technology, the term has caught the attention of wider audiences, as crypto metaverse-like applications and proofs-of-concept have emerged for the first time in our history. 

Crypto and the metaverse

The current crypto ecosystem’s metaverse token category consists mainly of decentralized games and game-like virtual worlds that enable users to own digital assets and property through Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Users can even earn through Play-to-Earn (P2E) models and while games like Sandbox may seem cartoonish and even child-like, these worlds actually contain many essential components that will literally provide the building blocks towards a ‘fully immersive’ alternate reality. 

Figure 1 Example: the sandbox game|https://www.sandbox.game/en/ 

The games allow players to meet others, organize virtual events, build new things, monetize their holdings, and use decentralized applications. For example, gamers can currently attend virtual parties, create their own NFT galleries for public access, and go to casinos in these parallel universes. Furthermore, due to their open-source and decentralized nature, any developer can build new applications and content inside the games to meet the needs of existing communities. 

As previously mentioned, the metaverse is not all about gaming, though games have certainly played a significant role in bringing masses of people aboard the metaverse train. It’s one of the only ways to have fun, invest and earn simultaneously, which is why it’s probably here to stay and likely to become the central element in the next phase of the Internet. 

Will the metaverse live up to the hype and really be able to inspire and provoke human emotions at the same level as the natural and physical world can?  Only time will tell. 
 
One thing we do know is that it’s pushing the boundaries of technology and social interaction, and turning futuristic ideas into a plausible reality. 

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