Edited by: Aneesha Chandra
One fine Thursday morning, after the completion of the daily series of invigorating “Good Morning” messages, my family WhatsApp group stumbled upon a fairly uncanny topic for a menage discussion. It all started with a simple, “What is the metaverse?” and thus began a thunderous, intellectually stimulating conversation. The GenX and Millennial members of the group declared it as a sure shot case of human overdependence on technology personifying the “bad” side of the internet, while the younger members pushed it forth as a convenience driving mechanism for the near future. The conversation sure was an experience. While there wasn’t a consensus there, we can surely try exploring this familiar yet vague term: the Metaverse.
Let’s start with the basics. What does the Metaverse really mean?
Short answer: it is Ready Player One irl. Interestingly enough, “metaverse” was first used by the author, Neil Stephenson, in a sci-fi novel Snow Crash written in 1992. The term was used to refer to a 3D virtual space.
Most recently, you might’ve witnessed the rather confusion-inducing move by Mark Zuckerberg to replace the good old Facebook with Meta (it is difficult to find one absolute reason for the move). You might also have chanced upon memes about the game Second Life, or maybe more sophisticated terms like “cyberspace”, or very generally expressions like “the new internet” while talking of the Metaverse. All of these are steps in the right direction.
The popularity of the Metaverse stems from the game Second Life (with a weird spirally hand logo). A game launched in 2003 wherein the players construct an alternate life for themselves, choose their avatars, and interact with their surroundings pretty much in the same way humans actually do, only virtually. This initially began as a good resort for people to construct their life in the way they want, look how they want to, create spaces for themselves, and interact with people from all around the world. Interestingly, the idea of the Metaverse has now transcended to include virtual economies so much so that blockchain secures the transactions in this space and H&M recently launched the first ever retail Metaverse store.
So, is the Metaverse a game?
Sort of. At least at first glance. The users can choose their own avatars, go anywhere, crash cars, adopt a pet without seeking permission from their parents, pretty much do everything one can do in a game. However, it is more than just the playfulness attached to it. With an emerging commercial and social space, the Metaverse is a digital identity in itself.
What do you need to access the metaverse?
Three things: a laptop/phone/computer, an internet connection, a VR headset (if you really want to dive deep into it) and you are good to go.
Is there only one metaverse?
Yes but also no. Think of it this way, Zuckerberg’s Meta is in the process of designing its own metaverse. This will be a part of the larger Metaverse but it won’t be the OG Metaverse. Basically, just like there can be several internet-driven apps operating under the purview of the larger internet.
But do we really need the Metaverse?
This is a loaded, gray question. It certainly comes with its pros and cons. It opens up new avenues for people to socialize, allows unconventional ways of marketing (which might be a gray area), expands the scope of predominantly non-digital services like tourism. Long story short, it has the capacity to reach each and every facet of one’s daily life, more than modern-day internet services can.
This reach acts as an important and crucial intersection between humans and technology. With a stronger and more reliable economy, people can have convenience delivered at the speed of light. Additionally, healthcare and education can reach an exponentially larger audience, penetrating to the rather remote areas of the world. Alongside this, the homemakers and physically challenged will have an inclusive, more interactive virtual space. Thus, there is immense scope for promoting digital diversity, if handled responsibly.
However, this comes with a twist. Privacy of user data might be a huge concern given the intensity of interactions required in the Metaverse. Further, one of the biggest disadvantages is perhaps the rampant harassment, bullying, and hate speech in the digital space clubbed with the lack of stringent laws and monitoring processes in this area. With the current ease of masking one’s identity, this threat to safety is poignant and justifiably concerning.
While the Metaverse comes with immense opportunities for representing diverse geographies, age groups, physical disabilities, and gender identities, care must be taken while considering the way in which the digital surroundings are constructed for the users. It should add to their convenience, provide them a safe environment to express themselves, and serve as a helpful retreat from the everyday monotony of life (maybe to pet their virtual doggo).