Imagine sitting wrapped up inside your blanket in your bed but virtually strolling across the aisles of Zara and then later meeting up with your friends for a chat at Domino’s. This full-fledged virtual experience offers more than just mindlessly scrolling miles on your phone while shopping online. First used by Stephenson in his 1992 dystopian novel Snow Crash to refer to his creation of a 3-dimensional world, the Metaverse breaks free from the monotonous grid interface that our present technology offers.
The Metaverse uses augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars, video and other means of communication to offer a hyper-real alternative world for us to co-exist in. Here, people can interact with each other in the graphical forms of themselves, much like ‘avatars.’ We’ve already seen inklings of such virtual experiences in popular online game universes like Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and similar others. Players can create/ choose their own avatars in these games and use the virtual space inside the game. We saw a huge rise in the popularity of these games, owing to everything shifting to online platforms during the current pandemic. Its success in the gaming sector has made the world jump onto the Metaverse bandwagon to utilize its potential pathbreaking multi-sectoral use. This technology has the potential to impact every possible industry in the coming years- gaming, healthcare, ed-tech, real estate, e-commerce and so on.
To enter this virtual space akin to the real world, you just have to use a VR headset. Another concept that we’ve tackled is paying for transactions. Blockchain technology is a significant enabler in all Metaverse transactions, owing to its secure and vaulted characteristics. H&M recently introduced the first-ever retail shopping experience in the Metaverse. The customers could walk through this virtual store and purchase the products digitally using CEEK Crypto for transactions. For now, the clothes and accessories bought can only be used on the digital avatars of the customers but there is a strong possibility that this functionality can also be extended to the physical world.
While more and more sectors have started dabbling in the Metaverse as their selling strategy and capitalizing on this technology, Metaverse has the potential to become the ultimate stop for the Gen Z customer base. Moving back and forth between the real world and the virtual world will become seamless. The question arises- can the Metaverse replace the real world one day? Even though it offers a revolutionary fantastical world, I feel it will only be able to offer an alternative instead of replacing the physical world. We cannot be fully sure of the extent of Metaverse’s impact. Looking at the current technological advancements, Metaverse is an inevitable phenomenon that converges both humanity and technology.
As we move forward with this idea in mind, it is essential that we prioritize inclusivity and offer a safe environment for everyone, even in the virtual landscape. Aiming at solutions to the existing problems in the real world should be a priority, not an afterthought. Surely, it opens up opportunities to address and create a diverse world, such as including homemakers and especially physically or psychologically challenged in the same sphere; there is no need to exclude anyone from the virtual space. Harassment, hate speech and bullying is already rampant in the gaming world and the virtual reality experience in the Metaverse will only heighten this sensory experience. There are only a few limited ways to report such misbehavior and discipline the abusers. Sexual harassment was never a strictly physical thing; it can be equally traumatizing in the online mode and even more so in the VR mode. Women have already started experiencing groping and harassment in the virtual space while the aggressor hides behind the computer screen and evade any moral responsibility. If we aren’t able to restrict such things from permeating into the virtual world, we are only adding to the social implications of virtual reality.
As we gear up to enter the era of Web 3.0, we need to ensure that we are reflecting the population and its best interests. Metaverse offers an opportunity to diversify the talent pool- promote representation of gender, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, age, geography and so on. It is crucial that we use technological advancements to solve problems in the existing brick and tar world and not carry them forward into the virtual world.