Psst… Come closer… Have you heard about the Metaverse? No? Well, you’re about to.In this article, we’re going to take a look at what exactly the Metaverse is and why you should care about it.

Psst… Come closer… Have you heard about the Metaverse? No? Well, you’re about to.In this article, we’re going to take a look at what exactly the Metaverse is and why you should care about it.

What is the Metaverse?

Sounding like something straight out of a Marvel flick, or the latest offering from Facebook’s new brand identity, the Metaverse is actually a decades-old concept that has started to gain some mainstream traction now that the question of “what comes after the internet?” has been uttered.

Put simply, the Metaverse is the next iteration of the internet, and is generally envisioned as a completely immersive internet experience where everything is connected in a virtual world. This could consist of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), machine learning, various forms of artificial intelligence and much more. You can think of it as Internet 2.0.

Virtual worlds and a seamless integration of human minds with technology are not new concepts. From cyberpunk classic Neuromancer to the cinematic masterpiece of The Matrix, science fiction writers have been drooling over the idea since the birth of the genre. Now we (sort of) have the tech to make it happen.

What will the Metaverse look like?

Figuring out exactly what the Metaverse will look like represents a surprisingly challenging task, especially if you try to rationalise it against the standard experiences we have with the real world.

For one vision of the Metaverse, let’s take the cultural shake-up that COVID has given us. For many, home working has meant almost no human interaction, but an awful lot of virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom. One corner of the Metaverse could well see the transformation of these virtual meetings into something far more literal.

Imagine attendees donning headsets and being placed in a virtual world where everyone is represented by an avatar. You can discuss sales figures around a virtual representation of the classic office environment, or perhaps you could mix it up. Discuss the latest project while on top of Everest, or interview a candidate in a space station orbiting Jupiter. The possibilities are endless, and possibly a little ludicrous.

The Metaverse could also revolutionise how tradespeople do their jobs. Through augmented reality, a virtual heads-up display could be overlaid on top of the real world, providing vital data to complete the job at hand. A faulty component could be highlighted before a mechanic’s eyes, or an electrician could assess a building’s wiring just by looking at it the walls.

Once we’ve cracked the tech, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Is the Metaverse a good thing?

In an age where our personal data is up for grabs and we all walk around with a load of high-tech sensors in our pockets, moving from simply viewing the internet to directly participating in it is an exciting natural progression.

But before we get too excited, let’s stop and take a look at some of the implications of diving head-first into the Metaverse.

Our personal data in the Metaverse

Although the general public is becoming savvier, many people still seriously underestimate just how much information they’re giving away on a daily basis about almost every part of their lives.

Let’s consider a generic millennial. They’re tech savvy, probably have a smartphone, a laptop and perhaps a smart watch. Linked to those devices are search engine accounts, email accounts, music and entertainment subscriptions, various shopping apps, grocery lists, bank accounts, medical information and the treasure trove of past embarrassment that is social media.

All of these accounts and apps are collecting data. The products you click on, the medical symptoms you searched for, what you ‘liked’, how many steps you took, your route to work, and so on. All of this data is valuable. It can be bought, it can be sold, and it can be used, and with data breaches becoming worryingly commonplace, information security is far from guaranteed.

As a friend of mine high up in a technology company once put it, “data is now the most valuable resource on the planet.” Scary when you really start to think about it, right?

Our lives are full of data sharing, surveillance and an utter reliance on technology created and run by companies more powerful than elected governments. So should we really be moving along a path that hands them more data and even more power?

“No” is probably the answer, but for better or worse, that’s exactly what the Metaverse is set to do.

What happens to the real world?

Yet another favourite of the science fiction genre is the post-apocalyptic wasteland, with streets of dust, crumbling cities and only a few feral dogs roaming around.

Now, I’m not suggesting the Metaverse is going to be the end of civilised existence. Well, probably not. However, there is a very real possibility of our inner cities and major population centres becoming an outdated relic. From the 2008 recession to 2020’s COVID pandemic, the high street has been on the decline for a hot minute, and the exciting possibilities of the Metaverse could very well deliver the final blow.

Our urban lifestyles are born out of necessity and convenience. We live, we shop, we socialise and we work all within this confined bubble of life that contains everything we need to be happy and healthy. But this is already far from the only way to achieve these things, and the Metaverse is set to take hold of more and more of our necessary human experiences.

Online shopping means we no longer need rows of shops. Remote working means we don’t need all those office blocks, or the cafés, bars and pubs that thrive on the captive audience of inner-city employees. Cities are noisy, expensive and polluted. If the Metaverse provides us with alternatives to all of the positives or urban living, then what need have we to stay there?

Does the Metaverse hold the answers?

When it comes down to it, the form the Metaverse will take is still unknown. There are signs that it could be a phenomenal advancement in human society, giving us lightning-fast global connectivity in a virtual world that is just as good as, or even better than, the real one.

On the flip side, it could throw us even further into an Orwellian dystopia, with the big players in business knowing absolutely everything about us due to our constant virtual presence, and using this information however they see fit.

Whichever way it goes, the Metaverse is going to shake up the human condition like nothing has since the internet stepped out of the primordial ooze.

I, for one, am terrified.