A virtual reality world coexistent with the real world seems to be something straight out of a science fiction movie. If movies are anything to go by, what looks progressive and super-advanced on the screen doesn’t translate into a better reality for humankind out of it. But that has never hindered the human fascination for technology. The constant endeavor to take what exists to the next level comes as second nature for humans and this endeavor has resulted in most “necessities” existing today. From the bronze wheel to the Internet, to VR, the search, is never-ending.
For a species that has depended on primitive modes of communication for the longest part of history, social media, facilitated by the internet boom, has been a real game-changer. In a world that was pushed into quarantine for months and years, the importance social media enjoys today is one never witnessed before. From small families to behemoth corporate entities, everyone was pushed against the wall to depend on the online world to get things done, and at the very least, to stay in touch.
At the peak of social media, the answer to “what’s next?” comes in the form of Metaverse. If the idea of a virtual reality existing in tandem with physical reality was a futuristic concept a decade ago, the future is finally here. But, before we jump into the intricacies of this fascinating subject, let’s understand the meaning of a metaverse.
What is a Metaverse?
Metaverse in its most simple sense is a virtual world that can be accessed to enter a virtual environment for users to interact as if they are inside a simulation. Imagine sitting on your comfortable sofa, and you get this sudden urge to witness the Eiffel Tower in all its glory. There are two ways to put your soul to peace. The obvious one is to get tickets and fly to Paris. The other option could be: to enter a metaverse, that’s a virtual copy of the real world, with your virtual customizable avatar and send your avatar to the Eiffel Tower. But then, what’s the difference between this and just seeing a photograph of the Eiffel Tower?
Here’s when existing technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality come into the picture. A simple VR headset could transport the user with the virtual avatar to any part of the 3D virtual world and provide a wholesome audio-visual sensory experience. More than that, it enables users to interact with each other as one would interact in a real environment at a party or business meeting.
Metaverse- Future of Social Media
The idea of a virtual reality existing where users can interact with each other and connect is not entirely new. It’s been in place for some time. Games like World of Warcraft and Fortnite allow the players to interact in a computer-simulated virtual world in more than one way. Virtual world platforms like Second Life allow people to create an avatar for themselves and live a virtual life different from your real one. All these various examples present a limited view of what Metaverse could be.
In its most ambitious iteration, Metaverse could provide a humbler and better experience, similar to plugging into the Matrix from the 1999 Keanu Reeves hit, where people could just wear their virtual reality headsets and be completely transformed into another simulated universe, the Metaverse. Unlike in the Matrix, in a metaverse, people can control their simulated versions and plug out when done with their virtual adventures. The users can explore, interact, transact and live their alternate lives in a 3D virtual world that’s separate from the real world. A whole new world exists on virtual networks, simulated by computers, populated by real humans through their avatars. The possibilities are endless.
Imagine being a lawyer in real life and being a singer in the metaverse, where people pay you real money or a virtual currency to hear you sing in a virtual 3D environment, built to create an almost indistinguishable sensory experience. Yes, it’s possible that on your brief trip to Paris, you would meet an Italian chef and ask her the recipe of a delicious tiramisu for your cookbook.
Although the idea looks fascinating, to achieve the same requires a lot of improvements in existing technology. While pockets of metaverses exist for leisure purposes, giants like Meta and Microsoft are putting billions of dollars into creating the ecosystem required for their version of the Metaverse - a unified virtual world. All the various versions of a metaverse that exist today are providing a plethora of features like the ability to customize avatars, attend virtual events, interact with fellow users, build virtual homes, and make purchases to boast in front of friends, but the experience remains nearer to playing another video game rather than to being called another “reality”.
The primary challenges remain clear and simple. Firstly, increasing the scope of what is achievable in the metaverse is crucial. The technology will not find greater adoption if it’s going to be limited to a form of entertainment with little practical purpose being served. India has already seen its first metaverse wedding. The use case of metaverses must be significantly developed. The next challenge is the problem of accessibility. The technology as it exists today requires expensive VR headsets and AR glasses. These technologies also need to be perfected to provide the enhanced experience they promise. Lastly, concerns also revolve around security and privacy challenges the idea of a virtual world pose. Undoubtedly, a metaverse is only moving towards a larger integration of the internet world with the real world. The conditions, which have been forced on us due to the pandemic, have only reinforced conversations around the deterioration of mental health and addiction caused by spending more and more time on the internet. Facebook owner Meta has added a personal boundary tool in its metaverse to avoid harassment after complaints regarding the same made news. In an environment that promotes interaction amongst people from across the world, it’s only inevitable that all kinds of issues that exist out there will find their place in the metaverse too.
Wider adoption of cryptocurrency and NFTs have already resulted in heated debates about the possible ramifications of such adoption. Metaverse is the latest entrant in the list of technologies that are bound to arrest the attention of a world becoming increasingly tech-oriented by every passing second. The idea is no longer a niche one cheered for by tech-geeks. The fact that mega internet companies have decided to put manpower and money into exploring the idea of a metaverse is enough evidence that the world is becoming serious about adopting another reality. The final form the Metaverse will take is difficult to judge at this juncture.
The possibilities are huge but so are the challenges in front. Time will decide whether people will openly decide to live second lives in a secondary reality. A reality in which one can transform into anybody and live any way seems to be a very enticing offer at first. But, if the experience is of any use, we know it doesn’t take much time to plunge into a ‘Black Mirror’ episode. Like any transformative technology, a metaverse comes with its own set of anxieties and fears. The change is happening. The question remains: How “real” can it truly be?
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