Metaverse: New-fangled fad or our future?

Metaverse: New-fangled fad or our future?

by Donna Denise Scharnagl

Who hasn’t heard all the “hype” around the concept of Metaverse when Facebook announced a name change?

You have probably seen the messages that Facebook is now Meta – but it’s really the mother company (which includes Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) that has changed its name.
You may think this will not affect you. But it will, ultimately.

Many people will try to wrap their heads around what is the Metaverse by comparing it to video games – and they are not too far off. They are saying it’s a virtual space populated by a set of avatars (or cartoon-like images representing people or characters). These avatars interact online in various 3D environments via video games that usually means blowing up everything or building small dynasties.

Popular video games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox form virtual worlds where many people from all ages, races, countries, and languages engage.

However, there is one fundamental difference between video games and the Metaverse. Remember the saying “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” – well you could also read it as: what happens in a video game stays in a video game. Conversely, what happens in a Metaverse will have real-life consequences.

The Metaverse, as imagined by the innovators, is the “next major online destination where global users congregate, engage, buy, sell, play, and work.”  And these interactions all have real-life consequences – in video games, this is not necessarily true. For example, if your avatar just blew up the London Bridge — you will not see real live burning rafters in the Thames.

In a certain sense you are already living with the consequences of the Metaverse – how many times have you bought something online, logged in to your digital bank account, or made a Zoom call? All of these are your first, tentative experiences with the Metaverse.

metaverso - fad or future :: Donna Denise Scharnagl for Women's International NetworkThe future Metaverse will create 3D environments online that everyone and anyone can enter and interact with. Imagine yourself twirling in front of a mirror where you can see how you look in that amazing new Armani outfit, without any condescending sales agent watching you. You can do this instead of heading over to the physical store. Moreover, you can ditch the whole thing when you see the two extra zeros in the price tag without having to deal with that sales agent who is sending judgemental looks.

Or imagine meeting friends online from NYC for happy hour (while you live in Florence). Now, you may say “I do that already via Zoom! What’s the difference?” Well on Zoom, or Google Meet, or whatever format you use, there are barriers between you and your friends (like a screen or a mouse) – whereas, in the Metaverse, those barriers are lifted. Your avatar, which moves and acts just like you, operates in that 3D space with your friends’ avatars. You now have a new way of connecting that is more real, somehow.

“But it is all so … fake, cold and unhuman” is one of the largest complaints about this new direction.  However, as artificial as this might seem, I wonder if our participation in the Metaverse simply requires getting used to a new situation. And once there, we will calmly settle down and enjoy – forgetting what it was like before. Just like we have forgotten what it was like before TV, cell phones, and the internet.

Don’t lose heart though, many don’t view this as the revolution of the Cyborgs … It is a work-in-progress, and there is room to manoeuvre and grow.

We can only hope that the Metaverse will be similar to what Rossano Tiezzi, a proponent of this new frontier here in Italy suggests:

“The Metaverse, like all the technology linked to 3D virtual reality, does not want to replace real life, the life we live outdoors, which involves the five senses. The real purpose of immersive reality is to accompany, to support real-life …and erase the shortcomings.”

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