Unpacking the metaverse and its relationship with the real world
As the vision for the metaverse starts to take shape, an important – if not forward-looking question – is on everyone’s mind: how will the Metaverse affect the real world?
Similar debates arise at nearly every technological epoch, and the current period is no different. Global populations have wondered whether artificial intelligence (AI) will take over human operations, automation will replace all jobs, and remote work will destroy physical offices for good.
Now, with companies like Decentraland, The Sandbox, and others in development promising real and inhabitable metaverse platforms, what does this mean for the future of real-world connections?
The Metaverse and Common Concerns
The metaverse, a combination of spatial computing and the Internet, aims to create 3D virtual worlds and incorporate several key emerging technologies such as the blockchain, cryptocurrencies, AI, cloud and edge computing, among many others.
The concept became popular with Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, and consequent literary works like Ready Player One. At the same time, multiplayer world-building games like Second Life and Minecraft opened up possibilities for a new virtual existence that runs parallel to our real lives.
It may not be a coincidence that this period, in the late 2000s, is when the industry witnessed the first social media boom, and humanity’s virtual footprint became almost as important as its real ones.
The concern over such threats to the real world are not entirely far-fetched. Internet users worldwide already spend enormous amounts of time online and devote significant efforts to boosting their online presence for both social and professional purposes. Once the Metaverse transforms the internet into a three-dimensional virtual space, could it do away with the need for a physical world altogether?
Why the Metaverse Cannot Entirely Replace the Real World
The metaverse does offer an inhabitable, alternate environment to the physical world governed by the rules of physics of our universe, however, it is still dependent on those very rules.
This is because blockchain and blockchain-based computing still rely on large amounts of natural resources and energy, which is only possible due to the real world that exists around us.
Without coal or the Sun to produce electricity, minting crypto to support blockchain ecosystems would not be possible, which means that metaverse platforms would cease to exist.
Currently, every other aspect of the Metaverse’s operations makes use of some physical resource or law. User engagement with these platforms follows the rules governing our perception of light so that we can put on VR headsets and enter an immersive digital realm. Navigation aids like remote controllers, eye-tracking, hand controllers, and omnidirectional treadmills, take advantage of human anatomy and the laws of motion to enable realistic experiences. Even within the virtual world, developers mimic physics properties like gravitational anchoring to create a sense of authenticity for every experience.
Potential Real-World Consequences for the Metaverse
With significant technological advancements, the Metaverse could replace the real world in terms of relevance. While this is a futuristic notion several years or even decades away, we could soon see the Metaverse replacing specific portions of the real world.
- The Metaverse could replace physical offices: One of the biggest affected areas will be remote work and collaboration, where companies could have entire office campuses in the Metaverse. Accenture already has a Metaverse office called the Nth Floor, in Microsoft’s Mesh platform, revealing a potential future where office buildings cease to exist and every company has a global VR campus with a metaverse address.
- The Metaverse could replace in-person physical interaction to an extent: During the pandemic, many users turned to the Metaverse for social activities and gatherings, even conducting entire weddingsinside the platform. In the future, it could become as important as social media is to our lives today.
While some users may continue to resist metaverse adoption in favor of the real world and others could strive to maintain a good real-digital balance, a section of the global user base could move a major percentage of their social life to the Metaverse, replacing physical interactions altogether.
- The Metaverse could replace certain jobs: Nearly every technology brings with it renewed revenue generation potential. The Metaverse also allows users to earn a steady flow of crypto that can act as a regular source of income. This includes opportunities from play-to-earn games, Metaverse jobs, XR business opportunities, XR services, and so on. With the chance to make money using nothing but an internet connection, certain traditional jobs could cease to exist.
- The Metaverse economy could become as important as the real-world economy: Over the last three years, there has been an exponential rise in interest in crypto and related investment activities. Cryptocurrency values cannot be manipulated by a single entity and in a way, indicates a truly free market. Metaverse platforms have their own economy built on crypto ownership and blockchain-based consensus, using decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), allowing everyone a say in its operations.
The Bottom Line
While the Metaverse has enormous potential, it will be several years before it reaches its genuine realization. In his October 2021 Founder’s Letter, Meta Platform’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned:
“Our hope is that within the next decade, the Metaverse will reach a billion people.”
Even then, it will be less than a fraction of the global population, and there is no possibility of the Metaverse replacing any aspects of the real world without sufficient adoption.
However, in the next few years, we could see the technology becoming increasingly important to specific user cohorts, nearly replacing the respective equivalents in the real world within these communities.