With the recent company rebranding from the notorious Facebook to "Meta", Zuckerberg is asking us to think not of the past, but rather focus our sights on the future. "Beyond", is this an ostentatious attempt at brand recovery? Or the footprints of a pioneer making their first steps into the metaverse. Either way, it leads us to question exactly what lies ahead in the world of social technology.
A company so dead-set on the quest for engagement is undoubtedly looking to capitalise on the growing popularity of virtual existence. The Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, was the gateway to a recent virtual presentation, which allowed Zuckerberg to flaunt his billionaire avatar as he let users step inside his virtual living room.
What is virtual reality and the metaverse? They refer to computer simulations that mimic or entirely redesign the world, where users wear headsets in order to experience them first-hand. Virtual reality can refer to video games which let us step in as a first person hero in a story driven experience, or "Second Life" style simulations which enable us to reenact a normal existence in a virtual plain. Increasingly companies are investing in the latter, developing worlds for us to step into and experience virtual existence for ourselves.
The benefits are there, virtual concerts where you can be right in the centre of the action, virtual afternoon tea with a friend in Australia, virtual meetings from your living room. In many ways the metaverse looks to reshape our understanding of the online world. Rather than experiencing information on a website through text, pictures and videos, we will experience it as though it was handed to us in person. The potential here is enormous, the future holds countless opportunities for brands to develop their online experience in this new 3D world.
However, there is still a sinister side to this trend. The benefit of holding meetings from anywhere in the world seems fantastic, until you remember that video chats already exist. The benefit of a virtual home seems oddly intriguing, until you remember that your real home already exists...
The cryptocurrency market appears to be moving in a similar direction. Tokens are already proving to have some digital world value in the form of NFTs, a modern day collector's way of flaunting their wealth while convincing others not to screenshot their precious clothed animal picture. Many of these tokens are already looking to adapt to a metaverse, focusing their efforts on a near non-existent market but proving to hold market caps in the billions.
These NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens, appear to couple perfectly with a world that exists only in the digital. They rely on their intrinsic data to verify their authenticity, with a screenshotted version holding as much value as a fake painting, the original holds all the worth. In a metaverse these NFTs could hang on your virtual wall for all to admire when they step into your virtual hallway. This could be the beginning of a digital art renaissance, where artists choose to digitise their works as museums are made accessible from a computer.
Perhaps this is the technology of the future, the numbers would suggest so. As the world moves towards the virtual it begs the question of how our reality will be impacted. The many benefits of mass interaction and access to information that a virtual world can offer will impact on our natural experiences in ways we cannot predict. A world where the virtual is available could be great, yet with our experience of technology thus far we may soon find ourselves dependent on a world that doesn't really exist.
Will you be making a life for yourself in the metaverse? Or decide to keep your feet firmly planted in reality?