With Facebook changing their name to Meta, and Microsoft launching Mesh, a mixed reality applications-based engine, the ‘metaverse’ is one of the hottest topics in the tech world right now.
So, what is metaverse exactly? And what will it mean for our future?
What is the Metaverse?
Imagine being inside a world with endless possibilities, where one minute you can surf the waves in the Bahamas, and the next minute you can explore wildlife in the Amazon rainforest or fly over the Himalayas. All this, without leaving your room.
It sounds like something straight from a sci-fi novel, doesn’t it?
But, technology capable of doing this exists today, and companies are racing against each other to be the first one selling it to the masses. It’s called the metaverse, and it did come from a sci-fi novel.
American writer, Neal Stephenson, coined the term “metaverse” in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. It referred to a virtual 3D world populated by avatars of real people.
The Metaverse doesn’t have a textbook definition yet. That’s because it’s a concept, unlike anything we’ve had before. And it’s still in its infancy. Regardless, here’s Facebook’s attempt to summarize the metaverse in a single sentence:
“The ‘metaverse’ is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta
The possibilities with the metaverse are endless. And experts predict that, at its peak, it can take humanity to the next level. But it has a dark side too, which we’ll discuss in-depth in the upcoming sections of this post.
In any case, good or bad, one thing’s for sure—technological growth is inevitable, and the metaverse is just a tiny part of that growth.
The Metaverse was Inevitable
In the late 1800s, a state-of-the-art technology appeared called the telephone. Soon after its release, it became a hit, and people began using it en masse.
Cut to 100 years later: Motorola launched the first cordless phones because wired telephones were just not enough.
After a few years, the same company launched DynaTAC 8000X, or the world’s first cellular mobile phone.
Then came slightly advanced feature phones, which were soon replaced by their modern touch screen alternatives.
But did we stop there?
Grab your phone, and look at it. It’s not just a touchscreen phone. It’s a smartphone—a palm-sized computer with features that people back then could’ve only dreamt of.
The point I’m trying to make is that advancement in technology is inevitable because human needs are unending. And, the metaverse is just a part of what will be born as a result of our endless desires.
As with a lot of things, this upgrade in our technological infrastructure comes with many benefits.
Benefits of the Metaverse
There is a concept in technology called singularity. It hypothesizes that, with time, we’ll enter a phase where artificial intelligence will become an integral part of reality. And on top of that, AI will supersede human intelligence and escape our control.
Many people have pointed out that the way the metaverse is being developed may be our first step towards technological singularity.
But let’s have a quick look at the ground reality. Even though we’re making amazing progress in the realm of software, when it comes to the hardware, we’re nowhere near the stage where we can utilize AI’s full potential.
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So, right now, it’s not possible for metaverse tech to make machines a dominant species on this planet. And it will continue this way for a long time. We’re in complete control of our tech at the moment, and we can mold it to benefit us. And that’s what tech companies are doing right now. Have a look at some of the benefits that the metaverse brings to the table.
Be Present in a Virtual Space of Your Choosing
Today, very few people in this world are unfamiliar with the internet. We use it to connect, communicate, and do a whole range of stuff. But, the current version of the internet only lets you create, share, and engage with content in a 2-dimensional space. The metaverse breaks this barrier.
Now, instead of interacting with content online in 2D, you can immerse yourself in a realistic virtual 3D space, where you can interact with others, transact, connect and even share your space with people.
The current version of the metaverse is being built on VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) technologies. Although much information is yet to come, experts say that it will take our VR and AR tech to the next level, making everything we do on the internet more interesting and enjoyable.
In fact, you can already experience a rudimentary version of the metaverse with a platform called Decentraland.
Decentraland is a decentralized 3D VR platform that consists of 23 km2 or 9 sq miles of land. You can literally buy a piece of virtual land there and do with it whatever you please.
Virtual assets like these are called non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
You can traverse, build upon, and monetize the land you buy in Decentraland by creating games, applications, and gambling services for other people to use. But why stop there?
The land is yours, and what you can do in Decentraland is limitless. You can even take it up a notch and create services around professional development, education, tourism, or simply put a big advertisement banner for your company.
And since it’s an Ethereum-powered VR platform, you can rest assured that your asset is safe and will belong to you until you choose to sell it to someone else.
Decentraland is just a tiny glimpse of what the metaverse is capable of. Here’s more.
Improve People’s Ability to Work from Home
“We shouldn’t really have to physically be together to feel present, collaborate or brainstorm,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook (now Meta), as he announced Horizon Workrooms, a virtual workspace where people can create new virtual worlds and work together in that space.
How cool would it be it simply put on your glasses and be in your office amid your colleagues, without even leaving your room? That’s Zuckerberg’s vision for his new “embodied internet” project.
And it’s not only Facebook; Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also recently announced that they’re working on building the “enterprise metaverse.”
Besides that, Epic Games announced a $1 billion funding round to support their metaverse ambitions. And Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, said that AR and VR would play a significant role in the future of work, especially remote work.
Better Schooling with the Metaverse
When Mark Zuckerberg revealed the name change for his company, he also outlined the ways in which we can use the metaverse to enhance education.
He plans to use virtual reality glasses to create an immersive experience for students. This means, with metaverse tech, students will be able to do things like:
- Virtually teleport to any place or time
- Bring objects they’re learning about in front of them, like a planet, a car engine, or a human organ
- Collaborate with their peers right from their homes
Some experts predict that the metaverse can end traditional forms of education by replacing single bricks-and-mortar institutions with a cyber-physical realm.
The Metaverse in Medicine
Since Covid, the teleconsultation industry in medicine has seen a massive boost. But the fact is, traditional medicine is a person-to-person relationship, where doctors use many signals to study a patient’s symptoms.
And although teleconsultation has been a great help, it hasn’t been able to replicate real-life visits at the doctor’s office.
With the introduction of the metaverse, experts predict that we can build a comprehensive meta-health ecosystem that can massively enhance teleconsultation.
And besides that, the AR and VR technology embedded into the metaverse will also optimize medical devices and expand the reach of medical care.
But There Is a Dark Side
Indeed, the metaverse will have several positive effects on our lives. After the world wide web, it has the potential to be the next big thing that takes humanity to the next level.
But we also can’t deny the fact that the advancements in technology so far have had a number of negative effects on our physical and mental health. And there’s no reason to believe that metaverse tech will be any different.
So, as much as I’d like to support the metaverse and its growth, we can’t look past the issues that could emerge with this technology. Have a look.
It Will Generate Physical Separation
A research study from the University of North Carolina shows that prolonged tech use decreases our ability to connect with other people.
Since the modern world is built on people helping each other, having good social skills is a perk and a necessity. It’s what we use to build positive relationships with people and get most things done.
And it’s not something that you can develop when you want. It’s a long process that begins as soon as a child is born.
Interacting in real life with parents, relatives, friends, and people from different walks of life helps an individual learn to communicate, solve problems, make decisions, become independent, and maintain relationships.
Studies say that the rise in technology has put a huge chunk of the population in isolation, reducing our much-needed human interaction. And with physical interaction being mostly out of the picture, many younger individuals aren’t being able to fully develop things like interpersonal skills, the ability to read emotions, and situational awareness.
The thing is, evolution has embedded the need to be social in our DNA. And it’d take much more than the rise of technology to change that on a biological level. Humans are social animals, and it’s an unchangeable fact.
Metaverse technology is designed to simulate reality, which means, when you’re immersed in it, you won’t feel like you’re in a virtual world. That’s a problem because being physically separated and socializing through the internet like it’s real life is the last thing we need in this already tech-dominated world.
According to statistics, users aged 6–24 spend an average of 3 hours every day on social media. And if we look at the individual numbers, they’re even higher.
So, why do people use social media that much? Are they communicating? Connecting? Well, those were the primary ambitions behind creating these platforms. But is that what’s really happening?
Not exactly. Communication and connections have become a mere fragment of how these platforms are used today. Most of the time, people use social media just because they can’t stay away from it.
So, why is it so addictive?
There’s a concept called behavioral design in marketing. Companies use it to influence and trick you into doing what THEY want you to do. I’ve written all about it in my post called “Tech Addiction & EMF.”
As I’ve already mentioned, metaverse technology will be a much more immersive iteration of the internet, which naturally will be more addictive. And companies like Meta have already started planning to ensure that this is the case by enlisting TikTok personalities with a much more addiction-susceptible Generation-Z fan base to promote their metaverse.
Overstimulate Your Senses
Digital overstimulation is already a huge problem. This is because the human brain is not really designed to process the amount of information we receive today.
Research shows that excessive screen time and tech use can cause problems like increased attention-deficit symptoms, technology addiction, impaired emotional and social intelligence, disrupted sleep, and impaired brain development.
And that’s just from the devices we have today, like cell phones, laptops, and tablets. The metaverse will take it up a notch, per Dr. Phil Reed from Swansea University.
It’s clear that, for tech companies, the main motive behind the metaverse is to generate massive revenue by getting users hooked on their gadgets and services for as long as they can. And that may be beneficial for them, but for the end-users… not so much. Dr. Reed says that this kind of prolonged immersion in a realistic digital world can detach an individual from real life, generating problems like psychoses and schizophrenia.
Data is the most valuable asset for any company. It helps them learn about their consumers, grow their business, and reduce their risk. Data is also the reason platforms like Facebook and Google are free. You pay for their services with your data. And they show you advertisements based on your behavior and collect revenue from the advertisers.
At face value, data collection seems innocent and for our own good. But, at its core, the story is different.
Many big tech companies allegedly collect far more data than what they need to run simple advertisements.
And what do they do with that data?
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Psychologists say that human behavior is learned. And if you know enough about an individual, you can change their perception, decisions, and emotions. These tech companies are rumored to use your data to persuade you into doing things like spending a long time on their products and making impulse purchasing decisions.
Data privacy is crucial for our freedom and safety. And the data we share online should work for our good, not against us.
With the embodied internet of the metaverse, we’d be sharing way more data than we’re doing now. And, by far, we have no idea how much impact that will have on our lives. We can only make an educated guess based on how those companies have used our data before. And frankly, the future with the metaverse doesn’t look too good.
Massive EMF Exposure
Studies say that prolonged exposure to EMF emissions from electronic devices and network sources can cause health effects ranging from minor sleep disorders to chronic diseases like cancer. I have a separate page that talks about these issues in-depth.
But so far, there are ways you can mitigate your EMF exposure and live a safer, healthier life without giving up the convenience of technology. You just need to minimize your tech use and maximize your distance from EMF sources.
With the metaverse, that may not be an option.
When your world is built inside the internet, which you can only access through metaverse tech, it’d be nearly impossible to minimize your use of those gadgets, let alone create a distance between your body and the source of the radiation.
This would cause your EMF exposure to increase significantly, which would not be good for your physical and mental health. And the scarier part is that the metaverse is untested, which means we have no idea how far the biological effects will go.
2022 Update: Dangerous by Design
In February 2022, BBC published an article revealing how harmful the current metaverse environment is for children.
For this investigation, a BBC news researcher created an account in a metaverse app posing as a 13-year-old girl. And what she saw there was horrifying.
She reported that she witnessed sexual situations, harassment, racial slurs, and threats of sexual assault in the app.
This application had an age requirement of 13+ years. And as soon as she visited the virtual space, she saw several types of inappropriate content. On top of that, several adult men approached her.
Though this app wasn’t from Facebook (now Meta), one can easily download it from the Appstore and stream it on the Meta Quest eyewear without age verification.
“Some apps in the virtual-reality metaverse are ‘dangerous by design’,” said the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, in response to the BBC investigation report. They were “shocked and angered” by what the BBC investigation revealed, they added.
The organization’s head of online child safety policy, Andy Burrows, also said that the findings demonstrate “a toxic combination of risks”and some apps in the metaverse have a “dangerous nature.”
Amazon in the Metaverse Space: Amazon Glow
In September 2021, Amazon launched “Glow,” a video calling device that experts say could be the first step towards the “metaverse future.”
Amazon Glow is a device that lets you video chat with other people. But why would anyone buy a foot-long device for $250, simply for video calling? Don’t we already have computers, phones, and tablets for that?
The thing is, Amazon glow isn’t just a video calling device. It’s an interactive hardware with a built-in projector and sensor, using which you can do a multitude of things, including creating art and playing games. And that too, with other people.
This device is primarily marketed as an entertainment system for kids and a way for them to have interactive communication with families living hundreds of miles away.
How Does it Work?
The Amazon Glow is a 14-inch bulky device that feels like a combination of a projector, camera, and tablet.
You can simply place it on a table, and your kids can video chat with a relative or a friend that you pre-approve and do activities like solving puzzles, reading books, playing games like chess, and doodling.
The projector projects a massive 18/12 inches layout onto the table, and the sensor on the device tracks the users’ movement. This device makes your child feel like they’re interacting with the people in the same room, even though it’s just a video call.
What Importance Does The Metaverse Play in our Lives?
Metaverse technology is capable of becoming an integral part of our lives. It could be the next big thing after computers, cell phones, and the world wide web. But the fact is, we’re nowhere near building that level of tech to replace our current ways. And we won’t get to that level for the next five to ten years.
The current metaverse can only be used for entertainment and minor tasks that our computers and cell phones can easily handle. Even if you choose not to get involved with it, the impact on your life won’t be massive.
So, for the time being, you can choose to stay away from metaverse technology, at least until it becomes indispensable.
Whether it be tomorrow or ten years from now, there will be a time when our lives will depend on the metaverse. And staying away from it won’t be an option.
This is the very reason why you need to learn to build a healthier relationship with technology; to keep yourself and your loved ones on the safer side.
SYB recently launched “The Healthier Tech Podcast,” where experts from a wide variety of fields share how to live alongside technology more healthily. We’re available on all major platforms, so give it a listen.