Nov. 14, 2021
This month, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerburg, announced that Facebook Inc. is re-branding the company’s name to Meta Platforms Inc. It is now known as Meta and has a new, simpler logo to further reflect its commitment to the new brand and the metaverse. The term “metaverse” is the newest focus set to capture the imagination of not only industry, but also technologists and those who pay close attention to trends in emerging tech.
So what exactly is the metaverse? Simply put, it is the internet brought to life. A combination of 3D renderings in a virtual environment allows users to work inside and have an active experience rather than stay a passive recipient looking upon a screen. Essentially, it is a world of virtual communities where users can work, meet, and play using VR headsets, AR glasses, apps, and other interactive devices.
Despite the many reasons why Facebook may want to expand their brand in 2021, Zuckerburg claims it will be the biggest thing to happen to the metaverse since science fiction writer Neal Stephenson coined the term for his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” “Within the metaverse, you’re going to be able to hang out, play games with friends, work, create, and more,” Zuckerburg said in a recent earnings call. “You’re basically going to be able to do everything that you can on the internet today as well as some things that don’t make sense on the internet today, like dancing.” Dancing, while seemingly unrelated to technology, is an interesting metaphor for what the metaverse can do and and an example how it will change consumer behaviors.
Users will be able to live virtual lives within the metaverse and participate in a society virtually that integrates with their physical environment. Things like going to virtual concerts, trying on and buying clothing for avatars, viewing and creating virtual artwork, attending professional meetings, and playing games with people around the world are just a few examples of the digital environment the metaverse can offer.
Additionally, the metaverse could change how people work, how they spend their time and how they invest their money. This has far-reaching implications. Instead of attending online meetings using Zoom or Teams, theoretically, users could meet in a virtual workspace and interact avatar-to-avatar. This creates an opportunity for App, UI, and UX developers to create new ways for humans to interact with not only computers but with one another.
It’s important to note that Facebook is not the only company involved in the metaverse. Microsoft, Epic Games, Roblox, and Nvidia are just a few of the major players investing millions. Retail and lifestyle brands are trying to capitalize in this new space as well. As an example, fashion house Gucci collaborated in June with Roblox to sell a collection of digital-only accessories. This was a first for the brand and signaled a change in consumer behavior. International brands Coca-Cola and Clinique have also sold digital tokens pitched as a stepping stone to the metaverse. Other brands from lifestyle to tech are expected to follow suit.
However, not every technology-based company is on board with embracing the physical space for a virtual one. Critiques of the metaverse continue to be leveraged and a call for greater attention to digital ethics remain a mainstay of conversations among technologists. The American software development company, Niantic, as an example, argues that “technology should be used to make these core human experiences better — not replace them.” Using points from the works of sci-fi writers such as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, they argue that the metaverse is detrimental to the reality we currently live in.
One thing is clear. The metaverse is coming and has the potential to change the daily lives of millions of people from how they work to how they play. But, with every emerging technology, there has to be some critical thought as to how it impacts the user and the physical world they inhabit.
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