What Does The Term Metaverse Refer To? FutureUniverseTV Presents An In-Depth Understanding.
Following Facebook’s announcement that it would rebrand itself as Meta and make the metaverse widely accessible as soon as possible, senior managers from a wide range of sectors have repeatedly asked us about the impact of the metaverse on the organization of businesses. From a pragmatic perspective to a philosophical perspective, the questions are varied. However, at their core, they are concerned with whether the metaverse is likely to become a legitimate context for a variety of forms of social interaction. As a result, this will have profound implications for how companies design their organizations, formulate and implement a future-proof strategy, and manage increasingly distributed workforces.
Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in a 1992 novel. As of today, it is referred to as a technology platform that enables immersive social interaction across a variety of virtual spaces, mediated by avatars (digital representations of users). In spite of the fact that the metaverse has sparked much of our imagination since its inception, it has been unable to gain much traction in the commercial sphere. Second life, an online multimedia platform, is the most recent example of something close to a mass-market product.
It was predicted that this platform would enable users to perform all real-life activities in a virtual environment as early as the early 2000s. As Second Life failed to deliver on its promise, skepticism prevailed in the metaverse. Since Facebook publicly committed to investing massively in the technologies that would popularize the metaverse in October of last year, the world has finally begun to realize the significance of this parallel universe. There is a possibility that the “metaverse winter” has ended.
At present, the majority of metaverse use cases are found in the entertainment sector (we recommend watching Ready Play One if you haven’t already). Despite the fact that the gaming industry was the obvious first mover, the music and movie industries quickly followed and many “in-game” performances developed. In 2020, Travis Scott’s rap concert on Fortnite attracted a record number of attendees of 12.3 million. A number of other popular musicians have also held mega-sized concerts on metaverse platforms, including Ariana Grande, Deadmau5 and Grimes. What are the implications of the metaverse for players outside the entertainment industry?
Earlier this year, Decentraland hosted a Metaverse Fashion Week, during which major fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger, and Elie Saab tried to woo the virtual crowd. In addition to being able to afford a VR headset and have access to a high-speed internet connection, an audience that can explore new concepts such as the metaverse is likely to have enough disposable income to purchase a US$1,000 designer bag. What are we to make of the fact that people are willing to pay real money for a virtual handbag? Is it possible that major brands will begin to compete fiercely for prime properties in popular “cities” in the metaverse, just as they do in real life? Does it work the same way as art or gold where speculation and signaling may drive prices more than utility derived from consumption?
Gamers are very interested in the metaverse. Would it be useful to companies as a whole? A first consequence of the pandemic has been the mainstreaming of distributed working. With tools like Slack and Zoom, we are comfortable with virtual collaboration, but our ability to learn, create, and communicate may suffer if we restrict our interactions to these platforms. We were drawing down on our stock of social capital that had been built up through face-to-face interactions during the lockdown. This is not a very sustainable approach. Metaverse-based virtual collaboration may be more effective at cultivating deeper connections and richer collaborations, since it is more immersive and interactive than technologies such as Zoom and Slack. As a result of more spontaneous encounters in the metaverse and higher quality feedback cues during these interactions, this possibility is enabled.
The “office” of choice for remote workers is being challenged by companies such as Meta and Virbela. The second reason is that gamers of today will become employees of tomorrow in the long run. In the metaverse, if you are unaware of how teens (and beyond) interact socially in multi-player online games, you are missing out on a very valuable source of insight. In the future, how teens interact in a virtual work environment may indeed be the best indicator of how they will bond, form and break relationships, collaborate and compete. Consider inviting your management team to a game of Fortnite or Minecraft with your kids.
What is the role of avatars in the metaverse? Are they a bug or a feature? Do co-workers really interact as cartoon characters? A realistic representation in an immersive experience is not currently possible due to the limitations of the technology. It is possible that representations in the metaverse could take completely different forms as a result of rapid technological advancement. As avatars become more realistic, they may become virtual representations of individuals’ “real” selves. This is the idea behind Meta’s Cambria – a VR headset that tracks face and eye movement in real time to accurately mimic facial expressions.
Avatars that mimic the user’s facial expressions have also been added to Zoom. A second, more playful alternative is that the metaverse may expand the parameters of social interaction that are acceptable. The virtual world may introduce new functionality to masks that people might wear during “normal” social interactions, such as carnivals and parties. For example, the designated devil’s advocate in a brainstorming session may appear as a devil avatar, with no ambiguity regarding his or her role or expected behavior. I believe that this raises a number of questions regarding how people present themselves.
Finally, avatars are able to communicate information that is not conveyed by our real-life personas. The concept of network centrality might become more transparent during interaction, for example, similar to the visibility of one’s number of followers on LinkedIn. Be prepared to appear at a cocktail party in the metaverse with your social indicators hovering above your avatar!
Would it be possible to build true collaborative relationships in the metaverse based on trust? Are people who have real-world connections likely to use it occasionally for professional collaborations? Trust built in the metaverse might be enough for collaboration. The nature of collaboration itself will change because the nature of work will be modified to fit the metaverse’s constraints, like being digitized. Collaboration might go from unstructured and tacit to quite structured and explicit. There may still be a need for real-world interaction for other kinds of collaboration.
In contrast, frequent business travelers would appreciate the opportunity to choose between a punishing three-day, two-night transatlantic trip or “let’s meet up in the metaverse”. This would enable them to reduce their carbon footprint while showing up as their trusted avatars – a vast improvement over meetings over Zoom or Teams. Furthermore, collaborative play in the metaverse may be easier and may develop trust even more quickly than in real-world interactions. It is well known that putting together a paintball team building event requires a considerable amount of planning and scheduling. This may be much easier in the metaverse.
Human beings are hardwired to connect in person, aren’t they? In what way can we expect that impulse to disappear? We’re hard-wired to connect, as a group capable of incredibly flexible forms of organizing ourselves, based on evolutionary psychology. For a significant part of our evolutionary history, we connected face-to-face in small groups. Human societies grew, though, and tribes, nations, and religions developed enormously and very quickly. It’s not just people who are present that we keep connections with, it’s people who are remembered or imagined too. It’s plausible that we can form meaningful connections with people we’ve only interacted with in the metaverse. Maybe these connections aren’t as rich as face-to-face ones, but they don’t have to be. It is possible to complement real-world interactions with those in the metaverse rather than to replace them.
Using imperfect representations of the world around us, cognitive science teaches us that we process and act. How are our daily interactions with each other different from those in the metaverse? On an abstract level, it’s the same. According to cognitive psychologist Don Hoffman, natural selection has given each species an ecological niche that’s not “real”, just useful. As long as a species can survive and adapt to the represented environment, the three-dimensional representation of our world doesn’t matter more than another species’ two-dimensional one.
There are, however, a number of layers of representation that can be constructed. Metaverses are layers of representation that exist within what we typically accept as our reality (although philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that the reality we experience may be a simulation as well). Is the metaverse another form of interaction based on imperfect mutual representation? . In the early months of a child’s life, humans begin to learn about the permanence of objects. Similarly, once we realize that virtual objects, environments, and social relationships continue to exist after we log off, the metaverse will become increasingly perceived as persistent – and perhaps as real as the real world around us.
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