Published: 11 April 2022

In recent months, the term ‘metaverse’ has entered into everyday speak, as consumers and businesses start exploring this new way of social engagement.

But for many of us, trying to understand exactly what the metaverse is and how it can enhance our lives is challenging. To help navigate this relatively new phenomenon, we take an in-depth look at the metaverse and its pros and cons.

The Basics

A metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. Put simply, if we think of the internet as something we look at, the metaverse is a version of the internet that we’re inside. We experience the metaverse as an ‘avatar’ – a virtual version of ourself that we control as we explore our way through the virtual world where you can work, socialise, learn and even shop with other avatars. You enter the metaverse and control your avatar by using a virtual reality headset.

Facebook claims to be at the forefront in the development of the metaverse – so much so that it changed its name to ‘Meta’. Its Oculus headsets are one of the market leaders and to use it to access the metaverse, you need to log-in using a Facebook account, for which you must be at least 13. You can then browse free and paid-for apps offering access to virtual worlds which can be private, where you mix with friends or in public spaces with avatars you don’t know.

Why should I be interested in the metaverse?

At first, the metaverse was viewed as science fiction or something for gamers who are used to operating in a virtual world. Yet it will soon become a key part of commercial, educational and social life – many companies are heralding the metaverse as the future of the internet and although the technology is only just beginning, it is expected that 70% of big companies will be investing in the metaverse in the next five years.

Already some of the world’s well-known brands – including Coca-Cola, Nike, Gucci and Louis Vuitton – are committing significant money and resources to the metaverse, by launching marketing promotions and even ecommerce ventures (using NFTs – non-fungible tokens). Microsoft has also entered into the metaverse, with the launch of Mesh – a collaborative platform for virtual experiences which allows you to participate virtually in Teams as an animated 3D avatar.

The downsides

As with many tech and social media ventures, they evolve quickly and without thinking through the ramifications for society as a whole.

One of the main concerns is the lack of safeguards and legislation to protect children, with many academics, VR experts and children’s charities calling it a poorly regulated ‘wild west’. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), they say the immersive nature of the metaverse makes children particularly vulnerable, as it is hard for parents to see what they are viewing and who they are interacting with.

From a practical aspect, there is work to be done on improving the headsets, which can cause a feeling of motion sickness, and people need to be able to use their hands more, rather than the controller, to navigate the virtual world. But these improvements will come and it is likely that in 10 years’ time, entering the metaverse will be as natural as browsing the internet.

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