As early as 1935, science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum describes the main character exploring a fictional world using a pair of goggles in his book Pygmalion’s Spectacles.
Sounds eerily familiar?
That is because close to a century later, Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, changed the company’s name to Meta. With it, he sketched a vision in which billions of users worldwide would work, play, and socialise in immersive digital environments.
And just like that, the metaverse is no longer confined within the lexicon of sci-fi geeks and hardcore gamers. These days, the term has become an all-encompassing jargon representing augmented reality (AR) apps to anything that uses a virtual reality (VR) headset.
As we can see, while Zuckerberg did not come up with the metaverse concept, he has clearly popularised it.
Zuckerberg’s metaverse as a utopia that sees humans abandoning analogue life for a digital existence might still be light years away. However, the immense potential of the metaverse can no longer be ignored.
As the next big technology platform, the metaverse is opening doors to new markets, revenue streams and business models. In fact, analysts have predicted the metaverse to snowball into an US$800 billion industry by 2024.
For a start, the metaverse has already pushed the limits of capitalism. From Banksy pieces to Gucci handbags, it has — against all odds — succeeded at enticing us to buy products that do not exist in a metaphysical sense.
Meanwhile, content creators are having a field day selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as their latest money-making scheme. While the verdict is still out on whether NFTs can ever become a real asset, it has not stopped them from becoming the hottest item on the digital market these days.
To avoid being left behind, businesses will have to start viewing the metaverse as a platform to expand their retail opportunities and increase customer engagement.
Beyond selling NFTs, the metaverse can be a low-cost option to start testing products before introducing them in the real world. It can also help brands and businesses to build a customer base with little to no barriers to entry.
In the next few years, having a presence on the metaverse should probably be as ubiquitous as having a Facebook or Instagram account.
Meta’s Horizon Worlds has been universally derided as a flop with barely any users. Nonetheless, the lacklustre performance of Meta has not dampened our enthusiasm for engaging with the metaverse.
Earlier in the year, K-pop sensation Blackpink played to 16 million viewers as avatars, one of many virtual concerts unconstrained by size and location.
A couple, eschewing convention, have said their “I dos” in a metaverse wedding, surrounded by family and friends in pixel form.
Meanwhile, Xctualyfe, Singapore’s first home-grown metaverse was launched in October to provide an immersive gaming experience with a local flavour.
Around the same time, local metaverse startup BuzzAR also started rolling out its pop-up metaverse, allowing users to get an avatar experience simply by showing up.
Individually, these are novel experiences that do not look like much. But seen together, a brave new world involving the metaverse is clearly on the horizon.
This is good news for land-scarce Singapore, where the emergence of metaverse spaces will provide us with a wide-ranging number of activities beyond what a tiny island could offer.
Travelling to exotic locations, playing all kinds of sports, and having rich, immersive learning experiences at school — all of which can now be experienced with the power of a headset.
Like it or not, the age of the metaverse is upon us not only as an extended source of entertainment and commerce.
In a study by Ciena surveying over 15,000 business professionals, 80 per cent of businesses in Singapore have expressed interest in using the metaverse as a space for collaboration, as opposed to using existing video conferencing tools.
This could have a profound impact on the future of work — one in which we attend meetings wearing virtual reality headsets and go to work at a virtual office, making work from home (WFH) a default rather than a privilege.
As we inch towards a life with the metaverse and all its purported benefits, we should also brace ourselves for potential problems.
Fears of a worsening digital divide, new forms of harassment and crime, or worse, an addiction to a fantasy world that results in the complete breakdown and isolation of real life.
Our ability to address these issues before the metaverse goes mainstream will dictate how successful we can be at harnessing the power of the metaverse for good. Only then will life as an avatar be possible or even worth considering.
Featured Image Credit: Eidosmedia
There is a need for laws to govern the metaverse, and S’pore is already taking steps towards it
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