What Does Metaverse Mean and How Does This Virtual World Work?
What Is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a digital reality that combines aspects of social media, online gaming, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and cryptocurrencies to allow users to interact virtually. Augmented reality overlays visual elements, sound, and other sensory input onto real-world settings to enhance the user experience. In contrast, virtual reality is entirely virtual and enhances fictional realities.
In fact, science fiction author Neal Stephenson coined the term metaverse in his 1992 novel Snow Crash.1 In the book, human avatars and software agents interact in a three-dimensional virtual space.
- The metaverse is a shared virtual environment that people access via the Internet.
- Cryptocurrency is an aspect of the metaverse.
- Technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are combined in the metaverse to create a sense of “virtual presence.”
- Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes augmented reality glasses will eventually be as widespread as smartphones.
- In October 2021, Meta announced plans to create 10,000 new high-skilled jobs in the European Union (EU) to help shape the metaverse.2
How Does the Metaverse Work?
An exact definition of the metaverse may be hard to explain because of its depths, but most technology experts agree, that the metaverse is a vast network where individuals via their avatars can interact socially and professionally, invest in currency, take classes, work, and travel in 3-D virtual reality.1
As the metaverse grows, it may likely create online spaces where user interactions are more multidimensional than current technology supports. In simple terms, the metaverse will allow users to go beyond just viewing digital content, users in the metaverse will be able to immerse themselves in a space where the digital and physical worlds converge.1
Meta and the Metaverse
In July 2021, Mark Zuckerberg talked with journalist Casey Newton about the metaverse and the changes he envisioned for Facebook.3Then rumors began swirling in mid-October 2021 about a Facebook rebrand—complete with a new name—to embrace the company’s commitment to the metaverse. Unnamed sources told The Verge that an announcement could come soon.4 And it did.
Meta has been talking metaverse for a while, noting in an Oct. 17, 2021, press release that the metaverse is “a new phase of interconnected virtual experiences using technologies like virtual and augmented reality. At its heart is the idea that by creating a greater sense of “virtual presence,” interacting online can become much closer to the experience of interacting in person.”2
Interest in the metaverse is expected to grow substantially as investors and companies want to be part of what could be the next big thing. The metaverse is “going to be a big focus [of Facebook’s], and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the Internet evolves after the mobile Internet,” Zuckerberg told technology site The Verge before announcing the name change. “And I think it’s going to be the next big chapter for our company, too, doubling down in this area.”4
Proponents of the metaverse view the concept as the next stage in developing the Internet. Meta, for example, has already invested heavily in AR and VR, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets, while AR glasses and wristband technologies are in the works.5Zuckerberg, who believes AR glasses will one day be as ubiquitous as smartphones, told The Verge that over the next several years, Facebook “will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”63
The investment Meta is making in global research and program partners to build the metaverse in a responsible way.5
Numerous sci-fi books, television series, and movies are set in metaverses—digital worlds indistinguishable from the real world. Often, these sci-fi metaverses are dystopian worlds. Some of Zuckerberg’s contemporaries are concerned that the real-life metaverse—the “next-gen Internet”—could become a dystopian nightmare.1
Niantic is a software developer best known for the augmented reality mobile games Ingress and Pokémon Go. Niantic CEO John Hanke, for example, wrote in a blog post, “A lot of people these days seem very interested in bringing this near-future vision of a virtual world to life, including some of the biggest names in technology and gaming. But these novels served as warnings about a dystopian future of technology gone wrong.”78
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated interest in the metaverse as more people have worked from home and gone to school remotely. Of course, there are concerns that the metaverse will make it even easier for people to spend time apart—even in a post-COVID world.1
Hanke wrote, “We believe we can use technology to lean into the ‘reality’ of augmented reality—encouraging everyone, ourselves included, to stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world around us… Technology should be used to make these core human experiences better—not to replace them.”7
What Exactly Is the Metaverse?
Meta defines the metaverse as “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”5 Though metaverse technology is years away from being fully realized, it is expected to eventually be a place where you can work, play, learn, create, shop, and interact with friends in a virtual, online environment.1
What Is the Difference Between AR and VR?
Augmented reality involves overlaying visual elements, sound, and other sensory stimuli onto a real-world setting to enhance the user experience. AR can be accessed with a smartphone, and users can control their presence in the real world.9 In comparison, virtual reality is completely virtual and enhances fictional realities. VR requires a headset device, and users are controlled by the system.1011
Does Meta Own the Metaverse?
The metaverse has no single creator (or definition), so it’s not something that Meta owns or is solely responsible for developing. Still, Meta has already invested heavily in the metaverse through its Oculus VR headsets, and it’s working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.6 In September 2021, the company announced a $50 million investment in global research and program partners to ensure that metaverse technology would be developed responsibly.5
How Do I Invest in the Metaverse?
There are several ways you could invest in the metaverse. You could purchase and invest in cryptocurrency, you could invest in companies working on areas of the metaverse, like Meta and Niantic, or invest in an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that focuses on gaming and technology companies.