Society

The metaverse: a realm of digital possibilities 

While the term has exploded in recent years, what exactly does this new world promise? 

The technological advancements of the internet, social media, virtual reality and cryptocurrencies have spurred an onslaught of theories and predictions surrounding the metaverse, which has become a topical subject in recent years. 

Blockbuster films such as 2016’s Ready Player One and 2021’s Free Guy have tackled ideas surrounding the concept. In October 2021, the iconically-named and well known company Facebook was renamed Meta to better reflect the corporation’s ambition to further develop the metaverse.

Even with the broad and ever-growing nature of the metaverse, many are still quite unfamiliar with what it is and what it could mean for the future of technology.

Into the metaverse

The term “metaverse” itself was first coined in the 1992 novel Snow Crash, written by Neal Stephenson. In the book, the metaverse refers to a virtual world where the protagonist, Hiro, is able to socialize, shop and confront enemies through his digital avatar. Thirty years later, this is not too far off from how it is defined today.

Alexandra Bal, an associate professor at Ryerson/X University’s school of media, describes the metaverse as “social media on steroids” and something that has been a concept for a long time, despite its more recent surge in popularity. 

“It’s been around since at least the ‘90s in terms of modern times. But you could actually say [since] the ancient Greek times,” Bal says. “People have been thinking about other spaces where we could exist for as long as our humanity has existed, really.”

Although technology is still years away from seeing the metaverse fully-formed and realized, elements of it have already existed for quite some time. 

“The internet is like a simulated environment where we can do most of our lives. Many aspects of our lives are already there,” Bal says. “Where do you shop? Online. Where would you meet someone for dating? Online. Do you communicate with your friends online? Yes. So there’s already a metaverse, it’s just not three-dimensional. It’s not yet inhabited through simulated aesthetics, but it already is here.”

As an example, Bal highlights the video game Grand Theft Auto V, which incorporates an online multiplayer mode that allows players to engage with each other in the game’s fictional city.

“Anyone who plays games [like Grand Theft Auto V] is in a virtual world,” she says. “It’s a type of simulated environment and you could argue that it’s a metaverse in its own right.”

Cashing in on digital trade

Within the broader realm of the metaverse are cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Andrew Nguyen, 22, was first introduced to the idea of the metaverse through his interest in cryptocurrencies, which he would describe as, “digital assets that can be tied specifically to a single wallet.”

Cryptocurrencies are fully digital forms of currencies that can be used for trading. According to Investopedia, cryptocurrencies are “theoretically immune” to government interference or manipulation due to their lack of ties to any central authority. 

Despite the popularity of coins such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, there aren’t many e-commerce sites that allow purchases with cryptocurrencies yet. Still, they have become a popular means of trade due to their profitable potential and accessibility.

NFTs are somewhat similar to cryptocurrencies because they are used as forms of trade within the digital market. However, as its name suggests, they are literally non-fungible and cannot be duplicated or substituted—unlike most cryptocurrencies. As described in an article by CNN, NFTs, “transform digital works of art and other collectibles into one-of-a-kind, verifiable assets that are easy to trade on the blockchain.”

Nguyen predicts that cryptocurrencies, along with NFTs, will play bigger roles within the realm of the metaverse as technology continues to progress. 

“Anytime there would be an exchange for something of value, there would need to be a crypto used as currency for that transaction,” he says. 

The future of the metaverse

Nguyen notes the drastic impacts that COVID-19 has had on social interaction among people and their loved ones. He hopes that this can be somewhat rectified with the potential implications of the metaverse. 

“To be able to hang out with friends and loved ones in an environment that seems realistic enough that it allows us to communicate as if we were actually together is something that can definitely benefit us, especially those who are lonely during these times,” he says.

In addition to the impacts of COVID-19, Bal says that the established metaverse has become a welcome communal space for those with disabilities and those who struggle with in-person interactions.

“These spaces can be a lot less anxiety-driven and anxiety-generating than in-person,” she says. “I’d love to see that openness—not for [the metaverse] to become just marketplaces—but to become spaces where people can explore their interests and embrace the safe spaces that celebrate diversity and difference.” 

As time progresses, Bal hopes to see this potential thrive. Advancements in technology continue to drive society forward, creating endless possibilities within the metaverse.

About the author

Alyssa Bravo is a former reporter for Youth Mind. She is a coffee fiend and likes music, movies and food. She wishes to travel to Italy and Greece, and hopes she’ll live to see the day the Toronto Maple Leafs win their 14th championship. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her watching videos of dogs or baby pandas.

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