The Metaverse: What is it and Why is it Important?

January 21, 2022
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The Metaverse has been with us as a concept for quite some time. Fictional portrayals of alternate digital universes are envisioned in movies like Free Guy, Tron, The Matrix, Ready Player One and Virtuosity. The actual Metaverse, however, poses an even more formidable presence than anything a film studio could dream up. Today’s Metaverse stands on the precipice of retail adoption, with applications for businesses of all sizes.

In very short order, you’ll be able to browse the shelves of your local big-box retailer without getting out of your recliner. And while they might not unleash a homicidal, digitized version of Russell Crowe, they’ll sure as heck try to sell you a new TV. It’ll be on sale.

What exactly is the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is currently best defined as “an immersive cyberspace experience,” because arguments can be made about whether some current platforms (Roblox, Second Life, and Minecraft) are technically a part of the Metaverse. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that they are.

The more extensive and immersive excursions into the Metaverse usually involve a VR headset and one of three popular platforms: Decentraland, the Sandbox, or Somnium Space. Facebook announced a foray into the Metaverse last year, and will no doubt be a major player on their own platform.

In whatever iteration you wish, the Metaverse is essentially an alternate digital world that you choose to visit. In short order, there will be several major Metaverse platforms, each competing for your time, attention, and most importantly, your currency.

What can I do in the Metaverse?

 Imagine a Zoom call, except instead of talking to each other on your screen, you’re all in a digital representation of a conference room. Or perhaps you’re all at your boss’s digital residence (yes, you can buy digital real estate.) In the Metaverse, you can even meet at a digital coffee shop.

Of course, there are also social aspects. Music clubs, religious functions, art galleries and even digital gardens are already gaining popularity, giving people the opportunity to socialize and experience things virtually…from the privacy of their own homes.

Okay, so why is this suddenly such a big deal?

 It’s a big deal because larger corporations are taking major strides toward making shopping even easier and more immersive. A decade ago, Amazon revolutionized shopping with Amazon Prime. Today, you can order something on your watch and have it in your hand within two hours in many US metropolitan areas.

This past week, Wal-Mart applied for trademarks on specific types of virtual items, cryptocurrency wallets, and Virtual Reality technology. While the retail giant isn’t the first company to prepare for the Metaverse, it’s certainly the largest.

The revelation of this was followed quickly by a video illustrating what a virtual Wal-Mart shopping excursion might be like surfacing on Twitter. The video was from 2017, created by a company called Mutual Mobile, and slightly outdated (no, you probably shouldn’t buy milk virtually), but it’s not as far-fetched as some think. If nothing else, you won’t have to deal with some guy trying to sneak 73 items through the express checkout lane in his virtual cart. Make no mistake, new options for shopping are coming. If there’s a way that a retailer can make it easier to conduct a transaction, they’re going to use it.

So that’s it? I’m buying a set of VR goggles to I can purchase wine without leaving my house?

 Retail applications are the biggest step toward a mainstream Metaverse, but the applications are endless. Education, medicine, gaming, social functions, immersive movie experiences, job training, manufacturing, and international collaboration will all be made possible in short order. Imagine architects being able to collaborate on designs from their homes, or an acting student sitting in on a Julliard class from anywhere in the world.

Big business might be the first beneficiaries of the Metaverse, but they certainly won’t be the only ones. The biggest beneficiaries might just be all of us.

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