A striking little anecdote at the beginning: A few years ago, his grandfather asked the author of this text, me, where we really go when we “go on the Internet”. I took my smartphone out of my trouser pocket, pointed to my laptop with the other hand and answered quite euphorically: “Here!” Grandpa didn’t say anything, tilted his head, and didn’t seem decidedly impressed with my answer, but didn’t ask any questions either.
All of the many experts who exchange views on the subject of the metaverse at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference feel the same way – and ask: what is this metaverse and how do we get there? Here, too, many conference attendees seem either irritated by the question, or the answers, or both. After all, there are different approaches to hear at the digital conference in Austin, Texas, which might at least give us a rough direction. So where are you going in the Metaverse please?
1. The metaverse is already here
Metaverse is a collective term for technologies that connect the physical and digital worlds. Looking back, we would see in two or five years that many of them are already here: Apple’s Airpods are already a functional wearable which, in conjunction with the App Store and an iPhone, allows at least a kind of “audio metaverse,” says Professor Scott Galloway of the NYU Stern School of Business at SXSW. With this lead, he currently considers the Apple group as the best equipped to advance on the path of the Metaverse.
Other metaverse building blocks such as volumetric videos, which can project the 3D image of a person in any three-dimensional environment, are already used in Hollywood, for example in “Matrix Resurrections” and are demonstrated in a way impressive here at SXSW. Constructions sometimes several meters long with several special cameras are still necessary today, explains Sven Bliedung von der Heide of the special effects company Volucap. It is not excluded that this technology will soon be found in our smartphones.
2. “The metaverse is me!”
If Mark Zuckerberg and his newly rebranded parent company are successful, the answer seems to be: “meta” is where we write it. Yes, this contradicts the view that a decentralized Web3 content no longer collects any content on one or a few central Web 2.0 platforms.
Zuckerberg is a little reluctant when he appears at SXSW via a video link and explains that he only wants to help develop the technology for a working metaverse. His group has drawn up a roadmap for “ten to fifteen years” and is thus increasingly involved in the development of material, all to allow in the future “even more human interactions online”. A lot of research and development is still needed to develop augmented reality glasses, for example, which must not only be extremely powerful, but above all be beautiful enough that we want to wear them every day.
Incidentally, Zuckerberg is announcing the first “experiments with NFTs” for his Instagram app in the coming months. Finally, his statement that he hopes to work with both Roblox and Epic Games to develop “common interoperability standards” is something to sit up and take note of. A respectful concession to the new competition.
3. The players are already there
From “Second Life” to “Fortnite”: the idea of a metaverse is already within the reach of generations of computer gamers. As a result, much of the infrastructure we’ll experience there – 3D environments, avatars, digital objects, they’re all made up of code and graphics – will be created by today’s game designers, says Sarah Bond, vice president of Microsoft’s Xbox division. .
She is optimistic that with these people, many years of experience in interpersonal relations will find their way into the metaverse: “Developers with all the skills needed for the metaverse come from the game industry”, emphasizes she, also regarding online bullying and hate – Speech. Where people are playfully close online and feel a sense of community, empathy develops for each other.
4. Follow the money
“I don’t think the Metaverse is primarily about games,” says SXSW’s Mark Zuckerberg, speaking enthusiastically about his interest in fashion that’s already being sold on his platforms. Imagine for a moment a fictional Black Friday in the Metaverse: hordes of avatars descend on virtual NFT loot tables to nab one of the limited Chanel pieces. It doesn’t exist yet, but marketing professor Scott Galloway thinks it’s only a matter of time. Only those who own such a luxury piece will be able to decorate their avatar with the latest virtual chic of the metaverse: “The shortage of digital goods is made for the luxury industry.”
A stark contradiction to Zuckerberg’s vision that the metaverse will offer everyone, regardless of socio-economic background, an opportunity to participate in the new (online) society. Because as nice as the idea of an accessible Internet without limits may seem, the biggest pieces of the meta-pie have either already been distributed or are just waiting to be sold to those who already have the purchasing power and are high bidders. Already today, a large portion of blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are in the hands of a few big players, much like the conventional stock market.
5. Paid time off from the Metaverse
At least one glimmer of hope is offered by SXSW futurist Amy Webb. When we’re not slipping into our avatars in the metaverse, we’re simply renting out our computing power to others, for money of course. Our smartphones, wearables or anything that allows us to enter this place of the future, via the blockchain, we release a computing capacity that we ourselves do not currently use: our devices are then constantly connected to (and in ) the network anyway. So why not free up some storage capacity for a good cause and a fee – which we ideally decide ourselves?