Into the Metaverse

On 28th October, Zuckerberg released his 2021 ‘Founders Letter’, a long-winded explanation for the plans that are to come as Facebook moves forward. This is a monumental announcement that has shaken entire industries with its visionary descriptions of digital innovations that we might have only been able to dream of in the past. For some, it’s confusing – and can be hard to grasp the power of technologies that are needed to harmonise in bringing this extraordinary concept to life. 

So what does it all mean? Innovationly is here to connect the pieces and pull it all together, making sense of the concepts that Zuckerberg has so intricately laid out in his posts. He even made a video, an hour-long explanation paired with visual impact and effects that does more to outline Facebook’s plans for the future.

Except… It’s not exactly called Facebook any more. That household name that has become so synonymous with the digital world is all about to change. The new name that manages Facebook is set to be ‘Meta’. If you’re not all too clued up on technological jargon and the ins and outs of the digital world, it’s natural that you may have mentally ‘checked out’ upon reading the entirety of Zuckerberg’s post – or even watching the video. That’s why we’re here to set a few things straight.

The Meaning Behind the Re-Brand: What “Meta” Really Means

It goes without saying that words hold a great deal of meaning, particularly if you’re naming a brand that’s so internationally recognised. To understand the origins and perhaps some of the intentions behind the re-brand, let’s delve into a little bit of etymology.

The word “Meta”, as described in Mark’s post, is Greek in origin. It originally derives from the word “beyond”. This suggests, much like the announcement states, that the entire re-brand strategy is to be focused on bringing digital spaces further into the future. Mark succinctly explains:

“For me, it symbolizes that there is always more to build, and there is always a next chapter to the story.”

This makes sense. Facebook is always innovating as it’s a company right at the core of many of our lives, the way we communicate and interact. 

Despite this, the new name has caused heavy debates amongst many communities and even entire countries, as many have become both amused and confused about the change. Much of this agitation is rooted in the fact that the word meta actually means “dead” in Hebrew. Perhaps an oversight on Mark’s behalf, but this vastly shared and discussed announcement probably means the name is here to stay.

Key Concepts Surrounding the Metaverse

The Metaverse: A Basic Overview

The entire premise of the Metaverse is to bring the way we interact forward, into an augmented reality based space that goes way beyond just staring at a screen. The idea is to make connecting with people via digital means a much more immersive experience. To engage with virtual avatars in augmented reality environments, with a focus on creativity and reactive interactions. It even involves building whole digital ecosystems to support the entire vision.

This will have to be done through means of innovation that may take years to develop, and through various industries that must come together to work in sync as the whole concept is perfected. While Mark explains it may take 5 – 10 years for these visions to become a reality, it’s true that they are certainly in the pipelines as creators and techies have been working diligently to make this all happen.

Still a bit muddled? We’ll explain further, with information derived from both the Facebook post and the 80-minute long video feature on how it all works. So, here are the “basic concepts” that need to come together for the metaverse to happen: explained.

  1. Presence

Much of the premise of the metaverse vision is based on enhancing our feeling of ‘presence’ as we engage with others in our digital spaces. That involves removing the habit of just staring at a screen, and making these entirely interactive spaces we can jump into. He calls it an “embodied internet” that’s more natural and vivid, featuring more human expression and technology built around people.

Obviously, there’s further tech involved in making this happen. Mark mentions the use of virtual reality headsets and digitally enhancing glasses that will help facilitate the idea.

  1. Avatars

The next key component to the metaverse is avatars. Digital representations that really embody the way you express yourself, move, and dress. They’re the mega-updated version of the profile photo as we know it today, and they’ll become the standard for interacting with friends and family online. Zuckerberg describes avatars as “living 3D representations of you … that will make interactions much richer.”

Virtual clothing is explored as Mark swipes through his wardrobe before heading out to ‘meet’ his friends, and as always – he picks out his go-to look featuring black jeans… and you guessed it, his black long-sleeve tee. Not the most creative of outfits, but there’s more to come on that later.

The idea of the avatar also links into the interoperability concept we mention below, since an imperative part of the concept is the ability to switch up the systems you’re engaging with, without losing the sense of connectivity between devices.

  1. Home space

The home space is described as the hub of activity, the place you’ll first enter as you dive into the metaverse. You can customise your own home space and its outdoor surroundings to suit your own taste. Imagine the spaces you feel most comfortable, encapsulating you in comfort within augmented reality environments. The home space is inherently visual, as we see Mark’s space surrounded by a tropical landscape rich with palm trees and rippling seas.

This idea of the home space suggests that the metaverse is attempting to curate comfortable environments within which we can play, learn, work and connect… Even live. What are the implications of this on real home ownership in the physical world, and the ramifications for purchasing products for the home – when you can just experience them in the digital world?

  1. Teleporting

The use of virtual teleportation throughout immersive digital spaces is explored throughout the video. As humans, and as our propensity for technological innovation has continued to flourish over the years, we’ve long desired platforms or portals through which we can teleport ourselves into other spaces.

The video takes Mark and his fellow avatars through a number of spaces via teleportation, from a space-esque meeting room designed by one of his friend’s acquaintances, to a magical forest environment.

The idea of teleportation offers boundless opportunities for new experiences, and even the improvements to our quality of life that many have long dreamed of. While the commute into the office has become not so mainstream any more, those of us working from home are still missing out on those valuable interactions with colleagues in the office, or even just the sense of routine and stability that we get from travelling to a dedicated work environment. With the metaverse, Zuckerberg explains that there are workplaces as well as spaces to play, and this offers profound potential in the development of business strategies on an international scale. It could perhaps improve productivity levels too, as we all know how working from home can be inherently distracting!

  1. Interoperability

One concept that feeds into every area of the metaverse and its plans for the future is interoperability. In real terms, the definition of interoperability is:

the ability of computer systems or programs to exchange information” – Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.

The importance of interoperability applies to the metaverse in ways that we notice even today as we use various platforms. Linking our accounts across social media outlets, such as connecting Instagram to Facebook and Twitter, has become a seamless link between our online accounts that means we can effortlessly share across platforms. It would be extremely frustrating if in the metaverse, the virtual goods we purchase on our virtual reality headset aren’t available when we switch to using digital glasses, for example. This is a technical point that is entirely necessary, and without it, the metaverse just wouldn’t be as connective or easy to implement – and that’s what it’s all about in the first place.

  1. Privacy & Safety

As with any digital space, there are ways people can infiltrate your privacy and gain access to data that should otherwise be kept secure. The metaverse brings plenty of concerns about privacy and safety, particularly as we’re ever-immersed into these digital worlds and set free to interact with one another. Imagine people infiltrating your space without invitation, yet instead of sending a message, their digital avatar appears right there in front of you. It’s a scary thought with regards to personal privacy.

Meanwhile, the interconnectivity between real life assets like money, and the digital purchasing and ownership of goods, brings questions surrounding the safety of our monetary data and finances.

  1. Virtual Goods

The idea of owning and sharing virtual goods is no new invention. In gaming, notions such as earning money and building houses, owning objects and finding ‘treasures’ have long been popular. But more recently innovators have been bringing the concept of virtual goods ownership more into the mainstream, and into areas of our everyday offline lives that we can explore them in.

Take NFTs as a prime example. Many of us admittedly questioned exactly how these virtual images could eventually be used in a way that was meaningful, other than in terms of monetary gains. The metaverse answers that question.

In Zuckerberg’s video, two digitally interacting avatars are transported to the afterparty of a music concert, gaining access to the event by purchasing their digital tickets after one friend used a hologram to virtually ‘attend’ the initial concert and spend valuable time with her friend. In this afterparty, there’s a portal displaying virtual NFT goods that users can invest in and wear using their real life funds.

Again, this links in with the idea of interoperability. Real life cash becomes a commodity through which we can jazz ourselves up in the metaverse, support upcoming artists and creators, and spend time in hyper-realistic virtual spaces with our friends. Again – not a new invention. Gamers have been spending real money on virtual goods for decades, just not in such a hyper-immersive augmented reality space as the metaverse seems to promise. This brings the concept of spending real money on virtual items into a whole new dimension, as our offline and online lives are expected to be much more intertwined.

Zuckerberg even mentions the possibility of owning TVs that are not physical objects, but merely holograms of what they represent – without losing functionality. This begs an array of questions surrounding the ownership of physical items in the future, and the importance they might lose as we become so grossly immersed within the metaverse.

  1. Natural Interfaces

A core idea surrounding the metaverse is that we will no longer be stuck to our screens, tapping away to send messages to friends, or awkwardly holding up phones to Facetime and such. Part of how these physical boundaries regarding connection will be overcome concerns the need for natural interfaces we can use within the metaverse.

The video itself visualises natural gestures and swiping motions by Mark’s avatar as he chooses which of his friends to invite over next, or selects the outfit he’s picked out for the day. These are all natural movements that aren’t hindered by the ‘boundary’ of the screen, as they all take place within the metaverse.

How the Metaverse is Expected to Alter Reality

As we mentioned above, there are plenty of questions to consider surrounding these links between our physical lives and our virtual lives. The introduction of the upcoming metaverse and the potential it brings in enriching our experiences will no doubt bring profound changes to the way we live in the physical world.

It’s likely that we’ll find out exactly how these changes shape our reality as the metaverse is brought to life. Though it’s almost impossible to determine whether these changes will ultimately be positive ones, or negative ones. There is still much to figure out about the intricacies behind the metaverse, as Zuckerberg admittedly states. It is likely, however, that these changes will begin to be infiltrated across the Facebook platform gradually. Perhaps in such a way that the slow-release of alterations becomes, over time, inherently ‘normal’ to us.

All we have to do is sit and wait as we watch these gradual changes unfold… Watch this space.

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