It is apparent through observing the evolution of social media and the internet as a whole that our presences are becoming increasingly digital. As my Immersive Media professor puts it, entering a virtual space is becoming synonymous with entering a physical space. Our digital selves and the virtual places we visit become a part of us. Suppose I play games online with my friends under a specific avatar; this avatar becomes a part of my identity, of who I am. It is an extension of myself that I put into the digital world. This is why Extended Reality is on the rise, in parallel with the Metaverse. Our way of interacting with information and communicating with one another is fundamentally changing, especially in a post-pandemic time. We have learned the effectiveness of online meetings, found ways to engage with each other in meaningful ways through technology.
That is the point of the “Metaverse”. Many find that a simple way of describing it is like the world of Roblox or Minecraft, where virtual societies made up of people behind digital avatars partake in trading, creating, and communicating as we do in real life. But it’s much more than that. Wired puts it best: “…saying that Fortnite is ‘the metaverse’ would be a bit like saying Google is ‘the internet’”. The Metaverse is not a place. Rather, it encompasses the entire concept of a new, virtual parallel to our existing realities and ways of life. This means virtual versions of ourselves, virtual worlds we “live” and meet in, virtual closets, virtual stores, virtual concerts, and so much more.
You could call the “Metaverse” concept anything really, and regardless of people’s personal opinions on it, it’s a phenomenon that is inevitably taking over, even in ways we may not realize. The bitmojis and memojis we are so used to seeing on SnapChat and Instagram are just the beginning. These are one of the first demonstrations of how we personalize the virtual image of ourselves we put out into the world. Even our profile pictures are a symbol of the direction tech is taking with regards to the Metaverse. The implications of this are huge for the field of Extended Reality, because this is where its entire audience comes from. Most future users of XR (who use it in their daily lives) will be using it to join virtual meeting spaces and concerts, to see their virtual friends and colleagues. XR is an engaging way of merging the digital and physical worlds, as well as creating a new virtual world that feels as true-to-life as possible. It’s exciting to see where this technology is heading.