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The Metaverse Explained in Plain English

The word “metaverse” gets thrown around a lot these days. You hear it in interviews, on podcasts, and at conferences. But what is the metaverse, and why is it so hyped?

The metaverse is not a universe like ours. Instead, it’s a concept used to describe the next generation of online experiences — ones that blend the physical and digital worlds. And it’s a concept that is continuing to gain momentum. So, what is it, and how can you experience it? Let’s look and see where it’s going and what it might ultimately become.

So, What Is this Metaverse?

I hate to string you along with a promise of an exact definition – sorry, it doesn’t exist. Think of your favorite metaverse fiction*, like Upload, Ready Player One, and Free Guy and you get a glimpse into what the future may hold. — and you get a glimpse into what the future may hold. The metaverse is the next step in the evolution of the internet and it’s still being defined.

It’s a concept that blurs the line between the virtual and the real, bringing together the It blurs the line between the virtual and the real, bringing together the digital and the physical in a seamless, augmented experience. Some people consider it to be a fully immersive online universe that blends the real world with virtual experiences; it brings everything to life through digital means.

“I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

“I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

Cyper – The Matrix 1999

The Concept of the Metaverse

As an idealized, futuristic concept, the term “metaverse” has been used to describe a fully digital environment that merges the virtual with the physical and existing internet-based social interactions. But that’s not all it is or could become.

Imagine a world where you can explore, conduct business and socialize without having to rely on real-world infrastructure. Sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. It’s a very real concept that is being developed by companies and research institutes around the world.

At its core, the metaverse is about bridging the digital and physical worlds. While the internet has allowed us to connect with people all over the world through technology, we’ve only been using it primarily as a digital medium. The metaverse, then, is about taking that connectivity to the next level to create a new enhanced online experience.

A Very Brief Timeline of the Metaverse

The idea of the metaverse has a long and storied history – literally. Like many scientific breakthroughs over the centuries, this was conceived by inventive minds in literary settings.

1982 The term cyberspace was first coined by the American-Canadian author William Gibson in 1982 in a story published in Omni magazine and then in his book Neuromancer. In this classic science-fi novel, cyberspace is described as a computer network in a world filled with artificially intelligent beings. You can think of “cyberspace” as the father of VR and grandfather of the metaverse.

1990 In the 1990s, cyberspace began to be used to describe virtual locations in which people interacted with each other. These were the forerunners to what may become areas of the ultimate metaverse, like the groundbreaking (and still quite active) Second Life, considered to be the first metaverse prototype.

Second Life as the true METAverse

(April Fools)

1992 Neal Stephenson was the first to use the term “metaverse” in his science fiction novel, Snow Crash, a seminal book whose vision of the metaverse continues to shape the thinking of Silicon Valley pioneers.

In its early iterations, the metaverse was more of a vision than a fully formed concept. The early prototypes were highly experimental and were more about exploring potential than about providing a full, complete, and realistic vision.

The Future of the Metaverse

Right now, the metaverse is still in its developmental stage. That means it exists more in prototypes and virtual reality gaming than in the real world, but that’s bound to change in the near future.

We’re already starting to see the beginnings of the metaverse in action with the continuing enhancements in AR and VR technologies. AR is defined as the ability to interact with digital objects on a smartphone or tablet using nothing but the camera on that device. Meanwhile, VR is the creation of a realistic digital world can be experienced through the use of a headset, like the Oculus Quest 2 or the HTC Vive Pro 2.

These create immersive, realistic VR environments that you can experience from within. They have allowed the metaverse to move from the realm of science fiction into the realm of reality. You can now step into this newborn baby version of the metaverse with the click of a button.

And let’s talk for a minute about how this all bleeds into the blockchain, shall we? From crypto-backed metaverse projects like Roblox and Mana, the future is happening on the blockchain right before our – eyes? With the continued proliferation of NFTs, non-fungible tokens — created as digital assets with programmed scarcity – these are an ideal tool to represent ownership of virtual assets that can be used in a metaverse environment. Popular NFTs like the Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunks could even easily be modified into 3D avatars that a user can bring into a metaverse world. These virtual assets could also be traded, customized, and even monetized as the metaverse evolves. 

Key Takeaway

No, the metaverse is not a universe like ours. Instead, it’s the next generation of online experiences — ones that blend the physical and digital worlds.  It’s being developed right now and will ultimately change the way we engage with each other and with technology as a whole. Exciting, isn’t it?

*To be fair, these are some of “My” favorites. But these are a great addition to any collection!

About the Author

  • Lover of all things digital and furry, not necessarily in that order. Passionate for RPGs (not the kind that go boom) and RTSs. Misses Infocom, Minsc and Boo, and all things Chocobo. Digital experience expert currently working on an IRL/Virtual project with the National Park Service for Google Streetview, a start-up Google Local EDU, and a cottage garden consisting of native wildflowers for the bees.

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