The Metaverse and Reality

August 19, 2021 / Ben Bajarin

I’m fond of saying that all science fiction is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever we see in science fiction inspires human ingenuity to pursue it. In a way, this is happening with the Metaverse because when you hear “visionaries and futurists” talk about it, it ends up sounding a lot like the Matrix. Without the humans being controlled by sentient mechanical beings part. I hope. 

The Metaverse is a buzzword no doubt. And with Facebook showing, what is essentially just an evolved version of their workspace platform for VR, but many using metaverse terminology around it, the buzz is continuing. It is way too early to separate hype from reality at this point. The Metaverse may be nothing, or it may be something. Regardless, I do think it is important to recognize where we are today and where we are heading as it relates to immersive digital experiences. 

Firstly, let’s understand the vision/concept behind the metaverse. In a perfect world, the Metaverse will be a singular standardized platform for an immersive digital experience. In many ways, it needs to be more like the Internet as a digital platform and less like a walled garden platform if it is to truly succeed on the vision behind it. It can be something where the physical world is richly simulated, or worlds of total fiction can be created. It seems likely both will exist, but I’d stake an early bet human will spend more time in fictional digital experiences than ones that simulate the real world. At least in the short term. 

In my mind, the Metaverse is simply the evolution of the one or maybe two-dimensional digital experiences we have today. For example, video games are current examples of a metaverse today, just a very rudimentary one. Doing video conferencing with a friend, family member, or your work team is all very simplified metaverse experiences. If we understand it this way, then hundreds of millions of people already have a simplified metaverse experience today. Some are attempting to simulate the real world, and some are simulating fictional worlds or environments. 

I make this point because I think it is important to understand the Metaverse as an evolved experience or set of experiences from current digital environments we are all familiar with today. If we understand it this way, then the adoption cycle becomes more clear, and potential time frames for adoption are slightly more optimistic. An adoption cycle truth that I’m yet to observed proven wrong is that solutions to pain points get adopted quickly, and brand new experiences are adopted very slowly. If we understand the Metaverse to evolve in a way that enhances already known experiences, then it will get adopted more quickly. If it tries to be something entirely brand new, then it will be adopted very slowly. 

I mentioned that I expect worlds of fiction to become more mainstream before real-world simulation. I say that for a few reasons. Primary because simulating the real world will be much more difficult, and despite the metaverse optimists, most humans won’t abandon the real-world environments until the virtual is indistinguishable. At least for large amounts of time. And second, because fictional metaverse environments can fit into buckets of entertainment, creativity, and a range of other experiences where immersive digital environments are already experienced today in a fashion that will only be enhanced and more immersive in a metaverse. 

I’ll end with this point. I’m not saying all our digital experiences today are a simplified metaverse. I am saying that there are things we do today that are fundamental building blocks of said future Metaverse. The reality is that we have very simplified metaverse experiences today that will only be enhanced as the digital world, that of hardware, software, and services, evolve to be more immersive and visually rich. This is no short-term journey, but there are signposts pointing us in this direction if we have eyes to see them. 



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