Dear Trish: Everyone keeps talking about “the Metaverse” but I’m not sure what exactly that is. Can you tell me more?
First and foremost, to answer your question – I can absolutely tell you more, and that’s exactly what we’ll do in this post. But before we get to imagining the future of the internet, I want to wish the Ask Trish fam a very Happy New Year! For so many, I know, the start of 2022 was marked by the latest COVID-19 surge and the world’s other challenges; I hope, amidst all of the adversity, that you found a moment to celebrate the arrival of a New Year, and that you’ve remained safe and healthy. (I also hope you’re getting on those #DigitalResolutions! If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my last Ask Trish post.)
Now, to turn to today’s topic: the Metaverse. Thanks so much for asking this question – it’s an important one, that highlights how quickly our digital world is changing and why it can be so hard to stay on top of everything happening. Luckily, this post should give you a bit of insight into what “the Metaverse” is, and what folks are saying about it – both good and bad.
As this week’s TikTok makes clear (which I hope you all found funny! #crystalball), no one really knows what the Metaverse is or what it will look like. But generally speaking, when people refer to the Metaverse, they’re referring to an immersive virtual reality-version of the internet, in which people connect and interact in three dimensions. For example, in the Metaverse, you’d likely have a three-dimensional persona (that you could style!) that could enter different virtual “worlds,” whether a game or room with your friends. It’s not just a different setting, though: it’s a fundamentally different experience. In the Metaverse, you wouldn’t just have to send a hug emoji to your friend, you could actually hug them, via your persona – and through sensor technology, your friend could actually feel that hug! In many ways, then, the basic premise of the Metaverse is to blur the line between actual reality and our digital reality. While I’m sure many of us spend a lot of time on phones or computers, most don’t really see those experiences as equivalent to the interactions we have in-person. The Metaverse may challenge that notion.
So, what will we do in the Metaverse? That’s the really big question, the one everyone is currently trying to answer. The short version of the answer is: almost anything. The longer version? Well, the Metaverse will likely capture a lot of the characteristics of today’s social media and gaming platforms, so we’ll likely be able to chat (with our personas’ voices!) with family members and challenge friends to a game of Metaverse basketball or football. With that said, the Metaverse has the potential to be much more: folks have already started envisioning virtual reality classrooms and even vacations! In the Metaverse, you may be able to visit anything from The Eiffel Tower to Outer Space. Indeed, some have predicted that in the future, we’ll all be paying for experiences, not products.
Thus far, the Metaverse sounds pretty great, right? It’s all of that^ that’s gotten so many people excited about it. But there are definitely critics – or at least folks who are a little concerned about what the Metaverse might mean, especially when it comes to online safety. Moderation of today’s social media platforms is already really, really tough — and has left many platforms struggling; it’s very likely that those problems would be exacerbated in the Metaverse, for two main reasons. First, the Metaverse promises to be even bigger and more complicated than today’s platforms; it’s going to be next-to-impossible to perfectly monitor every action that occurs in different virtual worlds. Second, because the Metaverse blurs the line between virtual reality and actual reality, harm in the Metaverse can feel much more real and painful than it already does on today’s platforms. Already, there have been instances of everything from abuse to sexual assault in Metaverse-like realities – leaving victims with memories of what feel like very real and traumatizing experiences. It’ll be on all of us, then, to figure out if and how we can build a Metaverse that is safe for everyone.
Thank you so much for reading Ask Trish’s first post of 2022! I hope you found this post helpful in demystifying any questions you had about the Metaverse. You can keep the conversation going – or pivot to another topic or issue – by sharing any internet-related questions, thoughts, or perspectives here. Your question might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! Remember, not only will you get some valuable advice, you’ll also be helping our broader Ask Trish community: so many young people, just like you, are experiencing the same things. And by sharing your thoughts, you might just inspire them to use their voices too 💙
So excited for the year ahead! Until next Tuesday,