Since Facebook changed its name, it’s hard not to have heard of “Metaverse”. But don’t we already live in a large, interconnected metaverse?
Facebook has changed its name. It is now called “Meta”. Coming from the Greek, this term means many things: “after”, “beyond” or “with”. Although it is easy to ironize on this choice of name, especially with regard to the legal setbacks of Facebook currently, let’s not dwell too much on this mastodon.
Let’s look at the context from a wider angle. First of all, the remote use of digital technology, which has exploded for almost two years in the professional sector. Whether it’s Teams, Discord or Slack, these platforms have become a privileged space to exchange.
Despite a decline in 2020 due to the pandemic, the VR sector has returned to almost equal levels post-COVID-19. The video game sector, mainly driven by in-app purchases in mobile applications, has experienced positive growth for many years.
With all these elements put side by side, can we say that we are using the internet “after”, “beyond” what it was 20 years ago? Or that we live “with” him?
What is the metaverse?
By mixing the term “meta” and “universe”, we get the name “metaverse” or “meta-universe”. After, beyond or even with the universe. So that term encompasses many, many things.
The universe is wide, let’s try to keep our feet on Earth and refine this definition a little more. When it comes to metaverse today, the main idea that emerges is that of a virtual world. A digital world where users can interact with each other and do different things.
According to Neal Stephenson, author of the Snow Crash which serves as a reference on the subject, a metaverse is defined by several criteria:
- Economic activity
- The code is law
- Access mode
In the crypto sector, it is the “code is law” aspect that is most highlighted. But it turned out that the immutable automatism of code execution functions made other criteria, with the exception of economic activity, more complicated. By having to surpass itself to overcome the challenges that decentralization imposes, is the universe of blockchains the representation of Beyond?
The world of AR/VR/XR is primarily focused on usability, i.e. interactions between virtual avatars. The ability to see the facial or gestural expressions of the interlocutor today requires cumbersome and expensive technology. That said, developments in this area are very rapid, and may very well represent the After.
If there were to be only one digital metaverse that brings together all these elements today, it would be the Internet in the broad sense of the word. Decentralized by nature, the internet is a multitude of communities and services that exist only online and are interconnected. Somewhere, one could say that the internet represents the With.
Finally, isn’t “The” metaverse simply the set of virtual universes that each have their strength and weakness?
The digital identity of NFTs
The two major assets of the crypto sector make it possible to ensure a reliable economic activity for the virtual space. Thanks to the code’s priority over economic activity, the concept of real ownership has become a reality.
The more digital possibilities evolve, the more the choices to define our digital identity become more refined. And being able to prove, thanks to a tamper-proof digital signature, to be the author of a virtual asset is one of the essential components to forge this identity.
There have been many experiences and it took more than ten years for the adoption of Non-Fungible Tokens to take shape. That said, in just one year, we have seen almost all international brands declare a serious interest in it. It is no coincidence that all indicators related to NFT projects have exploded since the sale of Beeple.
This exponential growth took place in a very short period of time, taking over the entire NFT ecosystem: The main marketplace was overloaded, competition between blockchains, aggressive marketing campaigns, bad newcomer management, ecological criticism, the issue of copyright…
To think that the overall identity of the NFT community boils down to exchanges of pixelated punks, bored monkeys or cute penguins is extremely naive. Economic activity, scalability and ecology have become the priorities of a universe that has not had time to write its laws (or identity) in the code. What an irony!
Living in or with a Virtual Universe?
It is impossible to dissociate the digital identity from a virtual environment like a Metaverse. Whether pseudonymous or official, online identity has now become a global issue on several levels.
The first is the recovery of personal data to sell it to advertisers. The second is the use of this data to influence behavior on social networks. We could also mention the importance of digital surveillance, which has increased since the beginning of the millennium.
Facebook’s excesses on our privacy doesn’t need to be proven anymore. And changing their name should not make us forget the scandals of this company: Influence of elections, inaction in the face of the malaise caused by Instagram, messaging with low encryption level…
NFTs make it possible to identify in a tamper-proof way the wallet of a digital creation. This is a first step to regain control of your online data. But if it is a question of having a life in a virtual universe, there are still many steps to be taken.
The metaverse of tomorrow is not the one that will succeed in making interactions between users more human. This element is too superficial. The metaverse of tomorrow is the one that will be done with respect for the most fundamental rights such as confidentiality.
The work that remains to be done before we can claim to live in (or with) a virtual universe is still very long. We are still in the infancy of what could be “the” metaverse.