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Everything you need to know about metaverse. Is it real? How does it work? Why is it a thing?

Welcome to the metaverse, alternate digital realities where people work, play, and socialize. You can call it the metaverse, the mirror world, the AR Cloud, the Magicverse, the Spatial internet, or Live Maps, but one thing is for certain, it’s coming and it’s a big deal. Currently, you can only experience the internet when you go to it, but with new connectivity, devices and technologies, we’ll be able to experience it all around every single day.

As a buzzword, the metaverse refers to a variety of virtual experiences, environments, and assets that gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic. Together, these new technologies hint at what the internet will become next.

Video games like Roblox and Fortnite and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in which players can build their endemic worlds, have metaverse tendencies, as does most social media. If you own a non-fungible token or even just some crypto, you’re part of the metaverse experience.

Facebook should be known as a “metaverse company,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in July on an earnings call. The goal, he said, is to populate this virtual world by enticing new users with cheap headsets. Eventually, Zuckerberg hinted, this robust user base would prove an adverting boon: “hundreds of millions of people” in the metaverse “compounds the size of the digital economy inside it.” Facebook moved closer to this vision in recent weeks, revealing a virtual reality workspace for remote workers. The company is also working on a smart wristband and VR goggles that project the wearer’s eyes.

In May, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company working to build an “enterprise metaverse.” A month earlier, Epic Games said it raised $1 billion to spend on its metaverse plans. The computing giant Nvidia and gaming platform Roblox are also working in this realm. Last year, Spatial released a free AR app allowing avatars to appear within a user’s real-world environment. Meanwhile, Snapchat has been moving in this direction for years, introducing custom avatars and filters that overlay the world with digital content.

How does the metaverse work?

In theory, you’d log on to the metaverse similarly to logging on to the Internet. Only you’d use a head-mounted display, not a screen, to view content and a form of motion tracking, like Facebook’s wristband, to grab objects. To be a full universe, no single company could own the metaverse, similarly to how no one owns the Internet. But companies may try to monopolize their respective corners of the metaverse, just as a handful of large tech companies dominate online content today.

Will the metaverse actually happen?

It’s not yet clear. While technological advances have made VR headsets lighter weight and more affordable in recent years, the devices are primarily used by a niche group — gamers — and have been since the beginning. And most gamers still don’t have a VR system.

So why are companies doing this?

VR companies say it’s only a matter of time before consumers, already obsessed with social media, will want somewhere new to interact and attract digital likes. A metaverse could allow people tired of photo filters and video editing tools to digitally embody whole new personas and show their creativity or financial status through avatars.

So, what’s next? Humans have been exploiting how we perceive the world for thousands of years. We’ve been hacking our senses to construct virtual realities through music, art, and literature for millennia. All these pieces will evolve. But the most important one is here already: a high-fidelity simulation of our virtual world to feed the display. To steal a line from science-fiction master William Gibson: the future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed. The metaverse is the means through which we can distribute those experiences more evenly.

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