What makes a metaverse?
Tech commentators have attempted to narrow down just what the metaverse actually is – and what it could look like when it comes to applications outside of just games.
Gary Fowler, an AI entrepreneur and writer at Forbes, describes the metaverse as ‘a world in which our day-to-day lives transcend a single reality and includes virtual reality...Over time, it has come to encompass the VR experiences, AR initiatives and other digital simulations that have become commonplace in the modern day and age.’
You’d access such a world by using a type of digital hardware, like a headset, set of glasses or goggles.
Fowler cites an essay by venture capitalist Matthew Ball that lays out some proposed definitions for the metaverse to try and pin down what the concept actually looks like. According to Ball, the metaverse is defined by three key characteristics:
- It’s a world that spans both virtual and physical environments
- It has its own economy (cryptocurrency-based)
- It has interoperability (you can carry characters and objects from one platform to another)
Metaverse: an ambiguous term
There’s some debate about what the term actually means though, and whether there are better terms to describe it.
For Eric Ravenscraft, a tech writer at WIRED, the metaverse as a term is ‘vague and complex’ and that it’s often used as a substitute for terms we already have to describe similar concepts. ‘Mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace.”’ he writes, ‘Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won't substantially change.’’
As a result, Ravenscraft believes that the metaverse doesn’t refer to the widespread adoption of a specific piece of technology but rather a change in the way that we interact with technology in general.
The metaverse and the world of work
So, what does all this mean in the context of work and our jobs?
Here are some potential ways that the metaverse could change the face of work as we know it.
1. It could revolutionise the way we learn
One of the most promising areas that the metaverse looks set to enhance is the world of learning and development, specifically workplace-based learning.
Previously, L&D departments who wanted to offer employee training or professional qualifications to their workforce would choose between sending employees away to an external learning environment, like a college, for a few days a month where they’d attend in-person classes, or they would opt for distance-learning, with the employees staying in the workplace but working through a course on a digital device, like a laptop or computer. Both involve relatively passive ways of learning – an employee sits and listens to, or reads, information.
The metaverse has the potential to radically shake up how we approach employee learning and development though thanks to the increased richness of experiences that it could convey.
For example, imagine you’re an employee studying a module on a professional qualification about human resources and health safety legislation, and you’re looking at case studies that have established precedents in law – not the most jaw-droppingly exciting topic in the world. But imagine that you’re learning through the metaverse.
You put on your VR goggles and you’re suddenly transported into a courtroom. You’re sitting in the jury box, and you can see the defendant and prosecutors standing before you, along with the packed gallery, full of observers. Suddenly, you see a timeline in the space in front of you with key facts about the case and the real world changes it introduces in workplaces. You can smell the musty wood-paneling around you and you can hear the bang of the gavel reverberate through the court-room. You’re in the middle of the action. You watch and listen to the case play out, hear all of the arguments and, as part of the jury, you’re asked to make your decision.
With the ability to create virtual environments that interact with our own reality, we could create an immersive form of learning that engages us on a level we’ve never really felt before. This in turn, could help us to learn much more efficiently.