Let’s talk about the Metaverse

When Facebook changed its name to ‘Meta’, it was a clear signal that they were throwing down the gauntlet in this new and misunderstood digital frontier. Many of us got distracted laughing at their new so-not-futuristic blue logo and forgot to learn what the metaverse actually is. So what can it offer those of us who prefer to exist IRL? 

The metaverse is a collection of digital worlds where our virtual selves can meet, chat, play games, and even shop. Goodbye airport security lines, sweaty concertgoers, and event parking woes – the principle of the metaverse is to eliminate the annoying friction we experience in the real world. Mostly accessible via VR (Virtual Reality) goggles, some metaverses exist today in games like Minecraft and the seriously addictive Fortnite

Word on the street is that ‘there’s gold in them there digital hills’. Will cryptocurrencies finally come into their own? You’ll likely need crypto to buy and sell items in the metaverse, like landclothing, and digital art – NFTs – to hang in your new digital pad. 

And for evidence of usefulness, early signs point to educators loving these virtual spaces to show rather than tell. Fashion designers are prototyping their latest looks, and some governments are considering the benefits of a virtual embassy experience.

The promise of the metaverse

The consensus is that, at least today, the metaverse is an iteration of the web. An immersive one where we can take part in the experience 24/7, think The Matrix, Wreck it Ralph, and Avatar. Why build baking soda volcanoes in the classroom when you can visit Mt Vesuvius? As for medical applications, Johns Hopkins Hospital performed surgeries on live patients using AR displays and found their ability to execute critical surgical tasks improved. Bill Gates believes that most meetings will eventually happen in the metaverse – solving some challenges of hybrid meetings where only some voices are heard.

The perils of the metaverse

While the metaverse operates on a principle of civility, not all humans are civil. Like the internet we know and endure, disinformation can be easily spread, and harassment and radicalisation occur. Think about extremism taken to the next level. Virtual ISIS training camps that won’t require travel but will offer a better educational experience. 😫

In 2020, women made up less than 25% of tech jobs at Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Apple. Augmented reality, driven by the gaming industry, is still very male-centric. We know unrealistic female body standards for video game characters prevail, and the concern is that the existing demographically homogeneous tech industry won’t shape the brave new world we deserve.

How to get involved

While still early, the potential threats of the metaverse require diverse thinking from a wide range of people across the gender divide – including academic and ethics researchers. The good news is that women participate more than men in fitness, education and live events in the metaverse. The bad news is that men are building it. In these very early days, it’s important to get more women involved to design a virtual future that’s fairer, more inclusive and safer for all of us.

The metaverse is inevitable in some form; we want it to be a safe space for women and girls, we need correctly sized VR sets to be available for all shapes and sizes, and we need to ensure the same career opportunities in immersive tech for women as for men. We love the work that Emma Ridderstad is doing to lead the charge; check out this great interview and her TEDx talk for some #techinspo.

Want more metaverse?

We dive into the metaverse on episode 2 of the PowrUp podcast:

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