It’s hard for one generation to imagine what will come next in the field of technology. Looking back, we can compare a Ford Model T to a Tesla Model S and get a sense of how far we’ve come in just one hundred short years. We can compare the printing press to the copy machine, the daguerreotype camera, and the digital camera.
Information technology is its own unique niche. The internet didn’t even exist until the 1960s. Since then, we’ve gone from print books to ebooks, from computers the size of a room to computers we hold in our hands.
It’s estimated that 27.2% of the world’s population will fall into the category of “online shoppers” this year (2021). With Amazon arguably becoming a monopoly since it was founded in 1994, it should be no surprise. The internet has allowed for a unique way to create and crush the competition, to use and abuse data.
Sometimes it feels like the virtual world is already getting out of hand, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that ingenuity will prevail. Something even bigger will replace the internet as we know it.
The most likely candidate is the metaverse.
What Is A Metaverse?
The term “metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephenson, author of the science fiction novel Snow Crash. “Meta” means “beyond,” so the metaverse is something beyond our own universe. It could even be the future of our universe. Stephenson also popularized the term “avatar” as it’s most often used today: to refer to a person’s physical representation in most forms of virtual reality.
With the rise in popularity of NFTs and cryptocurrency, the reality of a metaverse is only growing closer. The idea of online real estate, which can cost as much as physical real estate, is becoming a reality.
In the past, online real estate was limited to domain names. In the metaverse, augmented reality will play a vital role. Already, there are apps that can superimpose creatures and objects into physical space as they are viewed through a phone. Virtual reality headgear has become highly affordable, starting at around $30 for a basic setup.
It’s only a matter of time before companies begin to blend physical reality and virtual reality to make buying and selling easier. Instead of going online to shop at a store, you might only have to hold up your phone, find the virtual storefront, and shop with your avatar. Gaming companies like Epic Games are already attempting to spearhead this movement as it pertains to socializing with social VR games.
So far, we’ve only been able to experience the internet by actively choosing to go to it. In the metaverse, the idea is that the internet will just be there. Always.
In some ways, we are already living in a metaverse, and while it has made life easier in many ways, it has also created its fair share of challenges.
Impacts Of A Metaverse
In 2018, 164.6 million records were exposed as a result of online data breaches. Catfishing and phishing scams already cause problems for individual users of the internet. Online bullying has become a problem because both children and adults can hide behind their screens and avatars. It’s harder for them to get caught, and it’s harder for them to see the impact they have on a person firsthand. Interpersonal skills and basic instincts, like empathy, are suffering.
There are some concerns that the amount of shielding available to users in a metaverse setting, created to protect privacy, could make it easier for people to become victims of fraud. It’s easier for the bad guys to keep their identities a secret, too.
It happens all the time already, even with larger companies. Take the 2019 Facebook data breach, for example. You might think large tech companies with lots of money to spend on security would get attacked the least, but unfortunately, they are often hit the hardest.
Thanks to the use of avatars, electronic funds, and screen names, it’s nearly impossible to know exactly who you’re talking to on the internet. With encryption becoming even more sophisticated to allow for the hot new commodity, cryptocurrency, you can bet hacking skills will become more sophisticated, too.
Our one hope might be blockchain. Blockchain is a type of decentralized database, and it is by far the most secure setup we’ve seen so far. When dealing with cryptocurrency, we need this next level of security.
The way it works is in its name: information is stored in blocks. Each block can only hold so much information, and once that block is filled, it is sealed. That seal is irreversible.
It is a decentralized form of record-keeping that allows cryptocurrency to operate fairly without the risk of double-spending. Add in the fact that proof of stake (how much money miners have) will soon replace proof of work (how much computational power miners have) to determine which miners get those blocks, and we will even have an environmentally friendly way for cryptocurrency to function.
Reality Or Fiction?
The metaverse may seem like something out of a novel or a TV show because, initially, it was. We’ve already mentioned how author Neal Stephenson helped inspire the metaverse. The fact is, someone has to imagine advances in technology before they happen.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard could talk to his ship. We could never envision that possibility at the time, but now we can talk to Google and Alexa while we drive. Movies like Ready Player One (2018) and Gamer (2009) helped normalize the idea that people will live through their avatars one day.
However, tech enthusiasts seem happy to ignore the difficulties that come with new technology, even though these are portrayed in science fiction. Society likes to believe the outcome will be different, but advanced technology always comes with opportunists looking for a soft underbelly to exploit.
Sometimes, these opportunists aren’t hackers and phishers; sometimes, they are the tech companies we trust.
Growing Too Large To Regulate
It’s widely accepted that the four major tech monopolies are Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, a.k.a GAFA. People have become so reliant on these giants for their daily and professional lives that Google even felt threatening to turn off its search engine in Australia could make the government back down on an issue they didn’t agree with.
These companies have the technology to be in constant contact with consumers, the data to always know what consumers want, and the money to keep up with those desires. In short, there is nothing stopping them.
The fact that these companies have found ways to integrate mom-and-pop stores into their platform (i.e., Facebook Marketplace and Amazon Marketplace) means the very people they could be putting out of business are becoming reliant on them.
Rest assured, there is a reason that the Federal Trade Commission and 48 attorney generals filed a lawsuit against Facebook for being a monopoly in December 2020. There is also a solid reason that the FTC felt it necessary to open an inquiry against nine social media and tech companies that same month to learn how they utilize the user data they collect.
We can barely regulate these tech giants now, yet we’re on the brink of a metaverse that allows for billion-dollar NFTs and digital real estate. The idea of GAFA ruling the world may seem like a stretch, but when the world becomes tech-reliant, the stretch really isn’t that far at all.
A Loss Of Privacy
A metaverse comes with plenty of perks. Like grocery shopping or attending a conference, personal and professional obligations are tasks we can already accomplish with the push of a few buttons, thanks to Instacart and Zoom.
Imagine a world in which we only have to push one button or no buttons at all. Everything you need and everything you need to do is right there in front of you, in a virtual version of your community. All you have to do is log on.
The metaverse has the potential to be great. It has the potential to do great things for our society, but are we ready for it? Are we truly prepared?
Until blockchain, we risked losing what was left of our privacy to achieve it. This unique, secure information storage system takes the data out of the hands of tech monopolies and places it in a fortified safe under the protection of the community.
In fact, spaces like Decentraland and games like The Sandbox are already using blockchain to make socialization and monetization a reality in the metaverse. Digitalax has proven to be a pioneer in the world of fashion NFTs, holding transparency as a core value and using blockchain to create an extremely profitable marketplace for fashionistas in the virtual world.
The true metaverse is on its way. Until data accumulation restrictions are imposed on tech and social media giants, the only thing standing between them and world domination appears to be blockchain and the pioneering companies that utilize it.