- Jane Wakefield
When we look back 50 years from now, the 2D internet we all use today is likely to seem ridiculously archaic.
Not only will the Internet probably no longer exist behind a screen, but we will probably interact with it differently.
We will manipulate objects using augmented reality (AR), explore virtual reality (VR) worlds and merge the real and the digital in ways we cannot currently imagine.
And what does this mean for the world of work? We are already moving away from the commute and turning away from the traditional office. And that’s thanks to two years of pandemic lockdowns and a new love, or tolerance, for virtual encounters.
Will the next logical step be working in the metaverse, the intended virtual universe where cartoon-like 3D representations of everyone will walk, talk and interact with each other?
Metaverse has become a popular term, so it’s important to note that it doesn’t exist yet. And even those invested in the concept disagree on exactly what it will be.
Will rival virtual worlds interconnect in a way that doesn’t currently exist between competing technologies? Will we spend more time there than in the real world? Will we need completely new rules to govern these new spaces?
None of these questions are answered yet, but that hasn’t stopped a growing interest and hyperbole as companies see it as a new way to make money.
We’ve seen companies opening up in fledgling metaverses, from Meta’s Horizon Worlds to games like Roblox and Fortnite, to newly created territories like Sandbox and Decentraland.
Nike now sells virtual sneakers, HSBC has land in Sandbox and Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton and Sotheby’s have a presence in Decentraland.
The term “metaverse” was coined nearly 30 years ago by author Neal Stephenson. In his book Snow Crash, the hero finds a better life in a virtual reality world.
Perhaps the boldest move to turn this fictional into real technology happened in October 2021. It was then that Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta and began investing billions of dollars to transform itself into a company focused on the metaverse – a vision strongly supported by its founder and boss Mark Zuckerberg.
However, this huge investment has raised eyebrows among shareholders, some of whom recently expressed concern that the company is spending too much money on VR.
And a report from The Verge last October, which said it had looked into Meta’s internal memos, suggested that the Horizon Worlds platform had numerous bugs and wasn’t being used well by employees.
Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, a company that makes software for creating metaverses and author of a book called Virtual Society, is not convinced by Zuckerberg’s vision.
“Why would we want an office in the metaverse that looks like our real office?” he said. “The goal of creative spaces in new realities is to expand our experiences, not replicate what we’ve already experienced in the real world.
“But I think there will be a lot of jobs in the metaverse, for example we will need moderators.”
The moderating – or policing – aspect of the metaverse is controversial, not only because it is technically difficult to monitor the potentially billions of avatars having live chat in a virtual world, but also because of the sheer amount of data these avatars can create along the way. the way.
A Stanford University study found that spending just 20 minutes in virtual reality provided more than two million records of unique body movements, a rich new data stream for businesses.
Alex Rice, co-founder of online security firm HackerOne, thinks the metaverse’s design needs careful consideration before a company might consider leaving its employees there.
“Imagine something innocuous, like a casual conversation in an office,” she explains. “Imagine it taking place in a fully guarded metaverse – it will definitely have life-changing consequences.
“People could be fired outright for saying something they believe is in a private, informal conversation with a colleague who is now under massive corporate surveillance.”
Tom Ffiske, editor of the tech newsletter Immersive Wire, thinks it’s too soon to start thinking about working in the metaverse.
“Discussing the metaverse is still mired in difficulty, and the definition is still tenuous and debatable,” he says. “While the term itself is under discussion and ill-defined, it’s unclear whether we’ll be working in the metaverse in the future.”
While no one is able to define what the metaverse is, there are optimistic market predictions about what it could be worth. McKinsey suggests a $5 billion market value by 2030, while Gartner, another management consulting firm, predicts that a quarter of the world’s population will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026.
Matthew Ball, lead analyst at research firm Canalys, disagrees: He predicts most current commercial projects in the metaverse will be shut down by 2025.
He thinks companies need to ask themselves whether a presence in the metaverse is really necessary or if they are using the technology for its own sake.
“Not every business needs a VR headset to remotely host coworker avatars or view virtual models,” says Ball. “Not even every business needs VR headsets for meetings. As powerful and compelling as VR is, Zoom calling and Teams offer nearly frictionless alternatives that can be less cumbersome.”
Tiffany Rolfe is Creative Director of RGA, a digital branding company. She and some of her team have worked in the metaverse before.
The company has created a virtual soccer stadium in Fortnite for phone giant Verizon during the pandemic, and has also partnered with Meta to build a musical world in Horizon Worlds.
“People who were usually on computers designing things had to put on headsets and work with builders from all over the world,” says Rolfe.
And who’s to say that new ways of working mean new considerations, like how long employees have to wear helmets? “My team wore it for two-hour periods,” she says.
The fact that people are already working in virtual reality worlds suggests that the Metaverse may have a future as a workplace, but the jobs that exist there will likely be very different from the ones we have in the real world.
And anyone hoping to trade their commute for a helmet will likely have to wait many years for that to become a (virtual) reality.