Posey's Tips & Tricks

Welcome to the Metaverse, Part 1: What Is Your Metaverse?

With something so abstract as digital space, our ideas of what it can be may differ from one another.

Recently, Facebook announced that it was changing its name to Meta and introduced its own version of the metaverse. While I did see the announcement when it was made, I admittedly didn’t give it all that much thought. After all, I deleted my Facebook account years ago and I don’t really do anything with social media.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft unveiled its own vision of the metaverse as a part of this year's Ignite conference. The simple fact that Microsoft dedicated such a large portion of the Ignite keynote discussing the metaverse instinctively tells me that the metaverse is something worth paying attention to.

But what is the metaverse? Facebook’s demo showed the metaverse as being a cool place for friends to hang out with one another. Conversely, the Microsoft demo treated the metaverse as a collaborative workspace. But what is the definition of the metaverse?

In all honesty, it really depends on who you ask. The industry doesn't seem to have agreed on a definition just yet. At its simplest, the metaverse might be described as an interactive environment that is rendered through a VR or AR headset. While that definition is accurate, it is also woefully inadequate. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me come back to this definition in the second part of this blog series.

After watching the Ignite Keynote, I went back and rewatched the Facebook announcement. In that announcement, Facebook showed off a number of different metaverse environments, richly rendered in VR. One such environment looked a bit like an enchanted forest, complete with flying koi fish. Another environment looked like the interior of a futuristic spacecraft, and even emulated zero gravity. Still another environment depicted what seemed to be a large, ocean front home that appeared to be the very essence of tranquility.

I have to confess that when I first saw these and other virtual environments, my first thought was that the software companies are trying to give us a way of using technology to escape to utopia as the world continues to fall apart all around us (although looking back, I’m not so sure that my initial thoughts were correct). That sentiment was also echoed by a friend who described the metaverse as a digital safe space for those who need to forget about reality for a while.

Out of curiosity, I asked a few other people what they thought about the metaverse. One person told me that the use of avatars really excited them. Avatars are digital representations of people within the metaverse. If for example, you were to step into a virtual conference room then the other people in the room would see your avatar and you would see the other people’s avatars. Typically avatars are cartoonish looking, but there are also avatars that are much more realistic in appearance.

My friend went on to explain that the thing that he loved about the use of avatars was that it allows the world to see him as he wants to be seen, rather than seeing what he actually looks like. My mind immediately flashed to times when I have rolled out of bed ten minutes before I was supposed to be on a call and couldn’t use my camera because everyone would know that I had just woken up. In my friend’s case however, he said that given the chance he would create an avatar that would make him appear as though he were younger and had been spending way too much time at the gym.

Yet another friend said that the thing that she found intriguing about the metaverse was that when the technology matures, she would not have to deal with the hassles of taking a vacation. Instead, she could just step into a virtual representation of wherever she wanted to go, without the cost of physical travel and without the jet lag.

After hearing these and other opinions from friends, it became clear to me that the metaverse meant different things to different people. Interestingly, everyone that I talked to seemed excited by the possibilities, but they all questioned the practicality of wearing a VR headset for an extended period of time, especially since Microsoft and Facebook both seem to be trying to make the case for spending your entire day in the metaverse.

Following those conversations, I decided to do an experiment and wear a Microsoft Mixed Reality headset for several hours without taking it off. When I did eventually remove the headset after about four hours I was definitely a little bit hot and my eyes felt more sensitive than normal to the light in the room. But other than that, everything seemed fine. There did not seem to be any negative repercussions to wearing the headset for so long. Even so, I’m not sure that I would want to wear a headset all day, every day.

Of course if the metaverse were to become as fundamental to our daily lives as what the software companies are envisioning, then it seems inevitable that VR headsets would improve as more and more people adopt them. I have no doubt that future headsets will offer vastly improved resolution, while also being lighter, more comfortable, and less expensive.

So now that I have talked about some of the ways that people are envisioning the metaverse being used, I want to take a step back and talk about how I view the metaverse, in Part 2. And I want to hear from you. What is your ideal metaverse future? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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