In Facebook’s 2021 Founder’s Letter, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would be renaming itself “Meta”, a reference to the organization’s ambitions to develop the “Metaverse”. The company has previously acquired Oculus, a Virtual Reality technology company, and has expressed interests in becoming a leader in VR and Augmented Reality technologies.
The Metaverse & “Snow Crash”
The “metaverse” is a term first coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash”. It depicts a virtual world that people connect to in a near-future version of the internet. A place where they hang out using an avatar, much like we are able to do today in video games like Fortnite, Roblox, World of Warcraft, etc. Except in his vision, the metaverse was so much more than a game… it was a fully functioning virtual society and it was a place that the citizens of the near-future preferred to spend their time and money in to their dystopian reality.
The near-future depicted in Snow Crash included some remarkable predictions about technology, especially considering that it was written in 1992 and thus predated the real birth of the Worldwide Web. Many of the ideas and predictions made in the novel have already been realized. Others regarding our economy and government are terrifying considering that this novel is so idealized by the Silicon Valley elite who have tasked themselves with building our collective future; including: Mark Zuckerberg who named his company after the metaverse, Jeff Bezos who has cited the book as an inspiration, and other SV leaders.
Some of the highlights include:
- The global governments have effectively collapsed and been replaced by corporations.
- “Hyperinflation” – including a reference to people using million dollar bills as toilet paper
- Gig workers doing delivery for food and packages via apps and GPS services via an onboard computer in their vehicles or on their person
- Popularized the Hindu concept of “avatar” in the digital sense for representing users in a virtual space
- People own virtual property and pay for services virtually in the metaverse (effectively NFTs and virtual currencies)
- A virtual, real-time 3D map of planet earth with GPS coordinates (effectively Google Earth)
- Virtual assistants with speech and search functionality (effectively Siri or Google with an avatar you can talk to)
- There’s a digital virus spreading through the metaverse which is described exactly as a modern QR code looks… a block consisting of white and black pixels that infects the user who looks at it.
- The concept of data “going viral” and data self-replicating through populations in the digital sense. Many comparisons between biological and digital viruses and information and how similar the 2 are in how they are both used by people and how they affect people and populations.
For more great insights on the impact of the book, read Neal Stephenson’s interview with Vanity Fair in 2017.
Where does Facebook & the tech-sector go next?
There actually is a real cyberspace starting to take shape now. The “metaverse” if that’s what we’re going to start calling it, is going to be a real place. A place that is distinctly digital and which doesn’t share important attributes with the physical world. The things you buy are going to be digital and remain in the metaverse, the life you lead there might be different than the life you lead in the physical world, etc. And so for many people the question of identity is going to start to be asked… Who are you? Are you your physical self or are you your digital self? Who is the real you? The Matrix is going to start to feel very prophetic.
In the digital world, we’ll have:
- Currencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.
- Property: NFTs will tokenize unique ownership for everything from art to collectibles to video game skins to virtual real estate. Anything that you can imagine can be created and sold.
- Games & Gambling: Video games, casino experiences, and betting.
- Entertainment: Including live shows, music, sports, etc.
- Communications & Social platforms
The Metaverse won’t have the same limitations as the real world there will be an infinite range of possibilities… from flying a dragon to owning a skyscraper to watching a concert by a long-dead musician in-person, front-row. Anything will be possible.
When will the metaverse take over?
As Shaan Puri argues, the impact of the transition to the Metaverse can really be felt when your time and money are being spent more on the digital world than on the physical world.