You should start prepping for the metaverse

Social healthArticleMarch 14, 2022

You should start prepping for the metaverse It’s entered the general lexicon after making its first appearance in a sci-fi novel in the ‘90s, but what exactly is the metaverse and how will this virtual space impact our very existence? For those not yet familiar with the utopian (or is it dystopian?) vision, here’s a quick guide to get you started…

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It’s entered the general lexicon after making its first appearance in a sci-fi novel in the ‘90s, but what exactly is the metaverse and how will this virtual space impact our very existence? For those not yet familiar with the utopian (or is it dystopian?) vision, here’s a quick guide to get you started…

What is the metaverse?

At this point, the metaverse is a concept, not yet living and breathing, but some say it’s coming.

Rabindra Ratan, Michigan State University associate professor of media and information, says put simply, it will be “the next level of the internet”.

The metaverse will be an “immersive” experience in which “we will have more people doing more embodied things with virtual reality headsets and augmented reality”, he says over video chat.

The technology won’t be a single website, he adds. It “will have all these virtual worlds that are interconnected, [and] you’ll be able to bring your same ‘stuff’ with you from one place to another, including your avatar or your wardrobe of avatars and your currency as well, which will probably be cryptocurrency.”

There’ll be room to play, shop, learn, work and socialise.

You might, for example, have work meetings in which you appear not in person or by video, but via avatar, says Dr Ratan, who adds computers will send your positional data to heighten the social experience with a fraction of the bandwidth.

It sounds pricey; will I be able to get in on the action?

While Dr Ratan foresees early adopters being “the intrepid”, “wealthier at first”, he says it’s unlikely the metaverse will remain exclusive to the rich.

Techies “want it to be accessible to as many people as possible [and are] going to make their money on the software side, not on the hardware side, I suspect”.

You’re pulling my leg; is this really going to happen?

It depends on who you ask.

“Some say it's overhyped — won't get off the ground or is already obsolete —  while others say it's an inevitable future, and nothing short of revolutionary,” reports ABC.

Dr Marcus Carter, University of Sydney researcher in digital cultures and human-computer interaction, says there is an “enormous distance” between the idea of the metaverse as a product of science fiction and what will come to fruition.

“What we will realistically be seeing over the next five to 10 years…is the use of VR and AR technologies to extract data about us, and in the intensification of the quantification of work,” he says.

Adds Dr Ratan: “No one’s going to be plugging their brain directly in using Elon Musk’s Neuralink [brain chip] technology in the next five to 10 years, I suspect.”

Why should I get excited?

There are many reasons, say researchers – the social aspect being one.

“The idea of being able to socialise or meet with others, and feel like you’re really there with them in person, is…appealing – particularly in today’s pandemic age,” writes University of Nottingham academic Steve Benford for The Conversation.

Dr Ratan agrees that the “potential for building virtual bridges around the world” is “one optimistic slant”.

“I am very hopeful [this will be the case],” he says.

There’s also the prospect of online entertainment being more fun, work efficiency increasing and the environment benefiting thanks to a reduced need for travel, adds Dr Ratan.

Won’t the metaverse discourage face-to-face contact?

In a piece for The Hanen Centre, speech-language pathologist Lauren Lowry writes face-to-face interactions are the “building blocks” of children’s “emotional, social, and cognitive growth”.

Basically, human-to-human contact is important.

While Dr Ratan doesn’t dispute this, he says the real issue if not the metaverse itself, but whether it leads to the displacement of other activities.

“We spend a lot of time staring at our phones when we interact with each other [in person]…If I replace text messaging with avatar-to-avatar-based communication, that’s more like face-to-face contact,” he says.

What we need, he adds, is “a healthy balance of mediated communication and face-to-face communication”.

“Do I think that the metaverse will encourage people to stay in their mediated bubbles more than we have now? I’m not sure; I think the verdict is out.”

What are the digital risks?

The metaverse is uncharted territory so there is a lot that can go wrong.

Firstly, when it comes to regulating the space, Dr Ratan says “governments do seem to lag behind; they tend to be more reactive, and this technology moves very quickly”.

He is hopeful regulations will be established globally regarding health-related privacy.

“That’s one of my concerns,” he says. “These headsets that you’re wearing when you’re in the virtual world track your movements, they know exactly how tall you are, they can track your vitals…and that could be abused.”

There will also need to be measures for addressing toxic behaviour and the spreading of misinformation, he adds.

“We know just in gaming itself, even when it’s not immersive in a VR headset, toxicity causes depression and withdrawal and disengagement from the platform, and that leads to a host of other negative effects.”

How can I prepare for the metaverse?

“Experiment is the best suggestion I have,” advises Dr Ratan.

“Go and make an avatar with Ready Player Me…and then you can use it in many different virtual worlds,” he says.

“If you want an example of an easy virtual world to jump into, just go to…it’s a free product, you can generate a virtual world, send other people the code [and] they can jump in.”

To protect your privacy, Dr Ratan suggests monitoring your audio settings and learning how to activate mute when in public spaces.

Of course, once the metaverse lands and evolves, so too will the rules and safety information. If you intend to navigate the space, keep up with safety advice in your country.


By Kate Cross, LiveWell Reporter