With the recent explosion of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in the blockchain ecosystem and Facebook’s head-turning rebrand to “Meta,” the metaverse has entered into mainstream public consciousness.
Though the concept might seem new and cutting-edge, the idea of the metaverse has been well-established in pop culture for decades. The term was first coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel Snow Crash to refer to an all-encompassing 3D virtual world that mimics, augments, enhances, and connects with physical reality. Since then, the metaverse has brushed with the mainstream, with versions of the concept appearing in Ready Player One, Tron, and The Matrix. But what is the metaverse in actuality?
Simply put, the metaverse is a parallel digital universe that exists alongside the real world. Given its emergent nature, there are many different visions of how the metaverse will manifest itself, and even debates about whether the metaverse already exists today.
In the most idealistic depictions, the metaverse is a virtual world that offers parallel experiences to the real world, with the potential for enhanced abilities—much like the robot-manufactured world of The Matrix. In more realistic renderings, metaverse visitors use complex motion-tracking machinery and virtual reality headsets to physically interact in a virtual world, where they take the form of virtual avatars, play games, and live pseudo-anonymous lives. Sometimes, the current existence of user-owned digital goods that have traditionally real-world qualities of rarity, value, and history is referred to as evidence that the metaverse is already with us. Some argue that the metaverse exists in the human interactions, feelings, and experiences that make up the digital lives we live on individual social platforms, video games, and more.
Yet despite these disparate visions, the core concept behind the metaverse is clear. Telepresence—defined as an immersive state that allows a person to feel present in a virtual space—is key to facilitating metaverse experiences. Whether through a combination of immersive AR and VR technologies, user-owned digital goods powered by blockchains, or simply through an addicting massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), the metaverse manifests from our ability to build virtual spaces that make us feel present—perhaps even tangible—in a digital environment.
Entering the Metaverse
The metaverse exists all around us in a very real way. Early experiments in MMORPGs such as Second Life and World of Warcraft introduced the concept of gamified social platforms that immersed players to the point where digital items, from weapons and clothing to in-game houses, held immense real-world value. Existing social networking platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have allowed for the creation of pseudo-anonymous Internet avatar identities and interactive virtual rooms where users go to share news, discuss information, and chat with friends.
Though the concept might seem new and cutting-edge, the idea of the metaverse has been well-established in pop culture for decades. The term was first coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in his scie