The Virtualisation of Real Life: Metaverse and NFTs
Louis Sztayer Edwards
For the last few decades, our everyday lives have been shaped by technology, whether it comes in the form of communicating with people over extreme distances, or even just something as simple as being able to check the weather forecast, it’s difficult for even the least tech-savvy to deny that it has been a pivotal part in our lives.
The potential for technology is extremely vast, and we are seeing new developments in different areas of it all the time. For example, the American based company, Boston Dynamics, has become synonymous with different robotic forms completing different tasks that a human might do. They have amassed millions of views of their creations over social media, further showcasing what the future may look like, with technology possibly becoming semi-autonomous.
Whilst it may be up for debate what the most important technological development has been, it’s difficult to not hand the title over to the internet itself. Starting off as a solely text-based format, it has since expanded multitudinous times to become the infinite pit of knowledge we know it as today. It’s very difficult to compare it to anything, but if I would, I would say it’s like a whole world of its own on there, except for the fact that there are no physical limitations. It’s like having a Library, Supermarket and Cinema all at arm’s reach.
It has single-handedly created new communities full of people that might have never even acknowledged one another’s existence, if it wasn’t for the internet, but on the other hand, the anonymity the internet provides can be abused as trolling is still prevalent on many platforms. Regardless of its positives and negatives, the internet will continue to become more relevant in our lives, and we may eventually start to see the lines between the physical and the virtual worlds begin to blur.
The metaverse is far from being a new idea, although it has become a trending topic as of late, with Mark Zuckerberg recently announcing the rebranding of his company to put focus on creating a virtual world. The phrase “metaverse” can be dissected into the Greek prefix meta, meaning above or beyond, and the suffix, verse, meaning that the idea of the metaverse is a world, or even an experience that is above the physical one that we reside in. This definition is an astute one, as within many of the existing multiverses or MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online), you can transcend physical limitations and appear in nearly any from you wish, and as more time goes into further development of different metaverses, we will likely see even more customizable aspects until we reach a state of “hyperreality” as Baudrillard coined. Zuckerberg has stated previously that it will take several years in order to build it up, so it is hard to predict what it will look like and how it will compare to any of its predecessors.
I think the main issue with creating any kind of “metaverse” is the accessibility of it. By now there have been many forms of different MMO environments, with newer ones insistent on using VR technology as a passageway to it. It seems like Mark Zuckerberg also wants to follow along with that route, but to what extent is that detrimental to the whole idea of it? There is an abundance of VR headsets available for people to purchase, but how many people can afford them? With many of them priced at the £200 range, a lot of people may be put off them for that reason, and even more so because, in a similar fashion to most modern forms of technology, it may quickly become outdated and even more expensive varieties of the headsets could emerge, making the older versions obsolete.
While the metaverse is an intriguing concept, its functionality is still very much lacking, making the idea of buying a VR headset a luxury, not a necessity. Another factor that involves the accessibility of it, is the fact that some people may not be able to access it at all if they suffer from certain medical conditions such as epilepsy, and this could affect them severely considering that VR encompasses your entire vision, not just a small portion of it. I think for a metaverse to truly be successful in the long term, it must be more accessible for people. The potential of a safely regulated metaverse is huge and could even help provide spaces those with physical disabilities. Inclusivity and Accessibility are both going to have a huge role in how the popular the metaverse will be in the future, because it can be especially advantageous for people with disabilities, if it is built up correctly. There also should be a degree of regulation, in order to prevent online trolling, which has been prevalent in many other MMOs. All in all, it’s very hard to tell how successful this metaverse will be, whilst it has a lot of potential, I can also see it ending as a disappointment, as many before it have ended up being.
As time has passed, we have seen the internet develop massively, becoming an all-encompassing source of information and media consumption. The ways in which the internet has changed over time have been measured in retronyms, with the first, more primitive stages of the internet being labelled as “Web 1.0”. The more modern, user-friendly website interfaces that we see commonly nowadays are associated with “Web 2.0”, and “Web 3.0” is looked to be the next step for it. Whilst there is no straight explanation for what Web 3.0 will exactly entail, it is widely speculated that it will be even more specialised towards the users interests and allow them to have more control over what is out on there.
A lot of this is in part down to what is known as the Blockchain. Blockchain is a different type of database that has become synonymous with cryptocurrencies, since it was created in order to uphold the most well known of cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin. There are benefits to this form of database, because it is decentralized, the information on it is much more secure, and any purchases or transfers made through it are kept irreversibly on the blocks of data. On the other hand, it has come under a lot of scrutiny for its energy usage. This is because Bitcoin mining requires a ridiculous amount of electricity, as well as a powerful PC to carry out the operation, and this has in turn led to a shortage of GPUs available, making the more sought-after ones particularly hard to find. The energy issue is a huge hold back for all the positives that come with the blockchain, especially when you consider the fact that in 2020, the average American residential user would use around 893 kWh per month (https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=97&t=3) , and a day of cryptocurrency mining is estimated to use up around 231.7 GWh (https://qz.com/2023032/how-much-energy-does-bitcoin-use/) .
Another topic that has taken the internet by storm recently is the creation of Non-Fungible Tokens NFTs. NFTs or Non-fungible tokens, are connected to the blockchain, and hence through that linked to cryptocurrencies, which is one of the reasons that it’s become such a big talking point. One of the main features of the NFT lies in its namesake; it’s non-fungible, or in other words it’s completely unique to the owner, and because its data lies in the blockchain, it is easy to trace and ensure its security and that it isn’t ubiquitous. One of the ideas that is brought along with NFTs is a newfound sense of ownership on the internet. NFTs allow users to “own” almost anything that can be tokenized and most of the time the money will go directly to the creator. I say mostly, because there has been a worrying amount of NFTs that have been uploaded without the creator’s consent. For example, Dutch artist, Lois van Baarle saw over 100 of her artworks being put up for sale by others, and getting paid for it in her stead (https://www.theguardian.com/global/2022/jan/29/huge-mess-of-theft-artists-sound-alarm-theft-nfts-proliferates ). This is a huge issue, and without any form of regulation when it comes to uploading NFTs, could further continue. Many of these are pointed out because somebody will stupidly try to steal from a well-respected artist with a semi to big platform online, and consequently be called out for it by one of their respective fans. However, what happens if this occurs with smaller, lesser-recognized artists? They would have every right to be worried about the possibility of this, especially with how many use the social media nowadays.
One of the most worrying parts about the whole NFT boom is how many celebrities/artists/social media influencers are lobbying for them. With the accessibility of the internet being where it is, there are many more youths having access to it, and as a result of this, you have a multitude of people who can be easily influenced. Fans of these influences could easily fall into the NFT trap, thinking that they’ll be able to make lots of money out of one, because people they know, and respect are supposedly putting their trust in them and advocating for them.
Not to say that there isn’t an issue with having blind faith in celebrities and social media influencers, but that’s a separate conversation, these people should know that they uphold a serious influence on people in the social media era, and should know better than to use their accounts as an advertisement to pull more people in. It is almost becoming akin to a pyramid or Ponzi scheme in that it requires a constant inflow of consumers for it to be sustainable. Already some big investors are beginning to suffer however, as it was recently reported that former football player John Terry – who was frequently seen promoting them on his social media pages- had seen his collection take a fall in value of 90% (https://theathletic.com/news/john-terrys-nft-collection-plunges-90-in-value/O0qBVJcqpDit/). Whilst this doesn’t mean anything for the future of NFTs, it does show how unpredictable they can be, and that maybe they should be seen more similarly to a form of gambling, especially so if they are to be seen as a form of investment.
It is very difficult to anticipate how both NFTs and the metaverse will sustain in the future, but both are very clear signs that we are drastically approaching a new age of the digital world. The lines between reality and the virtual world are starting to blur, with AI based technology becoming more prominent, and seeing the increased usage of Brain Computer Interfaces BCIs in different areas of work, it’s not out of the impossible that we could even see us enter a new age of civilization in the next few decades, at least unless the costs of doing so doesn’t burn us out first.