The Metaverse is rubbish, at least in the way that people are imagining it and hyping it up. Now, my name is Graeme Codrington and this is Throw Forward Thursday. Come with me to the future and a vision of what we don’t want the Metaverse to be. Virtual and augmented realities are the technologies that underlie the future of the Metaverse. And there are some really good use case scenarios for virtual and augmented or extended reality.
I think games and entertainment and interactive fun that we can have with each other are the best use case. There are some great use cases in medicine and engineering and some technical aspects as well. But the initial hype around the Metaverse at the moment is really coming from retailers and employers. The future of buying and the future of work. You know, the money people.
Facebook’s big pitch for the Metaverse is that we will be surrounded by screens and apps that help us improve our workplace productivity and buy things more easily. But that just sounds like the world I currently live in. I have the internet with 5G and WiFi all around me. I have a smartphone with all the apps that I need, and I can purchase anything I’d like via my phone. Why would I need this additional layer of virtual reality?
There’s a huge failure of imagination here. I mean, have a look at what Walmart suggested to us. Their virtual reality shopping experience might look like. I literally have to walk through the aisles of a shop, reaching my virtual handover and taking products off the shelf. And the shelves are stocked with multiple products.
It’s literally just a duplication, a replication in virtual reality of their physical store. Walmart are not the only companies to do this, as the first steps that people are taking into the Metaverse are just to put their physical presence into an online environment. Hsbc is buying plots of land in Facebook’s Metaverse so that they can build bank branches. Probably the most soul destroying thing you can do as a human being is to physically go to a bank branch. Why on Earth would I want to do that in a virtual reality environment?
I experience this quite a lot in my world, which is speaking at conferences and events. There’s an app called Verbella, for example, which people could hire out and build an entire conference. In this virtual island, you’d have to spend the first ten or 15 minutes creating an avatar of yourself. Then you arrive at reception and now you’ve got to walk around this environment. You can go down to the beach and there’s a beach volleyball court, there’s a soccer field.
And then you’ve got to walk from building to building. There’s a big auditorium, and then you’ve got to walk out of that building to some of the breakaway rooms all the time walking between these things. When we had conferences, people were continually getting lost in the system. We’d have to WhatsApp them separately outside the system, saying, Where are you? We’re trying to have a meeting now in the auditorium and someone said, I’m stuck on the beach volleyball court and I don’t know how to get to the main auditorium.
Where is the breakout? Room seven. Why would we do this to ourselves? Why would I want to build an avatar of myself in a virtual world if I can be anywhere and anything I choose to be a Dragon, I want to be able to fly or hyperspace somewhere. I don’t want to have to walk around a shopping centre or a conference venue pretending to be myself.
When I say it again, I could be a Dragon. That’s what I really want. Now, as it happens, the videos I’ve just shown you are from 2017 may be proving the point that this metabolic concept is a bit of a stalled concept and certainly is a failure of imagination. Mark Zuckerberg’s Vision when he launched Meta as a company in the Metaverse. His vision was to bring the office into your home, complete with all of your colleagues walking past your desk and distracting you as they wavered you.
And even worse, allowing your bus to pop in to your virtual office, which would be located in your home, for your bus to pop into your home unannounced at any time. I think the hardest part of working from home for most people was not having physical access to their colleagues, was getting that Zoom fatigue because you were engaging with your colleagues via a camera and being fatigued by that virtual environment, also being a little bit concerned about what that camera was looking at into your house.
We’ve all had to rearrange our houses to make sure that that camera doesn’t see the things that people shouldn’t see in your house and that we don’t get distracted by work and work doesn’t get distracted by us. What Mark Zuckerberg’s Vision does is takes the very worst parts of working from home and literally melts it into your face, literally immerses you in the worst part of working from home, only an out of touch tech boss would think that this was a great idea.
Give you another example, we’ve had virtual reality and augmented reality, let’s call them Metaverse concerts during Lockdown, which lots of people have enjoyed. And it’s been lovely to immerse yourself in an experience where you can feel like, well, what do you feel like? You feel like you’re in the audience at a concert and then you realise you’re not. Why would you do that to yourself? If I can be in the Metaverse and go to a concert, I remind you I would like to go as a Dragon and I don’t want to stand in row 27 with a whole lot of other people screaming and shouting around me.
I’d like to stand on the stage, I’d like to play the guitar, I’d like to be on the sound disc. I’d like to be able to fly around the conference venue. What we are experiencing at the moment is a complete failure of imagination. Yes, the technologies are fantastic. Virtual reality and augmented reality are definitely here to stay and we are going to see them being used in technical environments, as I’ve said already and I think in entertainment and gaming especially.
But they’re really going to be used when they either create a data layer in augmented reality that we don’t have access to in the physical world or they completely remove us into a fantasy world where we can be Dragons if we want to be. But to recreate the physical world and just allow us to enter it virtually I don’t think that that’s something that human beings really want and certainly they don’t want to immerse themselves into it for hours and hours on end.
And yet that is precisely what the picture of the meta verse is from most retailers and officers at the moment, a failure of imagination. And until we fix that, we’re going down a dead end path. Those companies that are buying land in Metaverse environments.
Well, you do realise that whatever the marketing says about it, that land is infinite, that land is on a digital platform somewhere and can be doubled, tripled or increased by a million times and anything that is infinitely available should be free. But hey, you’ve got to spend your marketing budget on something, don’t you?
Throw forward Thursday. This week is to a future we don’t want. A future I don’t think will happen. The Metaverse as we’re currently thinking about it is not a place we should go. Come back next Thursday when we jump into the future once again and see what we find there.
Next week we’re going to be talking about another aspect of the future of work and big tech companies, companies and what they’re doing and shouldn’t be doing with your personal data.
I’ll see you next week.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.