What is the metaverse?

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There is a good chance you have heard of the metaverse, but it is much less likely you have a firm understanding of what it is – and you certainly are not alone. Often alluded to as the “future of the internet,” the metaverse in its current form is still mysterious enough that talking about it can make most people feel like they are at a table read for the next season of Black Mirror.

This disorienting feeling is not new for some, as we have been down a similar path before. Discussions about the metaverse now are a bit like discussions of the internet in the 1970s and ‘80s. Many building blocks are in place while others are in progress, but the final reality is still difficult for us to entirely envision.

With that in mind, here is a closer look at what we know about the metaverse today, why it matters, and how blockchain and cryptocurrency factor into the conversation.

What we know today

The metaverse has been described in many ways. At its highest level, it is the next major shift of the digital age with the potential to change the way we live our everyday lives. It is a shift not so much in the technology itself, but in how we as humans interact with technology.

While the specifics are still taking shape, some basic characteristics of the metaverse have been established:

  • It spans both physical and virtual worlds
  • It is centered around a fully functioning economy
  • It allows users to travel from platform to platform with ease while maintaining their purchased goods and avatars
  • Users will be able to move throughout the metaverse with thousands of other people, all within the same digital universe

The metaverse has also been described as a superset of virtual reality, augmented reality, and the internet. It is not seen as an extension of the internet, however, but rather as its successor, built using blockchains and decentralized applications.

The term “metaverse” originated in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, in which a pair of delivery drivers travels the metaverse to save themselves from a capitalist dystopia. But why does it matter today?

Why the metaverse matters

At this point, the precise details of the makeup of the metaverse are not nearly as important as what its full potential may allow us to experience and achieve.

Right now, it is expected that the metaverse could:

  • Fundamentally change the way we interact with the digital world
  • Provide new opportunities for creators, gamers, and artists
  • Become its own trillion-dollar industry
  • Become a go-to option for entertainment, commerce, and employment
  • Serve as the driving force in creating a new generation of companies, similar to what happened during the rise of the internet

It is also important to note that no one person can have control over the metaverse – but that does not mean the largest names in tech are not racing to play a leading role in shaping its infrastructure. Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, Roblox, and Snap have all been making moves to this end.

How crypto fits into the equation

It is clear the metaverse has massive potential – all of which will tie closely to the structure and performance of blockchain and cryptocurrency. With the metaverse will come an inherent demand for permissionless identity, financial services, and high-speed exchange. Data will also have to be stored and served to millions, even billions of people. The technology behind cryptocurrency is expected to play an essential role in this process.

Cryptocurrencies could very well become the only forms of legal tender used in the metaverse. Companies have already been developing virtual worlds that integrate cryptocurrencies so gamers can create structures and monetize them, with these currencies being available to purchase on exchanges like Coinbase.

And where crypto is a legal tender, virtual objects and intangible items will be expressed as NFTs. This will give people complete ownership over their characters, accrued in-game items, and virtual assets. It is thought that it will eventually be possible to buy and sell virtual goods from different games and universes on interoperable marketplaces (i.e., from one platform to the next).

While no one can yet predict exactly what the metaverse will look like or when its final form will arrive, the importance of crypto to its growth is a certainty. Future advancements in blockchain and crypto will undoubtedly play a leading role in shaping the future of the metaverse.

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