© Tobias Tanzya
METAVERSE: BETWEEN HYPE, FICTION AND DIGITAL FUTURE
There are many milestones and developments in the history of digitization. Smartphones and social media have become our constant companions over the last decade. Some claim that we are currently moving from the revolution of the mobile internet into the next revolution over the next ten to 15 years: It is what we discuss as the Metaverse.
But is the Metaverse really a groundbreaking future shift that will be a natural part of our lives and of every company in just a few years? Professor Stefan Stieglitz of the University of Potsdam and Klaus Gorny, communications director at Meta, gave insights at the Leadership Forum 2023 in Munich.
(Contradictory) visions of the Metaverse
While there are already some forms of harbingers of the Metaverse, it is still unclear what the Metaverse will look like. Are there already forms of it? Or lies everything still in the distant future? At the moment, “Metaverse” is more of a spongy term used to describe a series of virtual spaces where you can share experiences with other people.
Prof. Stefan Stieglitz, University of Potsdam
“Looking at the evolution of the Internet, 3D worlds seem like an obvious next step in approaching real-world communication”
According to Stieglitz (with reference to Dolata & Schwabe 2023), there are currently four different interest groups with sometimes contradictory visions:
- Users are often early adaptors and journalists. Both individuals and companies are generally interested in open, interoperable platforms, e.g., to simplify the trade of digital assets.
- Producers: Particularly commercial vendors such as Microsoft and Meta are looking for new revenue streams.
- Advocates: Investors buy e.g., land and expect similar economic developments as in real life. Governments expand efforts into regulatory frameworks (e.g., South Korea)
- Bystander can be either skeptics or critics. Skeptics consider the Metaverse as unrealistic or far away (technology researchers, economists, journalists). Critics warn about the (potential) negative consequences for individuals and the society (psychologists, NGOs, sociologists)
Public debates have been fueled through events such as the renaming of Facebook into Meta or the (planned) acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft. Also socioeconomic trends such as remote and hybrid work as well as the rapid technological advancements sparked further developments. Other catalysts can be found in arts and culture, especially video games or movies (“Star Trek” or “Matrix”) and books (Neal Stephenson, 1992; Ernest Cline, 2011).
With the advent of the Metaverse come various challenges and ethical issues
Both Stieglitz and Gorny see interoperability as one of the main challenges. This means you’ll be able to access the Metaverse from any device. From apps on smartphones and PCs to VR and AR devices, you can switch seamlessly from one experience to another. This, however, also raises the question of adequate privacy policies and safeguards for personal data usage and storage.
Klaus Gorny, Meta
“Above all, interoperability, continuity and presence will be crucial for consumers and companies.”
The same goes for the continuity as there is no restart in the Metaverse. Stieglitz and Gorny use the image of a coffee mug: Imagine your avatare was having a coffee and left the mug on the table. This mug will be there the next time you enter the Metaverse as long as no one else moved it. The continuity applies also for experiences and spaces. For instance, you can take things, like the coffee mug, with you.
Another challenge is the feeling of presence in the Metaverse. The feeling of being with another person or in another place – playing, shopping, working, creating and more.
With interoperability, continuity and presence in mind, the Metaverse potentially offers new opportunities for communication and interaction but requires mechanisms to verify and ensure authenticity. Identity theft, abuse and fraud are potential problems that cannot be taken lightly.
Likewise, Gorny underlines the importance of access and wide availability of technologies:
Klaus Gorny, Meta
“It is important to ensure that access to the metaverse is equally available to all and does not create a digital divide. This requires wide availability of technologies, affordable access to platforms, and ensuring that people can participate in the metaverse regardless of their socioeconomic background.”
An early stage of development
Commercial, isolated platforms of tech companies are unlikely to trigger a fundamental transformation and a new digitized revolution. As the added value would be limited, isolated platforms doubtfully reach the masses. Stieglitz expects that such scenarios rather result in a “Second life” phenomenon.
Gorny adds the importance of governments, companies, and users working together to find solutions and to establish ethical standards. If interoperability can be reached as well as data privacy, a fair access and safety are ensured, he sees great potential in the Metaverse. Because one of the great advantages of the Metaverse is its versatility and adaptability. It can be used in almost any industry or application, be it retail, healthcare, education.
The Metaverse enables virtual meetings and conferences that allow people to feel close despite physical distance. Companies can create immersive presentations for complex concepts or develop trainings for technicians and drivers. It opens the possibility of global collaboration on a whole new level and facilitates communication and collaboration across cultural and geographic boundaries. Both conclude that the Metaverse is still in the early stages of development, but they fully expect it to grow and evolve a lot in the years to come.
As Communications Director, Klaus Gorny is responsible for the corporate communications in the DACH region for Meta. Since 2023, he has also been interim head of communications in Central Europe.
Stefan Stieglitz is Professor of Information Systems and Digital Transformation and holder of the SAP Endowed Chair at the University of Potsdam. The focus of his work is the impact of digital communication and collaboration on
individuals, companies and society.