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Is the metaverse trying to augment reality or replace it?


The metaverse is the buzzword that is becoming impossible to escape as big tech companies share their vision to transcend the Internet as we know it. It's a topic that many love to hate, but as the boundaries between online and offline life blur, it's easy to see how we got here.

Virtual influencers are already amassing millions of followers, and many are increasingly purchasing digital clothing for their avatars. If these trends continue, working and viewing entertainment in a virtual world could be seen as the next natural step forward as this technology continues to evolve.

Despite privacy concerns, resistance, and caution around embracing a Ready Player One-style future, analysts are still predicting that the metaverse will be worth $760 billion by 2026. Although much of the hype in this space is built on future promises, the success of online streams of Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, and 33 million music fans attending Lil Nas X's Roblox concert has thrust metaverse live streaming into the spotlight.

Metaverse vs. live streams

The arrival of a global pandemic meant that we could no longer travel to events, conferences, concerts, exhibitions, or even work meetings. Instead, we were forced to make human connections on video conferencing and live streaming platforms over the last two years. But in a post-pandemic world, some now prefer the safer, cheaper, and sustainable way of attending an event available at the click of a button. In contrast, others miss the serendipity of random conversations with strangers on a show floor.

However, as zoom fatigue sets in, many feel that live streaming broadcasts in the metaverse will make things more fun and engaging. Rather than trying to lock users in an online space, BIGO Technology is on a mission to expand the physical world and enable users to interact with the virtual world simultaneously through its live streams. But ultimately, the future will be determined by what users prefer.

The shiny allure of the metaverse should be about tearing down the blurred lines between our digital and physical worlds. Many are curious about merging them both into a singular reality. Moreover, there is a hope that it might help us build stronger connections and join new communities of like-minded users. After all, technology works best when it brings people together.

Replacing the real world

However, there is a disconnect between what users want and Zuckerberg's vision for the metaverse, which seems to be more focused on competing with reality rather than augmenting it. Predictably, brands are also attempting to jump on the next big thing and instructing developers to build virtual spaces just because they can rather than provide value to audiences. But nobody wants to strap a headset to their head to be bombarded with ads.

Metaverse meeting

In the current economic client, purchasing another tech gadget is the last thing in mind for most people. So, for this reason alone, it's likely to be a few years before we see how the concept of the metaverse will be brought to life.

However, we know that from Apple to Google, all the big tech companies are rumored to be working on VR and AR headsets. With so much investment from the biggest brands in the world, it's difficult to see how it will fail in the long term. It's more of a question of who will dominate this space.

Lessons learned from our tech past

Looking back at the history of technology and digital disruption with the gift of hindsight, you could be forgiven for wondering why nobody could see what was coming. But the reality is we have been here many times before. Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of having a love/hate relationship with tech and will quickly dismiss the next overhyped tech trend.

Bill Gates's infamous appearance on the Letterman Show in 1995 saw the host mockingly ask, "What is Internet?" In 1999, David Bowie predicted the impact of the Internet, while Jeremy Paxman thought of it as merely a tool. In 2007, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer famously laughed at mocked the iPhone for not having a keyboard like Blackberry, and we all know what happened next.

More recently, the mainstream media have announced the death of bitcoin over 400 times. But in the words of Steve Jobs, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward." Whether the metaverse will be the next iPhone moment or a fad like 3D televisions remains to be seen, but if we dare to look ten years into the future, it’s easy to see how the current tech and lifestyle trends will eventually lead us to multiple metaverses.

There is no avoiding that we are becoming less engaged with traditional formats. Digital natives who cannot remember a time before social media platforms, iPhones, and online influencers will naturally gravitate to more engaging events in the metaverse. Equally, there will always be a large audience who prepare to converse with a human face and will find looking at an audience of digital avatars quite sinister.

Although we can expect debates around the metaverse vs. live streams to continue, the reality is we can enjoy both. In the same way, we replaced the binary choice of working from home or in the office with a hybrid approach. I suspect the future will provide new ways and opportunities to interact with friends, colleagues, and even new clients in and outside the metaverse. We just need big tech to focus on augmenting reality and stop trying to compete with it.


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