Much has been said about the metaverse recently, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook would be evolving into a “metaverse” company. The ensuing commentaries have been numerous, with many imagining a world parallel to the real world, existing with one identity and shape, one set of rules.
That’s akin to suggesting that AOL is the internet. In reality, the internet has myriad places, identities, and purposes, appearing on an equally wide range of interfaces. It is a backbone technology, and the experiences it enables are infinite and chaotic. The only consistency is you, the human traversing it.
Therefore many of the current portrayals of the metaverse are too narrow. Zuckerberg’s description of the metaverse as “people meeting in digital spaces” is close to that of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, where the term was first coined. But the term has since grown to mean something far more expansive.
The meta in metaverse refers to a universe built out of pure data. In 1992, it was natural to think that a virtual reality was the only way such a thing could exist, so in Snow Crash characters walked around with optical media. The idea of 5G carrying 20 gigabytes per second over the air wasn’t even comprehended yet.