Big names in tech talk about “the Metaverse” as some mystical, abstract term for a thing we have yet to truly understand, but which is essential for the future of our society. All the hype surrounding this new big thing in tech can make it sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, and in fact it is. The word “metaverse” was first coined in the 1992 novel Snow Crash. Since then, fictional stories like Ready Player 1 have popularized the term to mean something along the lines of an online, multiplayer space in which people can live a sort of gamified second life by plugging into a virtual reality device, wearing a fancy headset, or laying in a futuristic-looking pod.
Ignore the sci-fi descriptions: the metaverse isn’t necessarily like that. Or at least it doesn’t have to be! The metaverse is attainable, present, as realistic as you wish, and not nearly as complicated as explanations rife with tech-jargon try to make it seem. In fact, you have probably experienced a few metaverses already. It is important to mention that there isn’t just one central metaverse, as is a common misconception. Even though some futurists predict a single, universal metaverse will monopolize the virtual world eventually, currently many companies, groups, and individuals have developed their own independent metaverses which do not exist in the same virtual plane. At Environments and Lighting Environments, for example, we have our own workplace metaverse in which meetings and other interactions can take place in the virtual office. Because this is our own independent metaverse, it would not be possible for a person playing the multiplayer game Minecraft or chatting on Meta’s virtual platform to wander into our own digital office. These platforms exist in their own metaverses.
To some extent, the social media realm and its interactions resemble a metaverse: we can operate and interact with others via some online representation of ourselves. Of course, this representation may or may not be true to how we actually look and act. This reduction of self to a still profile photo or account page can, for some, create a sense of disconnection and a lack of emotion and responsibility. A true metaverse, on the other hand, should offer individuals a virtual persona that they value enough to consider social repercussions and meaningful interactions. An exemplary case study is that of the game Grand Theft Auto versus independent developers. Fans of this game have created extensive modifications that turn the fictional city of Los Santos into a virtual society in which hundreds of people role-play as characters living in the city. These characters can do in Los Santos almost anything they can do in real life. Players and their characters can start a business, hang out with friends, buy and decorate a house, visit a restaurant (owned and operated by other players), or get a job, but they can also buy their dream car, climb a mountain, skydive from a helicopter, or run for mayor.
Generally, the term metaverse assumes that an aspect of the world is accessible by virtual reality, and while this example does not include VR capabilities, Los Santos is still one of the most advanced and detailed digital societies that immerses users and offers them essentially a second life. It also shows that metaverses can be used for more than just social connection. Progression for players in the city requires and supports the acquisition of real skills. Los Santos’ police officers are trained from their cadet phase in real-life standards of procedure, report writing, and 10-codes, advancing in rank as they gain experience and eventually becoming the mentors of new cadets. Doctors and EMS workers are taught how to handle injuries and medical scenarios, business owners must manage projects, plan meetings, and hire employees, and civilians can actively take part in elections, court cases, campaigning, and civic engagement.
Plenty of metaverses are far more specified in their focus, and are extremely advanced in how they meet the needs of their intended usage. Virtual simulations, for employees in many different industries, are replacing resource-intensive and limited real-life trainings. Teachers are able to give students the opportunities to take field trips that could only have been possible in “The Magic School Bus” until now, with virtual tours of ancient Rome, under the ocean, or inside the human brain. Environments and Lighting Environments have taken steps to bring the metaverse into our work environment, and many companies are doing the same. By developing a digital replica of our offices, employees are able to engage with the space and attend meetings from the comfort of their own homes. Or wherever they prefer to work!
The metaverse is often described as though it is some abstract concept, like the cosmos or the subconscious, rather than a very real and present thing. A lot of us, when we hear discourse about the so-called metaverse, tend to dismiss it as a technological foray into a field that hasn’t really been nailed down. Like virtual reality headsets, the metaverse seems to some people novel and impractical. Much of the confusion surrounding the metaverse emerges from the implication that it is something totally new and unprecedented, when in fact the metaverse does have a history of progression and development.
Metaverses, in one form or another, have existed for decades. What we are seeing now is the rapid expansion of immersive virtual experiences into daily life, as technology begins to make it more practical. Virtual reality technology is developing quickly, and it is the hope of many futurists and companies who have invested in the idea of the metaverse that at some point in the near future, we will be able to enter virtual worlds with nothing more than a pair of non-intrusive glasses. It is easy to think of that futuristic sci-fi reality and infer that the metaverse does not yet exist or is not yet generally accessible, but the metaverse, or rather, metaverses, are all around us, and many of us have already paid a visit or two.
Environments and Lighting Environments view the metaverse as a crucial tool within the “workplace of the future,” a business and workplace movement that prioritizes synchronized communication, inclusion, wellness and comfort, efficiency, and overall growth. A richly capable tool for shaping both workplace culture and brand abilities, the metaverse can easily architect both internal and external identities for any company. As you are reading this, the Environments and Lighting Environments teams are currently working to expand our brand footprints and portfolios into our own metaverse environment. In our metaverse, employees are able to enjoy all the rich engagement of the in-person office experience from anywhere: attend meetings, stroll through the office enjoying casual conversations, get real-time access to settings and controls within our physical space, host guests, visit coworkers for pop-in interactions, spend time with teammates, play games, collaborate on projects, etc.
Environments and Lighting Environments are embracing the advancement of virtual reality technology and we intend to continue trailblazing, supporting, and engaging with metaverse progress within our own companies. We are committed to developing and evolving our metaverse community as technologies emerge, and we see an expansive future in virtual reality implementation within the workplace. The Environments and Lighting Environments virtual presence will continue to improve and grow, so that we can not only support our colleagues who would like to work remotely but ensure that they can do so without missing the in-person experience and enjoyable social connection.