When the offer on an afternoon lunch with Jeremy White, Senior Innovation Editor of technology magazine Wired, came into my inbox, I was always going to be intrigued. Wired has long been one of my frequent reads - coming from a background of technology and with a frustrating penchant for gadgets I find it too hard to resist - but Jeremy’s chosen topic of the Metaverse tempted me in faster than a £99 accessory does to an Apple fan boy. I was sold.
But I am not sold on the Metaverse
Despite this interest, and my software driven background, the Metaverse has always struck me of a solution in need of a problem. The greatest technology advancements tend to manifest autonomously, with largely no hype, brand or cheerleader. Where the iPhone was, for instance, revolutionary, the engaging and interactive mobile device path had already been laid by others, and driven by the insatiable demand of a young tech-focused audience.
Yet, the metaverse isn’t snowballing down the hill after a gentle-but-worthy push from Gen-Z, but is being hardly pushed up a mountain by a just-in-the-boundary millennial with numerous of billions to spend.
Can Jeremy explain what I am missing?
Jeremy started by provided an insight into technology thus far, referencing along the way a decade old analogy from Louse Leakey that perspective is key:
If there are 200 sheets of tissue paper in the roll, then the very first life in the oceans is seen at sheet 33. The age of the dinosaurs begins at sheet 190. Dinosaurs are extinct by the end of the Cretaceous, 3 squares from the end, making way for the mammals. The human story as Homo sapiens is represented by less than 2 millimetres of the final sheet.
Yes, we’ve come a long way in a very short period of time, and the metaverse is the latest - but not the last - in a line of technological advances that sees many more Dodo’s than Unicorns.
Yet when the Metaverse finally comes into focus, even Jeremy admits its a golden egg of a fabled goose, stating “You don’t know what the metaverse is? Don’t worry, no one does.”
“It’s a mish-mash of VR, AR, AI, Web3, Blockchain, NFT” and every other buzz-word you can think of. “There isn’t one winner, one metaverse - there are hundreds” - and no metaverse yet is the VHS to someone’s Betamax.
Yet, whilst we plough forward trying to envisage and design a new “verse” to meet an unfound demand, I propose that we haven’t yet managed to successfully achieve what is arguably the most beneficial and desired upgrade for our lives; Augmented Reality (AR).
The need and want for augmentation of our reality is present in our everyday lives; think satellite-navigation, automated reminders to reply to a forlorn email, or voice-activated assistants eagerly waiting to ease the burden of adding Doritos to your shopping list. We love technology overlaid onto our life, especially when the focus is on improving and streamlining the mundane and empowering our deprecating ability.
You don’t know what the metaverse is? Don’t worry, no one does.
AR remains clunky and ripe for disruption
Just prior to when Steve Jobs announced the game-changing-world-altering iPhone in 2007, the world didn’t know the solution it needed. It didn’t know it needed a full touch-screen, single physical button, pinch-your-fingers-to-zoom kind of a device. It did however know it wanted music, apps, games, photos, the internet and more in your palm of your hand.
The Metaverse has always struck me of a solution in need of a problem.
Not many people can visualise the future product line that Jobs could, and many never will, but if I had to pick between the Metaverse and AR vehicles to take me into the future, there would be a queue at the augmented reality taxi stand that would tell you all that you needed to know.
In its current form - lacking demand and a clear definition of what it ultimately is and what problems it solves - the Metaverse has quite a way to go before it affects the regular Joe or Josephine, but hopefully we don’t need another sheet of toilet paper to cover its timeline.