The Internet’s New Frontier: What a Day in the Metaverse Might Look Like
The next era of the internet opens a portal to virtual worlds where you can work out on Mars, shop fashion or real estate and then cap the day with a Justin Bieber concert. Photo: Valeriya Simantovskaya/Stocksy
If The Jetsons provided a crystal ball for 21st-century life, flying cars and homes in the sky would be the norm. The colonization of space is still far in the future, but video calls are commonplace, food and drinks can be delivered at a button’s push and — if you count Roombas — robot maids exist, too. Though our lives have hewn closer to Earth, it’s never been easier to explore boundary-pushing realities in the expanding virtual realm known as the metaverse.
More than a buzzword, “meta” means to go beyond and “verse” – as in universe — is a nod to the world we live in. It’s a broad term for the online world that bridges the physical and the virtual. In the metaverse, which is expected to define the next internet era — also known as Web 3.0 — users have immersive, often virtual-reality aided experiences, from hanging out with friends and playing games to attending concerts and buying virtual real estate. During the pandemic, it drew new attention as people, brands and artists tested the limits of life in the web’s alternate universe.
You can visit 3D worlds, like Decentraland and The Sandbox, with nothing more than your web browser, but in the future, it’s expected that most of the metaverse will be experienced through virtual-reality (VR) headsets that come with gesture controllers. (A Meta Quest headset will set you back about $400.)
What separates the metaverse from other online platforms is you experience it by entering different worlds, and exploring them with new sensory experiences. While you can ride a Peloton, participate in classes you watch on a screen and schedule interactive group workouts with friends, a VR platform like VZFit turns riding a stationary bike into a video game-like 3D experience, with you as the main character.
Opinions vary on how big a role the metaverse will play in our future lives, but one thing’s for certain: Companies, from tech behemoths like Microsoft to traditional brands, are making substantial bets. Given how embedded Facebook is in modern life, it’s not surprising CEO Mark Zuckerberg, eyeing future domination of this new frontier, announced last year he was rebranding the company and calling it Meta. In Decentraland, for example, you can visit a replica of Sotheby’s London headquarters and view (or bid on) digital artwork they’re auctioning off. You can also shop for virtual goods like Zuckerberg, whose avatar recently modelled Balenciaga and Prada outfits available from his company’s new Avatars Store.
The metaverse’s ambition hasn’t matched technology yet. The scale of activities and some interactive capabilities will take time to develop, so it’s unlikely to peak for several years. But for now, millions around the globe are enjoying this new virtual realm, which experts say may help combat loneliness and isolation for adult users.
Before you start your own journey to see what the metaverse offers, let’s get you prepared.
You’ll need a high-speed internet connection, for starters, as well as a smartphone, tablet or computer and, depending on what platform you want to investigate, a headset. You may need to download an app; some, like Meta’s Horizon Worlds, are free, while others may have a one-time fee or monthly subscription.
There’s no charge to check out metaverse platforms like Decentraland with your browser, but to buy and sell items you’ll need their cryptocurrency – an alt-coin known as MANA. (At press time, one MANA cost about $1.10, about 25 per cent of what it cost in early January.) This means you’ll have to create a crypto wallet, if you don’t have one. Just as currencies change when you travel between countries, different platforms may require different coins. You’ll want to do some exploring for free before embracing this option.
You’ll also have to create an avatar – the virtual character that represents you in a metaverse platform – which can be customized by selecting skin tone, eye colour and hairstyle, and choosing from a limited line of basic clothing. Have fun with it! Some people keep their designs true to life, while others try out a different look.
Now, let’s begin a day in the metaverse, using tech that’s available right now.
Get a healthy start
Whether you want to break a sweat or find a few minutes of Zen, there’s no shortage of options. With a Meta Quest VR goggle set, you can punch to the beat of songs and work out with a personal trainer on Liteboxer, while the famed Les Mills BODYCOMBAT workouts are available from the fitness company’s metaverse app, with martial arts training sessions and workout environments that include a Martian desert and a snowy tundra. If you’d rather more familiar settings with a meta twist, try VZfit. Using Google Street View, it lets you work out anywhere in the world – from your childhood neighbourhood to a far-off vacation spot. If accountability buddies are your thing, consider FitXR. This VR app has a multiplayer function that allows up to seven people to exercise together in real time.
Bonus tip Several apps offer guided meditation, praised by health professionals as a way to reduce stress and improve mental and physical health.
Browse the real estate listings
If there’s one way the metaverse reflects the real world, it’s that they both have wild real estate markets, and prices for plots of land sold as nonfungible tokens (NFTs) have increased dramatically on platfoms like Decentraland, The Sandbox or Voxels. Last year, a property in The Sandbox metaverse, located near rapper Snoop Dogg’s virtual pad, sold for a whopping US$450,000. You can browse listings on sites like OpenSea, or work with an agency like Toronto-based Metaverse Property to buy or lease. Just like browsing the MLS, it costs nothing to window shop even the grandest properties.
Bonus tip There’s a budding industry where metaverse architects – some formally trained and some with video-game design skills – create virtual buildings for individuals and companies.
Travel beyond the horizon
One of the metaverse’s hallmarks is the ability to visit virtual spaces that push reality’s boundaries. For instance, with a Quest headset, you can download Meta’s Horizon Worlds video game, which has 10,000 virtual environments, ranging from hangout spaces to experiences pulled from the pages of a storybook. (Ever fancy being a witch? If so, your avatar can take a virtual ride on a magic broom.) As you encounter strangers, you can speak to them, listen in on nearby conversations as you roam or mute them, and community guides offer help or tech support to new users. You can explore Horizon Worlds alone and meet people, or invite a friend along in real time. The most ambitious users design their own worlds with the creation tool and publish them for others to experience.
Bonus tip Although Horizon Worlds is currently available for Meta Quest headset users only, a web and mobile version is expected later this year.
Catch up with a friend
After a non-metaverse lunch break, it’s time to get social. Meeting a family member or friend in 3D makes Zoom seem quaint. Your avatars can inhabit the same virtual space using apps like Alcove, with its hallmark cosy living room, perfect for private catchups. You can even upload videos to share on virtual screens or photos in virtual frames.
The functionality to invite friends from your Facebook account is straightforward. If you’re in the mood for a joint activity, you can play a game of virtual chess, enjoy a hot air balloon ride or go scuba diving, all without leaving the comfort of your home.
Bonus tip If you want to chill with a friend of the furry variety, you can play with a virtual pet rabbit in Alcove. (This includes dressing it up in hats!)
Shop till you drop
NFTs are a key part of the metaverse, with their sales recorded on the blockchain – a digital ledger that confirms ownership and transactions – and range from the aforementioned land to the growing field of digital fashion. Though avatars come with free design options, some devotees pay for more creative upgrades, sunglasses, designer outfits or crowns. In Decentraland, you can check out Metajuku – a Japanese-inspired shopping district – to spice up your look. Since gravity doesn’t exist, digital wearables may be floating, instead of hanging, in stores. There’s also a happening gallery scene, where you can browse and purchase digital art NFTs. But before you get the idea that NFTs will appreciate like a Picasso – even if one brand’s NFT pictures of cartoon apes surged more than 2000-fold in retail value – keep in mind the market is fickle.
Bonus tip Keep an eye out for fashion shows. In March, the first Metaverse Fashion Week took place in Decentraland, with brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Etro and Tommy Hilfiger allowing users to buy the physical twin of runway looks.
Love the nightlife
The metaverse never sleeps. There are detailed online entertainment listings alerting users to everything from movies and fireworks shows to DJ sets and concerts. COVID-19 encouraged virtual performances from singers like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott on the Fortnite platform, and Justin Bieber on the Wave platform. Warner Music is now investing in a performance space in The Sandbox, with the goal of bringing their artists to the metaverse masses.
Bonus tip On Horizon Worlds, visit the UA Comedy Club, where comedians of all experience levels try out new material.
A version this article appeared in the August/September 2022 issue with the headline ‘Welcome to the Metaverse’, p. 61.