How the metaverse can expand the mindscape for human connections

The global pandemic catalyzed a shift to remote communication, pushing both personal and professional aspects of our lives into the digital realm. Naturally, this shift affected human connection in unprecedented manners, including the move to remote education, digital gatherings, and a decrease in accessibility for all, forcing us to find new ways to communicate and carry out regular functions in our daily lives. 

Negatives aside, these challenges have coincided with exciting innovations, including the formal introduction of the metaverse, a boom in artificial intelligence, and advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality

The metaverse we know today is not an entirely new concept, but rather an idea that has existed and evolved since the early days of Web2. Creating and expanding upon a digital platform that would allow for revolutionized communication has been the goal of several innovators for decades. With increasing interest in Web3 technologies, we continue to see an increase in appetite for immersive, digitized communication as we pivot towards the future of the internet.

Evolution of the metaverse

Launched in 2003, Second Life is an online multi-media platform that many now refer to as the world’s first metaverse platform. What differentiated it from its counterparts was its embodiment of several social media-like features into its platform. While Second Life did go on to achieve some success, it was tailored toward the gaming community. Despite that, it served as a great entry point into what we now know as the metaverse, drawing people across age groups and corners around the world. 

Second Life shows that the appeal of these immersive technologies existed decades ago and that these technologies offer immense potential to foster meaningful connections, enhance social interactions, and bridge geographical and cultural divides. Where Web2 technologies laid the foundation for a global village, the metaverse and other Web3 technologies seek to further immerse us in this interconnected society.

Another example of how virtual worlds have evolved is Decentraland, released as a proof of concept to demonstrate virtual ownership. This pivot into the world of Web3 demonstrated that users did not only want to have a virtual persona but to also uniquely differentiate themselves from other users with digital ownership of commodities and land. 

However, while platforms like Decentraland have allowed for the integration of blockchain into a virtual social platform, they have not been successful in increasing their user base. To avoid similar outcomes, new and existing companies are continuously looking for new ways to increase activity on their platforms while finding the right balance of increasing immersion without decreasing accessibility.

Increasing immersion and accessibility 

To further integrate the user into a metaverse, developers have taken to expanding the media through which a user can access its platforms, including mobile phones, laptops and next-generation hardware including virtual reality headsets. 

Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies enable individuals to share immersive experiences, collaborate remotely, and communicate in ways previously unimaginable. From interactive virtual meetings to shared AR environments, mixed realities open novel avenues for collaboration. These advancements can boost productivity, stimulate innovation, and dismantle the barriers erected by distance. 

Deloitte’s 2023 Digital Media Trends study found that Gen Zs and Millennials are more likely to embrace newer hardware, including VR headsets, for a range of experiences than more senior age groups. The same study found that about 50% of Gen Zs and Millennials find online experiences to be meaningful replacements for in-person experiences, and 40% socialize more through video games than in the physical world. 

With continuous advancements in VR hardware, including the anticipated Apple Vision Pro set to launch in 2024, there is a strong potential for an upsurge in VR content production and its broader adoption across different generations in the coming months.

The amalgamation of the technologies’ use cases in the metaverse will entice more people to leverage the different hardware and software to connect with peers, decreasing a generational divide and helping increase an understanding amongst different age groups.

New uses for virtual worlds 

The evolving landscape of the metaverse offers the ability for users to navigate virtual venues, such as art galleries, alongside distant friends and families. The shift toward virtual accessibility transcends geographical limitations and expands the reach of once-exclusive in-person encounters. This accessibility will also create new revenue streams and monetization for emerging artists. 

Additionally, the inability to meet with family members, friends and colleagues who may suffer from illness or disabilities that prevent them from leaving their homes in the real world could significantly decrease.

Creating a more accessible environment via the metaverse ensures an increase in compassion, empathy and inclusion for users in the physical world.

Another great use case the metaverse provides is decreasing the barriers to education. While many schools have shifted to remote education, it has proven to be a failure for many. Adding in the metaverse as a component could further immerse students and educators to allow for a more effective schooling outcome.

Utilizing the metaverse to increase the different avenues to access education will revolutionize how the traditional system has looked and functioned throughout the 21st century. Homeschooling, tutoring and remote education could potentially no longer feel as distant.

Artificial intelligence enhancing experience

While the metaverse offers a great amount of opportunities to immerse its users, it is clear that it alone cannot provide its experiences to the masses without the necessary technologies that shape it. Among the useful advancements in technology is incorporating artificial intelligence technologies to bolster the user experience.

Artificial intelligence can be used to bolster the human experience in the virtual world, even going so far as to offer users the option of caring for an AI pet. For both former and current pet owners, this can provide users the opportunity to create memories with immortalized animal companions — complementing the experience of caring for a pet in the real world. 

As it stands, generative AI technologies continue to advance as long as users continue to provide their input and preferences. When combining a growing number of metaverse users with integrated AI technology, experiences will become more tailored to users while eliminating legwork on the platform developer’s end. Thus, the number of features offered will increase all while being provided in a shorter amount of time.

Future without borders

By learning about human desires, the integration of AI and other Web3-focused technologies can evolve the metaverse to provide sensations that more closely mimic real-world experiences. This evolution includes creating a platform that complements users’ real-life desires and advancing the integration of metaverse platforms with other technologies in our daily lives.

The metaverse holds tremendous potential to positively impact human connection and communication. By transcending physical boundaries, enabling cross-cultural interactions, and enhancing collaboration, these immersive technologies can transform the way we connect and interact.
Using virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence technologies in the metaverse will not replace in-person experiences. Instead, by extending our reach and eliminating the barriers of distance, it invites us all to seize the ever-expanding opportunities it can offer.

The metaverse is here. When will the party begin?

The metaverse is a limitless space with endless possibilities for connection. The only problem is, there’s nobody there yet. Making the metaverse a tool for the masses and attracting more users requires it to be easy to access, affordable and most importantly, fun. To get there, we’re going to have to address some of the current pain points of the tech and quell the current skepticism.

In a world where we are beginning to see less and less in-person connectivity, the thought of “moving” into the metaverse can create even more fear that the technology is going to take over our livelihoods. Although those thoughts are valid, the intended purpose of the metaverse is to bring people closer together and to enhance our daily lives.

The key that unlocks all of this is the human element. We are ultimately the ones who will decide where the tech goes, how it is used, and what we’re able to achieve with it. So, we need to find a way for the technology to enhance and not replace our human interactions.

Barriers at the gate

If the metaverse is going to expand its reach, we have to eliminate some of the barriers to entry that inevitably turn users away. The first is equipment: Not everyone has access to a VR headset, AR glasses or special programming that will allow them to participate in the metaverse. Additionally, many of those who might be interested are turned away by the expense of having to purchase virtual property or pay to participate. 

In order to bring more people into the metaverse, access should be granted from any device — and without paywalls. Our planet is now socially connected, and it’s thanks to having access to our favorite social apps not just on our computers, but on our tablets and cell phones. For the metaverse to stand a chance, it needs to be just as accessible. It also needs to be free to enter. It’s a hard sell to ask someone to pay for something they’re still not sure they want to use. In order to “sell” the public on the metaverse, first they’re going to have to be incentivized to join. 

From ‘ugh’ to a better UI/UX 

Currently, the metaverse is a clunky, cartoonish world that makes users feel like they are in a Sims-like video game rather than an actual social space. Paired with its complicated navigation, this creates a barrier for non-technical users or older generations that might find it too difficult to navigate.  

If we’re going to bring the metaverse to the masses, we will not only need to create a smoother interface that people of any age or technical capability can use, but we’ll also need to dedicate more resources to creating an environment that is photorealistic and feels natural to be in. 

A study from Forrester found that a good user interface (UI) can raise a platform’s conversion rate by up to 200%, while a better user experience (UX) design can raise the conversion rate by up to 400%. The metaverse should be intuitive and able to adapt to user needs and should look and feel like an extension of our daily lives. After all, people crave human connection, and metaverse experiences should foster that level of connectivity. 

If it’s no fun, people won’t come

Let’s address the elephant in the room: The biggest challenge the metaverse is facing is that there simply aren’t enough people in it. And, to be frank, that’s fair — the development of the metaverse is still in its nascency and geared largely towards developers or Web3 natives. Not enough people from the real world have immersed themselves in the virtual world, and the reality is that they would probably feel like outsiders in the current metaverse.

We need to create a space that helps bring people together — a space that eliminates the physical distances between friends, family and peers, so that they can connect with each other anywhere, from any device they choose. 

A huge element to consider is FOMO (fear of missing out). We should create metaverse experiences that make people feel like they want to be in on the action. Whether visiting a metaverse art gallery, attending a virtual concert, or seeing a city from the other side of the world without having to purchase a plane ticket, it should invoke excitement for the end user. Many metaverse applications are racing to bring a product to the table and are often putting the cart before the horse. If you build it, people will come. But we’ve got to make sure to build it with enough functionality and engagement that people want to stay.

When will we get there? 

Let’s be honest: The metaverse isn’t quite ready for the masses yet, but that day is coming soon. In a matter of a few years, we went from costly international calls and snail mail to being able to connect with anyone, anywhere, through the little computers in our pockets. I truly believe that the next iteration of social connection will be through the metaverse. And while every new technology can at times be mystifying and terrifying, there’s no need to fret. The metaverse is not going to take over our lives, but it will be used as an incredible tool to connect with others as well as experience and enhance our daily existence so that we can build and create together. But for now, let’s get back to building it.