Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Mark Zuckerberg sparked a surge in mainstream interest in the metaverse after rebranding Facebook as Meta (well it was actually only the company name but - details, details). The conversation and concept has exploded with wild predictions of what the different meta worlds will look like and what we potentially get to do in them. For most companies, Facebook’s announcement was a solid wake-up call about just how extraordinarily far away they were from understanding the metaverse and the likes of NFTs in the new sandbox.
So what exactly is the metaverse?
In short, the meta (beyond) verse (universe) is a collection of computer-generated virtual worlds consisting of digital spaces that you can visit. Heralded as the next iteration of the internet - geeks everywhere are addressing the limitation of the realities (AR - augmented reality and VR - virtual reality) to bring the power of the offline and online worlds together into a more comprehensive future that stretches way beyond gaming - to all aspects of life including business, education and retail.
When it comes to the term “metaverse”, think of it a bit like the universe. Just as there are countless planets, suns and black holes in the Milky Way, the metaverse will include countless “worlds”. Facebook is working on one. So is Disney. And so are hundreds of other brands and businesses, from gaming startups and retail brands to the tech juggernauts, such as Amazon and Google.
Meta, as a concept per se, isn’t new. The term was first coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson’s science-fiction novel Snow Crash. Neal saw metaverse as a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet, populated by user-controlled avatars. And he was pretty accurate, as it turned out.
One of the first manifestations of this vision for the metaverse – and certainly the most successful so far – has been Second Life. A 2003 creation, the online world allows people to create their avatar and live out a “second life” in a virtual world. Second Life peaked in the 2010s with more than 36 million accounts who collectively had spent the equivalent of 217,266 years online and amassed US$3.2bn in real-money transactions. You can buy and trade stuff, from land and clothes to gadgets and, well, services – and yes, some of it gets weird.
Second Life is a great, somewhat embryonic, chaotic and slightly geeky start that has laid the foundation for what happens next. But let’s face it, we started with the very first video game - Pong!
So what does the metaverse offer the fitness and wellness sector?
The metaverse is the meeting point for a number of modern day technologies. When you combine the wonders of 5G-connectivity, blockchain, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and the advances in the realities (VR, AR and XR), you can start to appreciate the expanse of its immersive potential.
The metaverse is everywhere. Geographies and demographics don’t matter anymore. We’ve already witnessed in the fitness industry how the pandemic has transformed the digital fitness space. As lockdowns hit, gyms and clubs closed and everyone headed onto online fitness platforms, free to follow their passions rather than only be ushered into convenient local options. Essentially your potential reach just went exponential.
The metaverse is enhanced. While many live studios claim to be “immersive” – meta could take the group exercise experience to an entirely new level, with people joining from all over the world, real or avatar, and enhanced by the realities.
The metaverse can build a bridge to the real world. Thinking of physical activity in general – especially when it comes to activating those who aren’t currently active could we convert our screen-obsessed kids into active ones in the real world by getting them comfortable in the virtual world first and gamifying it. Pokemon GO (2016), is a great example of this, where AR (augmented reality) was activated - allowing kids to run all over the neighborhood using their camera function on their smartphone capturing (virtual) Pokemons placed in locations in the real world.
The metaverse extends your powers. You get to play god and at the subtler end of the spectrum, you can change your appearance – or you can live a life without disability at the other. Cue: Jake Sully, a disabled former marine who joins the Avatar program after his twin brother is killed in the 2009 Blockbuster - Avatar.
The metaverse will proliferate - pushing boundaries, building bridges, and creating new markets. It will take us way beyond what the average consumer envisions today. This genie will not be going back in the bottle anytime soon.