There has lately been a change in the way people are talking about the metaverse. Disney and other companies said they are not going to spend any money in this anymore, for example. Yet, there is still much potential for this space. Shannon and her editors seemed to have had the forethought to name the book, Interconnected Realities, and to get ahead of this trend.
“It is a book about the metaverse. It is a book about the purpose of the metaverse,” says Shannon. “And even though the attention headlines have moved on, the metaverse is still a thing, and it is going to affect all of us. But what it actually, ultimately is called, that’s up for grabs. That could turn into something else. We don’t call the Internet, the information superhighway anymore, right?”
Shannon adds, “First, we have to understand what the metaverse is. And at a fundamental level, the metaverse is the union of the digital and the physical. For me, the meaningful part of the metaverse is actually a lot closer to a Snapchat filter than to something that you do in virtual reality. So you’re still in the physical world, but through some sort of a device, and maybe we’ll start off with smartphones. We do that now. But moving eventually to head mounted displays. So augmented reality glasses, being able to have digital information and even overlays in our physical world as we move through the physical world. That is the true nature. And I think the true promise of the metaverse where genuinely we have the three-dimensional Internet and information and entertainment surrounding us in real time in our day to day lives. There’s already money being spent by me on couches that I bought through AR.”
Are we missing the first step in kind of imagining what we’re all going to be wearing, headsets or not wearing headsets? Yes, according to Shannon. There’s this continuum between fully digital and fully physical. There’s the physical world with no digital at all. And then there’s the mix of the two, and then you end up all the way over to fully digital. And that’s the virtual reality world, with the full VR headset, where we don’t see the physical world at all.
So just where along the continuum will the metaverse end up? “There’s also kind of subsets in there of PC-based metaverse experiences that are digital experiences, fully digital worlds where you’re an avatar, and I’m an avatar But we’re in a PC, so not fully immersed with a VR headset. So there’s all these different flavors. And actually, if you look at where the metaverse is being used, anything along that continuum right now,” observes Shannon.
There are many variations on the metaverse. Of course, the name itself connotes Meta, before and after the company changed its name. Those who were working in the metaverse space, just understood the word metaverse to mean augmented reality and virtual reality and all these mixes of digital and physical. Then Meta came in, and because they have the oculus, that kind of made everybody think the metaverse is virtual reality. But the two are not synonymous, and the metaverse extends beyond just the gamer demographic, asserts Shannon.
“I think what’s best for understanding how the metaverse is going to transform our lives is to talk about some of the things that it can do,” she says. “Imagine the combination of digital with the physical world with the power of generative AI, democratizing computing. This is actually where the magic is really going to happen.”
She continues, “Just imagine a world in which you have glasses that kind of do a lot of the functions that your smartphone does. But it’s hooked into generative AI, not just that it can produce text, but that can code Open AI. The company also has a product, not just ChatGPT, such as one called Codex, which lets you use natural language to describe a program that you want, and then it will write that program for you. It’ll select the appropriate computer code. And it’ll write the program. Imagine I come into this [FEI] conference and I go, and I look around, I don’t know anybody’s name here. And I was like ‘glasses, write me a program in which, if I speak to anyone for more than thirty seconds, you take a picture of them and flash a light so they know that that’s happening.’ And then I can get and match up against the FEI, permission granted, of course, a database of who was here, and then give me a list at the end of the day of the people I had major interactions with. And so that just came to me. I just had that idea. I told my glasses to write that program, to create that app. That’s the kind of world that we’re going to be in.”
But despite the anticipation, just when might this happen? The democratization of computing genuinely is speeding things up. For Shannon, she sees none of this coming until about the end of the decade because there’s a lot of technical stuff that needs to come in first. So where are we in terms of the development of the metaverse?
“We’re so early in this world. And we just have a lot more media. Is that what it is? People saw how transformative the Internet was. There’s this massive expectation on the metaverse to be as transformative, and it will be. It’s just we have to get some of the details set up first.”
Introducing the Virtual Natives
Shannon also has another book coming out focused on Gen Z. Co-authored with Catherine Henry, the name of the second book, which will come out in September, is called Virtual Natives.
Shannon further notes that we had the digital natives 20 years ago, who were the kids who had grown up with the Internet. Today, what happens when we have the virtual natives—the kids who grew up trying to tap and swipe a magazine page because they were already used to an iPad before they even knew what language was?
“It’s astonishing because these children genuinely are living in these virtual worlds and making money there. And by the time they come to your average employee or your average company, they have their own brand, they have their own followers. They have a much better sense of their identity and value. The corporations of the world are not ready for this. The unique thing about the virtual natives is that they have power like no other generation before.”
“Understanding that Gen Z speaks video, that’s really key,” says Shannon.
See the video for more on the virtual natives, the metaverse and the rest of Seth Adler’s conversation with Leslie Shannon.