THE METAVERSE PAPERS


It goes without saying the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a shift from physical to virtual communication bringing with it digital environments for us to enjoy social experiences from behind screens and across digital networks. Whether we know it or not, these digital spaces have come to form the renaissance of the Metaverse; a period that has witnessed as big a shift in online communication as the telephone or the internet. 

The word in its truest form is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning beyond) and “universe”. The term defines the myriad concepts of future iterations of the internet made up of 3D virtual spaces bound into a perceived, virtual universe. Without leaving your front door the Metaverse is accessible through platforms we are all too familiar with in 2021: Zoom, Minecraft and Fortnite to name but a few. Within the creative sphere, the new era of the Metaverse will bring to form new frontiers to foster a civil digital society with endless potential for live experience, interactivity and immersive environments. 

Unlike our reality, the Metaverse creates an economic system independent of Fiat based economies controlled by nation states offering its own economy and currencies where a government is not required to mediate transactions and impose controls on borrowing, investing or lending. The Metaverse economy creates commerce and peer-to-peer marketplaces with incentives for users to shape the communities by creating and seeking products and services themselves. 

As technologies advance, there are two versions of the Metaverse predicted to evolve: one of closed platforms and Big Tech and the other built on open protocols, their characteristics defined not just by technological choice but whether they allow fluid transitions of value outside of their ecosystem and how this activity will interact with Fiat based systems. 

To the untrained eye, this proposal for a virtual universe may seem unconvincing, however there are distinct technology trends that are beginning to converge to demonstrate the compatibility between VR, AR and AI to create a new internet thanks to block-chain technology and the open, economic systems they enable. Perhaps one of the most promising interaction is between Web 3 and the Open Metaverse, a key to a decentralised evolution of the internet, using technology to create trustless systems, wrest power from corporations and return it to the users. 

Web 3 is a return to the vision of the early internet, modernised and built on top of crypto-economic networks like Bitcoin. Perhaps it’s most significant attribute is that data is self governed and users can adopt a “self-sovereign identity” to enable a direct connection between suppliers and consumers. Web 3 is about creating a public record owned by the user (blockchain) and letting them take it with them and profit from it, wherever they go on the web (interoperability). 

Web 3 evolves and impregnates the Open Metaverse to create a virtual world in which ‘the user is the platform’. (8) With a toolbox of principles, protocols and standards, Web 3 enables ‘modern mutual’ ownership, peer-to-peer communication, future proofing of entrepreneurial ad investment activities and the self governance of our own data and digital footprints. Enabling decentralised, autonomous commerce across the Metaverse has positively contributed to the creator economy context, rewarding activity on the Metaverse with NFTS which can in turn have value on the open market. The Metaverse requires everyone to be able to create and contribute ‘content’ and ‘experiences, not just well-staffed organisations and technically skilled individuals. 

User experience in Web 3 is still in it’s development stages as it promotes a shift away from the comfortability of Web 2 and our knowledge of it. Therefore, the Open Metaverse is best understood as an evolving universe to preserve personal, digital assets and create a common operating system between the hardware, application software and the user. 

Within the context of the art market, digital art will flourish on such platforms bringing audiences closer together in turn, enabling stakeholders to benefit from this proximity. Technology frequently produces surprises that nobody predicts; however, the biggest developments are often anticipated decades in advance. The Open Metaverse is no exception and its unveiling to the wider world will be calculated and measured as different products, services and capabilities integrate and meld together.  

Ultimately, the Metaverse is constituted of visions, technologies and capabilities much akin to science fiction than to real life. Too much of it remains unclear to make any certain convictions, but what is apparent is that we are only just scratching the surface. 

Article written for Electric Artefacts, Digital Arts Agency, 2021. 





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