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Bondee and Your Questions About The Metaverse

Imagine being on a wooden pedal boat in the middle of the vast ocean, staring into the distance and admiring the sun setting into the horizon. The gentle roaring of the wind and waves can be heard in the distance, and the occasional squawking of a passing seagull chiming in your ears. The next moment, you’re in your own personal space, decorated with your most prized possession. Around you, your neighbours are congregated together and engaged in their own activities. If you’re familiar with these experiences, you’ve probably hopped on the Bondee bandwagon a couple months ago; except, these aren’t exactly your experiences.

The metaverse has become a hot topic over the recent years. In 2021, there was a 7,200% increase in internet searches for the term. And whether we’re hyped up about it personally or not, research by McKinsey, a consulting firm, found that more than half of consumers are excited about shifting everyday activities to the metaverse, including shopping, exercising and dating.

What Exactly is the Metaverse?
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, announcing the rebranding of Facebook as Meta (Source: CNET)

If you’ve come across Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual character when he was announcing the rebranding of Facebook as Meta, the concept of the metaverse is not too far from that. Generally speaking, metaverse overlaps with virtual reality (VR)—where virtual worlds exist even when we’re not playing— and augmented reality (AR), incorporating aspects of the digital and physical world.

Experts likened the metaverse as a “3D model of the internet”; it’s basically a parallel world to the physical world, where our digital lives play out. We can meet and interact with our friends in the metaverse and engage in a variety of activities through our avatars in a virtual, digital world. For instance, the recently hyped-up social app Bondee by Singaporean-based tech firm Metadream, allows us to interact with up to 50 friends in a “virtual plaza”. Using our uniquely customised avatars, we can sit on a swing with our companions or sail away into the digital ocean.

The metaverse is similar to VR or AR; however, these metaverse worlds can be accessed through a variety of devices, including our phones and PCs. Virtual worlds like Fortnite, which can be accessed via PC, have started to refer to themselves as the term “metaverse”. Similarly, Bondee doesn’t require us to utilise VR or AR devices to hang out with a friend but instead can be done on our phones.

However, what the term really means hasn’t gotten any clearer since Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement. It’s ultimately a vague and complex concept still. An article by WIRED gives an analogy to illustrate its complexity:

Mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace.” Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won't substantially change. That's because the term doesn't really refer to any one specific type of technology, but rather a broad (and often speculative) shift in how we interact with technology. And it's entirely possible that the term itself will eventually become just as antiquated, even as the specific technology it once described becomes commonplace.

Is the Metaverse Good?
Meta’s conceptualisation of how the metaverse can help improve decision-making in healthcare (Source: Meta)

As the metaverse becomes increasingly popular alongside its AI counterparts like ChatGPT, there’s tons of debates on the implications of metaverse on the world. After all, the prevalence of the Internet and smart devices revolutionised the world in more ways than one.

According to Meta (the company), our society today has positive benefits to gain. The metaverse allows us to gain new experiences, including immersive education and training. Through 3D immersion, Meta believes that we can deepen knowledge and information absorption, which allows learning and discovery to be taken up a notch.

Indeed, utilising AR and VR technology to create immersive educational experiences has already been done. In Poland, teachers are using the VR game Half-Life: Alyx to conduct science lessons, while companies like Skanska use VR technology to conduct health and safety training. With the metaverse, it is likely that students can traverse different locations and times to learn by experience, enhancing the impact of education that the traditional textbooks cannot offer.

VR games like Half-life: Alyx was used in schools in Poland to teach languages, maths and sciences. (Source: Upload VR)

Outside of learning, the metaverse can change our forms of entertainment. While virtual concerts have become prevalent especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we may be able to wear VR goggles or enter the metaverse to spectate our favourite football matches or concerts. Likewise, VR gears allow us to be immersed within franchises such as Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto, as if we were physically in the game. In music, virtual concerts have been performed by DJ Marshmello and Trevor Scott in Fortnite, while popular K-pop group BTS did a first-of-its-kind performance on Minecraft.

With the popularity of the metaverse, corporations have taken to incorporating this concept to provide an immersive shopping experience. Already, we’re seeing AR technologies such as IKEA’s Place app to allow us to see how different furnitures look like in our space. L’Oreal also has functions that enable us to virtually try makeup so we could pick the perfect shade.

Is the Metaverse Bad?
The metaverse allows surgeons to practice hundreds of times before seeing real patients. But at what cost? (Source: Meta)

However, the metaverse has its own drawbacks that we should be concerned about. While we can enjoy the metaverse and its benefits to learning, entertainment, productivity and more, challenges persist and are up for debate.

Firstly, just like social media platforms, the metaverse is bound to collect personal data. Currently, our data on social media platforms can be used for personalised ads, customer analysis and more. Knowing how much more immersive the metaverse can be, it’s likely that more data will be collected than we’re comfortable with. This could even include eye-tracking, physical reactions and haptics. Moreover, companies collecting these data can potentially exploit our extensively collected data as a form of revenue. Thus, protecting our personal data and privacy would be one of the top concerns faced.

Next, an increasingly tech-savvy generation implies that younger individuals are exposed to technology and the Internet. Compared to the early 2000s, children as young as 3 years old can get their hands on a smart gadget. While technology has its benefits for the young, existing technologies pose issues such as inappropriate content, oversharing of personal details or falling prey to harmful strangers. To worsen this situation, us adults are still exploring this new field of technology, and we know even less about the potential impact the metaverse will have on our young ones. Hence, protecting children, in terms of what they are doing and seeing in the metaverse, will be as much of a priority as protecting children on the Internet today.

On that note, the metaverse being a separate entity from our physical world poses a grey area in the regulatory aspect. Developers and authorities would have to define what is right and just in this new digital realm to protect all its users. Though it sounds dystopian, virtual crimes have already existed in the form of cyberbullying, hacking or cyberscams, and the metaverse has the potential to perpetuate existing crimes. In the same vein, another concern of verifying and protecting the identity of the user comes together with the development of virtual avatars.

There are a multitude of other issues that can be posed when we delve further into the metaverse. Inequality to access to the metaverse to enjoy its benefits, being unable to distinguish between the meta-world and the physical world, and even desensitation to social issues such as racism are causes for concern.

Virtual concert in Minecraft by K-pop artist BTS. (Source: Music Ally)

In the end, the metaverse is similar to the invention of the Internet and social media; it is something foreign, and only time will tell if society will truly reap its benefits or face the consequences of its problems. Much is unknown about this technology and what runs behind it. However, as the metaverse develops further and becomes a part of our reality, our resilience to adapt and the cautiousness to tread carefully becomes an important skill to navigate the unknown technological future of the world.

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