The term Metaverse was coined in the novel, Snowcrash
). In that novel, the Metaverse is a follow-on to the internet, a three-dimensional space where one’s avatar is a stand-in for one’s actions in a simulated world. In 2007, through the facilitation of the Accelerated Studies Foundation, scholars and industry leaders across disciplines developed a 28-page document on the future of the internet which they called the Metaverse (Smart et al. 2008, pp. 1–28
). In that study, the authors develop four aspects of the Metaverse,: augmented reality, lifelogging, mirrored worlds, and virtual reality.
3.2.1. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is that aspect of the Metaverse that gives new eyes to see the material world in an entirely different way. It is similar to lifelogging in that it seeks to add an additional layer of perception to the current experience of reality, and it is similar to mirror worlds in that it continually communicates with sensors in the environment and faces outward to an external world.
Augmented reality occurs when an individual receives an enhanced view of the physical world through the use of an AR-capable device such as a phone, headset, or glasses. These enhancements most frequently consist of information or virtual items appearing on top of what is seen as physical reality. Moreover, these layers of information can be communicated through sound, and if some of these entities are part of the Internet of Things, they may be addressed through voice.
AR seeks to bring humans closer to the world that surrounds them (Fink 2019, p. 31
). “Augmented reality…. has its historical antecedents in tools. Humanity has always sought tools to make people stronger, faster, and smarter. AR is the ultimate expression of man’s (sic)
quest for mastery. It is a tool, like a club (Fink 2018, Loc 328
)”. AR has three components: (1) it is primarily real and has virtual components, (2) the virtual components can be interacted with, and (3) the virtual items are connected to the three-dimensional real world (Fink 2019, p. 27
Smart phones will continue to develop more and more AR capability, but this particular part of the Metaverse will not fully come of age until people use smart glasses. It is thought, at the time of writing, that these will emerge, likely by Apple, in 2023 (Cronin and Scoble 2020, p. 45
). After that time, what is stored on phones today will likely move to headsets or glasses (Fink 2019, p. 79
). Other companies have introduced versions of AR glasses in the recent past (most notably, Google Glass in 2013), but those product rollouts failed for a number of reasons. Typically, it is not until Apple comes out with its signature technology that large public adoption occurs (Cronin and Scoble 2020, p. 148
). “The lenses of smart glasses will look a lot like simple eyeglasses…. These will contain tiny nano-technological screens that will appear as 90-inch TV screens six feet in front of you, creating an image density eight times greater than HDTV…. They can take something that is really in your field of view and replace it with computer-generated images that you will be able to actually touch and manipulate (Scoble and Israel 2017, Loc 285
AR includes the Internet of Things. The IoT connects home electronics to the internet by adding technology to them. Every item will have small amounts of AI for communication purposes. “The Internet of Things (IoT) is the rapidly expanding network of physical objects such as devices, vehicles, buildings and other objects that contain embedded electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity. This enables things to collect and exchange data (Scoble and Israel 2017, Loc 2868
)”. These “things” are, frequently, addressed through smart assistants in the home such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Apple’s Siri.9
Smart assistants are increasing in their ability to successfully complete commands, be it to talk to the lights, the thermostat, the door, or appliances connected to the Internet of Things. Some features include actually doing commerce through voice as well. As these assistants become smarter through AI, they will make more and more decisions. “An intelligent agent (IA) is a software agent capable of making decisions on behalf of users. Intelligent agents learn from each task they perform, thus becoming smarter over time, and eventually understanding user patterns so well that they can anticipate requests before users actually make them (Scoble and Israel 2017, Loc 2865
AR truly offers a new way to see and interact with the world. The complexity of every item is now on display. It is through AR that objects talk and become part of the home (some speak to Alexa as a family member).10
Everything becomes a subject through AR. There is an opportunity here to raise the value of what was previously considered an object, as each object now has information on it—and in some situations, can now speak. One’s divided way of seeing the world can now be overcome through experiencing communication with all things.
As with augmented reality, lifelogging is augmented as well, meaning that technologies are utilized to enhance the current practice of reality—tools are given to build on the current experience of everyday life. Moreover, lifelogging is similar to AR in that wearables will likely be worn (in unobtrusive recording devices) to capture what is going on in people’s lives (Kelly 2016, pp. 278–79
Where augmented reality is externally focused, lifelogging is personal and intimate (Smart et al. 2008, p. 14
). When people record their lives for their friend and family networks, they upload how it is they want their lives to be perceived by the world (Kim 2021, p. 11
). These “documents” are not purported to be a fair and accurate rendering of their lives, but social media affords them a way to add another angle on reality in regard to their personal lives, hence, lifelogs are not a simulation but an actual representation of their lives. Because lifelogging is subjective, it is an internal view of each one’s life rather than an external one as in AR. With VR, lifelogging is personalized; however, lifelogging coincides with one’s personal identity in the real world, whereas agency in VR is mediated through other-worldly avatars.
Lifelogging, as a term, has a recent history. Vannevar Bush, Director of the National Institute of Science in 1945, created the term to describe how people may begin to record, through technology such as cameras and recorders, many parts of their lives (Lifelogging 2021
). The most common use case of lifelogging is simply uploading elements of one’s life for the world to see. Lifelogging occurs when one creates a video in YouTube, shares pictures in Instagram11
, posts an update on Facebook, mouths a lip-sync video on Tiktok12
, or writes their own blog post. One growing platform that has become much more significant recently is Twitch.13
Designed primarily for (video) gamers who want to broadcast and narrate their gameplay, Twitch is a platform that allows users to “life stream” their day-to-day lives for others to follow. These presentations are not necessarily a 1:1 map of the reality of their lives—they unveil the version of themselves that they want the world to see (Kim 2021, p. 11
Many people are starting to conduct live streams14
of their everyday lives (closer to non-stop recording), and it is likely that this trend will continue. In the near future, people will likely record everything with a small wearable device (could be their AR glasses, could be a small lapel-like camera). The public is not currently ready for these changes, as there was reluctance to adopt earlier versions of this technology15
. However, live streaming one’s life as the norm is forecasted to grow.16
In social media, people share very freely about their own lives. The draw for connecting to others is huge, and the amount of self-disclosure is unprecedented. After posting comes the waiting. First one records their life, through words, images, videos, and this is followed by posting these contributions, and, then, after the posting, they wait for their community to comment on these same words, images, and videos. Anticipating the responses of one’s friends and followers plays a significant part of many people’s lives today (Kim 2021, p. 66
Another way people record their lives is through “tracking” apps.17
There are apps that focus on fitness, nutrition, wellness, meditation, sleep, overall health monitoring, to name a few. People track themselves typically through a mobile device such as a digital watch or phone. The recording, tracking, and analysis of all data about themselves has become a regular routine for many.
Lifelogging is a core part of the Metaverse going forward and is full of “sacred hotspots” (Delio 2020, p. 180
). It truly is a watershed for humanity that so many people have the ability to disclose intimate details of their lives with such a wide global community. Any medium that allows one to see the world through the eyes of another and offers a glimpse of how others see their day-to-day reality is a potential gift to all. For that reason, posthuman mystics see lifelogging as seeds for the creation of holy spaces.
3.2.3. Mirror Worlds
Mirror worlds are that part of the Metaverse that create a digital twin of the Earth for immersive experiences. Mirror worlds are similar to virtual worlds in that they are modeling a world as accurately as possible, to be experienced in three dimensions. The only difference is that mirror worlds are modeling the Earth, and VR is modeling an alternative world. A similarity is that both are immersive simulated worlds. In VR, each one’s avatar does not represent the real-world version of them, but in mirror worlds each one’s avatar does represent their real-world self.
Up to this time, Google Earth, presented in 2005, has been the most significant effort to map the Earth digitally (Smart et al. 2008, p. 9
). Google maps have conducted a huge portion of the work in regard to mapping the world in both two dimensions and in visual aspects of three dimensions, especially helping drivers on the roads (Kim 2021, p. 104
). Just as with body tracking apps, geographically based apps are constantly updated and offer the latest information. For many, apps such as Waze18
and Google maps give constantly updated information on the world.
Mirror worlds are primarily built on Earth maps, and so, similar to AR, the focus is on connecting to a real external world (Smart et al. 2008, p. 9
). Mirror worlds are where the real world is mapped in such a way that a three-dimensional rendering can occur. Some call this AR Clouds19
, others call it “digital twins”, “ubiquitous computing”, “onlife”, and others call it mirror world (Floridi 2014, p. 43
; Kelly 2019
). However, the key aspect of it is that all global public space will be mapped in a three-dimensional representation, and from that, everything digital, in regard to AR, can be built on this layer (Cronin and Scoble 2020, pp. 155–57
There are companies such as 6D.ai (now Niantic Labs) that plan to map everything in the world. They have a technology that can receive photos from a phone and add to the rendering of space already given by many others (Fink 2019, pp. 23, 145
). “Soon every stop sign, tree, pole, lane marker, restaurant sign, and far more insignificant details, will be mapped by many companies. Apple alone drove four million miles with 360-degree cameras and 3D sensors, in an attempt to make its maps better (Cronin and Scoble 2020, p. 56
Mirror worlds are any type of activity online that mimics something similar in the face-to-face world. Therefore, there are online schools that completely lack physical classrooms, a physical campus, or, in some cases, teachers. These schools may be described as campuses or classrooms, but in essence, these are two-dimensional online versions (twins) of a physical school (Kim 2021, pp. 16–17
The same goes for food apps—people order as they would at a physical restaurant, but what they are doing is ordering from a simulated two-dimensional version of a restaurant. Other two-dimensional “twins” include online fan clubs, or Zoom (for a meeting), or Airbnb (as a hotel). These businesses mimic three-dimensional reality with two-dimensional apps (Kim 2021, pp. 16–17
). Airbnb is similar to a hotel that hosts unlimited rooms for two million people a night—in reality, it is a digital twin of what a physical hotel might be (Kim 2021, pp. 110–11
With mirror worlds, object-aware sensors will be in all sorts of public spaces so as to constantly update the three-dimensional twin of the world (Smart et al. 2008, p. 17
). Self-driving cars will constantly upload actual images of what is happening, street by street (Cronin and Scoble 2020, p. 55
). Autonomous cars rely on highly accurate three-dimensional maps—e.g., the cars interact with the map, not physical reality per se—to conduct their actual driving. Each time they drive, and they see something that does not match the map (a new flagpole, road sign), these sensors update the mirror world (p. 55).
Mirror worlds are invisible without special glasses. With AR glasses, one sees a three-dimensional space with coordinates that one can manipulate (Cronin and Scoble 2020, p. 52
). What if someone wants to leave a note on a park-bench? They might write the note through verbal commands to their glasses, or even write a digital note on their phone, and then leave the digital note on the digital twin of the bench. No one will physically see it, unless they are wearing AR glasses too (and how you keep that note secure is another issue!).
Currently, warehouses and factories are being scanned with three-dimensional imaging so that everything can be placed digitally. Factories are using AR glasses in significant ways as well, e.g., put on the glasses (e.g., Microsoft HoloLens) and see where to put the box (arrows on floor, arrows on shelf…) (Fink p. 14). Even workers are scanned by sensors as to their locations. Even before they start work, new employees may be trained on a three-dimensional digital twin of the actual factory floor. Robots and automation will work off of the digital twin to conduct their work. Everything will be updated with sensors that track what has been moved since the last images were taken (Cronin and Scoble 2020, p. 194
As the real world becomes mapped (as in a three-dimensional digital twin), each person will be able to go anywhere in the mapped world through their VR headset. They may visit any mapped city, or they can visit any mapped private space if that has been mapped (such as a living room of a distant friend). Imagine when storefronts gain immersive footholds in mirror worlds—instead of visiting a web page on a browser to place an order, one would enter that store (through their avatar) stroll around, look at things, and make purchases in three-dimensional space. In addition to shopping, the idea of going to work and conversing with co-workers, etc., all the while as one’s avatar (and never leaving one’s living room) is difficult to comprehend.
3.2.4. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (or the virtual world) is the fourth building block of the Metaverse (Smart et al. 2008, p. 6
), and it is both simulated and internally focused. Similar to lifelogging, it revolves around people and their relationships: it is internal—everything works from each one’s point of view and where one has agency. Similar to mirror worlds, it is an immersive simulation, the only difference is that this is gameplay that is based on an alternative world.
Virtual reality involves both gameplay and storytelling in an immersive environment. “Virtual reality is about humanity’s quest for immersion. It provides presence and agency in other worlds, in stories and myths, and it stretches from Plato’s cave to religious rituals, theater, dark rides, theme parks, film, television, and video games (Fink 2018, Loc 328
)”. Through their avatar, one exists within the game and plays a key role in how the story develops (Smart et al. 2008, p. 6
). These types of experiences were reflected in MMORPG20
games (such as World of Warcraft)21
that allowed millions of people across the world to join and participate in online gaming. With virtual reality, it takes those dynamics that much further, and puts one in an environment so vivid and so real that one has the experience, with one’s whole body, that one is in the game, that one is a real part of the story. VR requires people to suspend their disbelief, just as one does for TV, movies, novels, etc. That suspension allows one to immerse themselves in the story itself (Fink 2018, Loc 328
In the VR world, most VR games focus on goal-oriented tasks, but there are others that are more focused on the social world (Smart et al. 2008, p. 6
). These VR experiences do not contain a story—one simply “hangs out”, as their avatar, with others in their spaces. Online platforms, such as Second Life23
and, increasingly, Fortnite25
, allows one to spend time with friends as an avatar in addition to any gameplay. Facebook, among others, is creating social VR experiences, where avatars hang out with avatars.26
In VR, interactions are limited by the avatar one chooses in the game (Smart et al. 2008, p. 6
). It governs how one can play and chances to win are determined by their working within the capabilities of an avatar.
Roblox is an online game incredibly popular with 6–16 year olds (Kim 2021, p. 155
). Children are spending more time in Roblox than any other platform, and what they are doing is “hanging out” together and playing (and creating) games. YouTube, the number one platform for Gen Z (1997–2012), lags far beyond Roblox for younger Gen Z and Gen Alpha (2012) (Kim 2021, pp. 155–56
What is different about Roblox is that it is not one game, but hundreds of thousands of games, created not by companies, but by users. The platform itself makes it very easy to create games, and these creators may then charge people to play. Similar to social media before it, Roblox does not make the content, it just hosts the platform and offers tools for regular users to make content. Some envision that this particular platform may soon provide storefronts for an entirely new type of economy, one that would not only impact the gaming world but real world economies as well.27
VR is a venue that breeds cooperation as gamers freely choose to go into another world with many others. They perform things together, as teammates, or as friends, or acquaintances in virtual games. Although every program has rules and constraints, many of these programs are designed to give as much latitude and flexibility as one needs to go in the game, while keeping to the primary story line. As mentioned, some platforms, however, will be just for socializing and so the constraints are set to a minimum.