The metaverse, an expansive virtual world encompassing interconnected digital spaces, has captured the imagination of technologists, investors, and the general public alike. As the boundaries between physical and virtual realities blur, the metaverse promises a future where users can work, play, and connect in immersive digital environments.
But is the metaverse truly the game-changer it’s hyped up to be, or does it fall short of delivering on its lofty promises?
Dr. Giulio Toscani, a Digital Strategy Academic at ESADE, examines the concept of the metaverse and its potential impact on society in this 2023 GLOBIS seminar.
Dr. Toscani critically assesses the metaverse’s capacity for immersive experiences, highlighting the limitations posed by the absence of certain sensory inputs, such as taste, touch, and smell. While he acknowledges the potential for creating captivating virtual locations, he questions the extent to which these experiences can replicate or surpass the depth of real-life interactions.
He also delves into potential applications for the metaverse, such as employee training and onboarding.
Dr. Toscani remains skeptical about the ability of such virtual experiences to foster a genuine sense of belonging and camaraderie. He emphasizes that true connections are often formed during shared moments of stress and support, experiences that may be difficult to replicate within the confines of the metaverse.
As the metaverse continues to evolve and permeate various sectors, from gaming and entertainment to fashion, media, and retail, Dr. Toscani urges readers to approach this digital frontier with a discerning eye, contemplating the potential long-term effects on society. In an ever-changing technological landscape, it’s essential to critically examine the promises and pitfalls of emerging innovations like the metaverse, weighing their true value against the excitement that accompanies any novel concept.
Below is a partial transcript of the seminar, edited for clarity.
Does the metaverse offer truly immersive experiences?
Giulio Toscani: When you think of the metaverse, you likely envision a computer-generated environment. But what is the state of the narrative? Is it immersive?
How can something be immersive if it only engages two of the five senses? What about taste? Touch? Smell? Clearly, it’s not fully immersive.
You can create digital versions of familiar physical products to be consumed in the metaverse, but how will users perceive them?
In some scenarios, you can create somewhat immersive virtual locations. I visited Persepolis, Iran this year, which is now mostly in ruins. When I was there, I saw only broken walls. But then I used the Meta Quest, and suddenly I could see how it might have looked in the past. It was fantastic because I could really see how people lived on the streets of Persepolis.
Walking around in that environment was an incredible experience. And when I removed the Meta Quest, even the ruins seemed different. So, there are aspects of the metaverse that do offer a sense of immersion.
Are there useful applications for the metaverse?
Toscani:One potential use is employee training.
Imagine new employees entering an office and having to introduce themselves to everyone. With 30 people, they probably won’t remember any names, and the other employees may not want to be bothered. Instead, you could use the metaverse for onboarding. New employees could put on the Meta Quest, explore the company, meet people, and listen to them speak. It’s great for onboarding.
Will onboarding in the metaverse give you a sense of belonging? Of course not. You might not even get that feeling after a month or a year in the office. You gain a sense of belonging from events, such as moments of stress when you feel supported by those around you.
Will metaverse technology affect society in the long term?
Toscani: These things can happen, but we have to see how they will unfold. Which sectors will the metaverse occupy? Maybe everyone in a decade. For now, it’s just gaming, fashion, entertainment, media, and retail.
I remember my father was the first person in Italy to have a Macintosh at home in 1984. I was eleven years old, and it was interesting to play with. I could never have imagined what would happen twenty or forty years later. It’s difficult to predict what the future holds.