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- Facebook announced in October it will be hiring 10,000 people to build its "metaverse."
- Experts say the metaverse is a rebranding move that won't really impact the way we work.
- But it might create new ways to earn money, as YouTube and TikTok fueled creators.
The "metaverse" is, if billionaire tech CEOs are to be believed, going to revolutionize the way we interact.
Is it going to change the way we work?
The term metaverse is "deliberately vague," according to associate professor at UCL, Jean-Philippe Vergne, because "depending on who is using it, it means different things."
Nick Pringle, creative boss at agency R/GA, says the metaverse is the move from "scrolling to strolling."
"If we look at Instagram, or social media, we've scrolled forever, that's what we've done, but we're going to move into strolling around space," he said. "A kind of three-dimensional space, so that's one definition. The other one is virtual worlds that you explore as an avatar."
Facebook has popularized the term metaverse, after announcing in October that it was changing its name to Meta, and hiring 10,000 people in Europe to help build it. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during its Oculus Connect event: "From now on, we'll be metaverse first, not Facebook first."
Other firms have also jumped on the term.
Vergne isn't that convinced by the metaverse hype. "I think it is a corporate PR move by Zuckerberg," he said, pointing to the core Facebook platform's reputational issues and its ageing user base.
Both Vergne and Pringle suggest the metaverse can't directly replicate the office, despite Facebook and Microsoft trying to demonstrate how the tech could be used for productivity.
"This is not something that will become a general way to work and to have meetings with colleagues anytime soon," predicted Vergne. "There is no clear additional value at this point, to be derived from forcing everyone to wear a headset and have a 3D rendering of your colleagues."
The metaverse won't change white-collar work — but it might create new economies
But both Pringle and Vergne think the metaverse and associated technologies may foster new ways of earning money.
"The big paradigm shift we've seen this year is with ownership and earning," said Pringle, referring to the rise of digital assets such as NFTs. "I think those are the two huge things that have changed, so I can own digital assets and I can earn from my time spent in digital worlds. That's a whole new economy."
The techno utopian vision is that the metaverse could reduce barriers to earning. Both Pringle and Vergne pointed to Axie Infinity, a Pokemon-like ethereum-based game that has drawn in players in emerging economies who are aiming to convert their virtual assets into tokens, which can then be sold on third-party exchanges.
"There are new jobs happening in these spaces, which are not location-dependent at all," said Pringle, who adds that the metaverse may create new digital-specific vocations like creators of 3D assets and avatars; content moderators; and even digital pirates.
Vergne is skeptical that Facebook will provide the primary technology that underpins the metaverse, but agrees that projects like Axie Infinity are a major trend.
The metaverse, or at least virtual reality, may evolve to have some useful, specific applications for the real world, je added.
"A lot of mechanical technicians and engineers are developing a way of using augmented reality equipment to support their work in maintaining and repairing technology, vehicles, etc.," he said.
But the idea that the metaverse will be central to productivity probably isn't correct, said Pringle.
"I don't think that is where the real excitement is around the metaverse," he said. "I think the excitement is around entertainment, and individuals having ownership and being able to earn and create value. That is where the energy is."
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