Into the Metaverse
By now, you’ve probably heard the term "metaverse" mentioned on social media, in your friend groups, or even on the news. But how much do people really know about the history of this futuristic concept of an all-encompassing virtual reality?
It’s not just Facebook’s push for their own metaverse, and renaming themselves Meta, that brought the term to the forefront of our minds. When COVID hit, and we found ourselves stuck inside with little else to do but bake sourdough bread and panic buy toilet paper from Instacart, the idea of a metaverse really exploded. It became more of a need than a want. Our desire to connect with others was at an all time high, when our ability to socialize in person was at an all time low. But when did the concept of a metaverse really come into play in the modern zeitgeist? You might be surprised that it was actually almost 100 years ago.
Would you believe that the term “virtual reality” was first used in the 1930s? It’s hard to wrap our minds around, as most of us consider virtual reality a modern invention that rose with the advent of computers and the technological boom of the 21st century. But the term actually appeared for the first time in an essay by French writer Antonin Artaud, describing how Artaud pictured the future of theatre. Artuad probably couldn’t imagine his concept would be utilized in a metaverse of people from around the world connecting through technology from the comfort of their own homes!
If we’re focusing on the word metaverse specifically, the term seemed to have been coined by writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash.” Stephenson’s vision of a metaverse was a communal virtual space that connects multiple virtual worlds with the use of the internet and augmented reality. In the novel, the metaverse has offices, street names, sound familiar? It’s not surprising to learn that “Snow Crash” was hugely influential to Zuckerberg, and was once considered one of his favorite books.
The term lay dormant for a while until it exploded in 2003 with the creation of the first real metaverse: Second Life. In this virtual world, you can create an avatar for yourself and have a so-called ‘second life.’ It’s not a game, with a story or an objective, but rather a place where people can go to create worlds of their own, assume roles they wouldn’t normally in their real lives, and connect with others. From then on, it was a cascade of new, popular metaverses. The ridiculously popular game Fornite is on its way to creating its own metaverse, and with the way kids are connecting through the game, it looks like it will have no trouble. We also have Roblox and Microsoft Mesh — and soon, we’ll have Meta’s Horizon World.
In March 2021, the term metaverse actually reached 100, according to the Google Trends index. For some context, it had previously never surpassed 7 between 2005 and 2020. It looks like the continuous advancement of technology, and Facebook’s push for a new and never-before-seen virtual community have sparked a frenetic interest in the metaverse that will probably only grow in the years to come.