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Differences Between the Metaverse and the Internet

In the fourth quarter of 2021, Facebook created ripples throughout social media when it announced a name change to Meta. Adopting a sci-fi term long used in novels and comic books, Meta seeks to rebrand itself as more than a social media company and with virtual reality as an emphasis.

The Internet

The internet is a vast worldwide network that connects billions of computers and other devices. These devices are often members of their own networks, which is why the internet has often been referred to as a network of networks.

The internet was first established in the United States some time during the 1970s. However, it was not available to the general public until the early 1990s, and it would take another decade or so before the internet as we know began to take shape.

Connecting a device to the internet is referred to going online, and once online, you have access to any of the data made available by other devices also online. While many of us now think of internet access in terms of wireless connections, the internet, as is, is very much reliant on a global network of physical cables.

The Metaverse

The concept of a metaverse as used by Facebook is not new. In fact, the concept was first referred to as cyberspace, a term William Gibson coined in an Omni magazine story in 1982 that would later become his iconic Neuromancer novel.

A decade later, author Neal Stephenson coined the term metaverse in his novel Snow Crash, and how he envisioned it is perhaps closer to how Mark Zuckerberg and his team envision it.

Think of the metaverse as a digital world that requires the internet as a foundation but which represents users with avatars and allows them to socialize with other avatars, move to and from digital spaces and interact with a practically limitless array of digital objects.

Internet vs. Metaverse

There is no one or the other when it comes to the internet and metaverse. While the internet could exist and has without the metaverse, the metaverse could not be realized without the internet or at least a suitable alternative.

The internet provides an architecture through which you can interact. It describes what but not necessarily how. The World Wide Web describes how. Most people interact with the internet through browsers and apps that provide access to webpages and web services.

The metaverse is just another way to interact with the internet, and if Meta is correct in how they see this developing, we can imagine a time in which the terms internet and metaverse are very much blurred.

Realizing the Metaverse

Realizing the metaverse is a long-term project. While we already have virtual reality and can interact as an avatar with other avatars in digital spaces, we are still a long way off from the metaverse as described by Meta.

The technology is not yet sophisticated enough and certainly not affordable and accessible enough for the average user. In addition, the architecture is lacking.

Imagine shopping at a grocery virtually by walking through it, picking out items and having those products delivered. That is something that can certainly be real but requires a lot of architecture developed by a lot of different companies.

The Path Ahead

Meta estimates that it needs five to 10 more years to make key features of the metaverse mainstream. Even that seems ambitious at least within the context we currently have, such as VR devices that cost hundreds of dollars, provide access to one person and are a bit cumbersome to set up and use. But perhaps as the metaverse develops, it provides other ways for us to access these new digital spaces.

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