Back to the future: A brief history of the Metaverse
From the stereoscope to decentraliized Metaverse, a dive into the past of what will change the future
We humans have long been a creative bunch, and the limitless nature of our clever spirits has led to our evolution from small groups of hunter-gatherers to mighty civilizations thriving with technological innovations whose aim is to see the world beyond ourselves.
The metaverse is the latest step in human innovation, an attempt to transcend the boundaries of our reality into a 3D virtual realm whose only borders are the limits of our imagination, which is to say, none.
While the hype around the metaverse has only grown rampant in recent years, fueled by the rise of blockchain technology and the Web 3.0 movement, its history goes much further than we might imagine. So grab your favorite drink, and picture the voice of Sir David Attenborough, as I take you on a journey back in time to discover the phases of a concept that may change human civilization forever.
The first 3D headset
When we think of a 3D headset, the first images that come to mind are probably Facebook’s Oculus or Sony’s Playstation VR headsets. But what if I told you that the first 3D headset was conceived almost 200 years ago when people were still riding caravans to work and using snake oil to treat cancer?
Once upon a cold London night in 1838, a light bulb popped in the head of a brilliant man as he was studying the science of binocular vision. He figured out that if we projected left-eye and right-eye vision on the same scene through different lenses, people would see the scene in an augmented three-dimensional shape. And so, in 1838, Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the stereoscope, or the first 3D headset.
The stereoscope is the founding idea behind modern VR headsets, which use the same concept of depth to create an illusion of a 3D image.
Enter Virtual Reality
Fast forward to 1956, when the craze of technological development was at its peak amid the heat of a contest between the United States and the USSR.
At this stage, American scientist Morton Heilig transformed his Brooklyn motorcycle ride into a shared experience through the Sensorama, the first VR machine. This immersive experience was a creative mashup that included a 3D video with surrounding sounds, scents, and a vibrating chair.
Soon after, thanks to many tech developments, in the 1970s, MIT created “The Interactive Movie Map — A Surrogate Travel System” enabling users to take a computer-generated tour of the town of Aspen, Colorado.
The Colorado experiment marked the first milestone for humans to dive into a transcendent virtual experience where we utilize VR technologies to transport humans to a new environment, and allow them to move through seasonal changes, or navigate through the streets of Aspen.
Coining ‘The Metaverse’
Drum roll, time for the big reveal! 🥁🥁
The term “metaverse” was first unveiled to the world exactly 30 years ago by a most gifted writer who goes by the name of Neal Stephenson. In his novel ‘Snow Crash,’ Stephenson depicts the story of a group of individuals integrating a simulated reality using VR machines and digital avatars of themselves to delve into the ‘Metaverse.’
The Metaverse imagined in the novel is an alternative reality where the characters use their avatars to escape the physical world into a utopian virtual one where they can enjoy several forms of entertainment, ranging from shopping to amusement parks.
Following on to another literary work that is fundamental to the creation of the metaverse, Ready Player One was published in 2011 and was so successful that renowned director Steven Spielberg adapted it into a blockbuster Hollywood film in 2018. Ernest Cline’s novel is similar in structure and tells the story of a young man who chases an easter egg in a VR game, the discovery of which would reward him with the founder’s fortune.
☝️ Web 2.0 and the Metaverse
When Facebook acquired VR headset company ‘Oculus VR’ in 2014, few speculated that the social media giant would go as far as to rebrand itself as ‘Meta’ in 2021, paving the way for it to become a metaverse pioneer in the upcoming years. The bold move from Facebook has served as a catalyst for the Metaverse concept to become mainstream and for several other Silicon Valley giants to start questioning their strategies for the future. As such, Microsoft is working towards building Mesh, a tool that will integrate a metaverse feature into its Teams software, allowing employees to interact in a digital environment during meetings. Similarly, Apple is reportedly building its own VR/AR headset as its gateway to the metaverse.
But, thats only one side of the coin.
Back in 2015, in the peak of the online social boom and start of the global awareness of the decentralized technologies, the concept around the very first metaverse we know today started.
In layman’s terms, Decentraland is a digital space that lets you navigate a virtual environment, connect with fellow digital avatars, shop or sell a commodity, and participate in various social activities. It brings reminisces of SIMS yet a much more more immersive and ‘real’ experience since it allows for ownership of assets — actually, anything that is available in the physical world can be found here. With a first auction back in 2017, and above 161.4 million LAND Parcels sold — Decentraland enabled anyone to own an estate on the blockchain and, as such — to start a new virtual business and earn continuously.
Both worlds collide together to build the metaverse we know today.
Web 2.0 tech giants have massive user bases with a significant head start in customer experience, multi-product ecosystems, internal resources and technical sophistication.
Web3 upstarts have raised incredible amounts of funding and are building new, token-based business models that facilitate real digital ownership, composability and cross-platform digital identity; carrying the potential for an exponential growth flywheel.
🤘 Web 3.0 and the Metaverse
While the terms are often used interchangeably, Web 3.0 and the Metaverse are two distinct concepts that are not to be confused. Web 3.0 is the next iteration of the internet, a generation built on the idea of making the web decentralized and user-centric rather than focused on a single point of failure. The Metaverse is an evolution of the internet into an immersive augmented reality experience that integrates all societal activities, from work to sleep to entertainment, into a unified virtual world.
Despite not being technically synonymous, Web 3.0 and the Metaverse are still two peas in a pod, and that pod is called blockchain technology. Web 3.0 is built on the pillars of blockchain technology, the founding stone of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, which run the economy of the metaverse all the way from real estate to shoe laces.
The metaverse may sound like a futuristic utopia that only exists in a small corner of a science fiction writer’s imagination, but some fail to understand the extraordinary tech innovations underlaying what we now know as metaverse!
The metaverse economy is already worth $47.48 billion and is expected to grow to $678 billion by 2030. Numerous metaverse-native companies such as Decentraland have already evolved into billion-dollar companies. Furthermore, governments and institutions embrace the metaverse through investments and policy recommendations to integrate the concept into their economies. For instance, the government of Dubai announced that it aims to create 40,000 metaverse jobs in the next 5 years, adding $4 billion to the region’s economy.
The space is brimming with opportunities for growth both gon the individual and project level:
And, as we all know, the metaverse is still in its infancy, yet its growth will be fast and exponential, changing the foundations of many industries for good.
Technology and innovation are pushing the boundaries and craft layers of the physical world in the digital space. Believing in the principle of no single metaverse, we are on a path of building new virtual worlds and creating a backbone technology that connects them together. That said, there is still a long way to go both on the software and hardware side, but I am just certain that the future is bright.’ — Josip Vlah, RZLT NFT Lead
Reed, N. (2022, March 25). A brief metaverse history: from where it started, to today — Parker Software. Parker Software; www.parkersoftware.com. https://www.parkersoftware.com/blog/a-brief-metaverse-history-from-where-it-started-to-today/
Origins Of The Metaverse — Metaverse World Builders. (2021, January 1). Metaverse World Builders; www.metaverseworldbuilders.com. https://www.metaverseworldbuilders.com/origins-of-the-metaverse/
What Is The Metaverse: Origin, Platforms, Future, Warnings? (2022, April 7). What Is The Metaverse: Origin, Platforms, Future, Warnings?; www.bankoncube.com. https://www.bankoncube.com/post/what-is-the-metaverse
Minevich, M. (2022, June 17). The Metaverse And Web3 Creating Value In The Future Digital Economy. Forbes; www.forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markminevich/2022/06/17/the-metaverse-and-web3-creating-value-in-the-future-digital-economy/?sh=56023b467785
Salim, S. (2022, July 18). Dubai: Over 40,000 virtual jobs to be created as new metaverse strategy announced — News | Khaleej Times. Khaleej Times; www.khaleejtimes.com. https://www.khaleejtimes.com/jobs/dubai-over-40000-virtual-jobs-to-be-created-as-new-metaverse-strategy-announced?_refresh=true
Marr, B. (2022, March 28). A Short History Of The Metaverse. Bernard Marr; bernardmarr.com. https://bernardmarr.com/a-short-history-of-the-metaverse/
Sir Charles Wheatstone | British physicist. (2022, June 0). Encyclopedia Britannica; www.britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Wheatstone
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