in AR, Facebook, Human Factors, human-machine interface, Meta Platforms, metaverse, VR

To metaverse or not to metaverse…

It seems that it’s hard to get away from this term, especially in the past year and if you even remotely read any tech news these days…

Many people have many definitions of the metaverse. (Maybe that’s the point.) From what I’ve understood and read from others so far, it has spanned from being a persistent world, some element of 3D, other elements sprinkled in about real-time, interactive.

Nothing wrong there.

What is missed by the majority of metaverse industry insiders, commentators, critics and observers is that the narrative so far about this “space” has been so far too focused narrowly on the technology and the content during the experience. Proponents of the metaverse have relied on proxy adjectives to describe things that we have no concept of simply because it hasn’t been invented yet. This need for finding better ways/words to describe the metaverse has been coming up short (so far).

One hears this all the time: when people put on a pair VR goggles for the first time, even the truer skeptics, have said that they were fascinated by how “real” it was (or is).

I’d like to illustrate my point further with a couple of short thought experiments, the first:

When you unlock your mobile device today, sit down (or stand up) at your work desk and turn on the monitor to begin your day, do you pine at how silly your 2D experiences are? Do you really? Do you spend any part of your day reflecting on how the flat (2D) experience is limiting you from doing something? I think one might, on occasion, find a bug or when it’s a poor experience, you’re rage-clicking. One doesn’t put any conscious thought into it, you just do.

Let’s try yet another short thought experiment.

Think way way back to before the invention of the mouse. We have this vernacular now about “clicking” on something. But back then, clicking didn’t have this connotation of selecting something by moving your cursor and activating it with your finger (or other input method).

In both of these examples above, part of the illustration is to show just how “natural” it’s become to use screens or our mice (or is it mouses?) to get our jobs-to-be-done. But it’s only become that way, through training. Remember when you used a mouse for the first time? Remember using a touchscreen? Or taking that keyboarding class (do they still have those? I’m dating myself.)?

The key is this: the keyboard, the monitor, the mouse and other human-machine interfaces (or HMI) are just that, interfaces. They were good inventions at the time that supported our needs and bridged the gap so that the inputs could be recognized by our computing devices.

The way I see it, the metaverse is inevitable because we (humans) are bounded by the way we interface with the world around us — through our 5+ senses + movements + voice. It presents opportunities (i.e. to augment, to supplement) and unique constraints (e.g. not being able to see outside the visible spectrum). Of course there are more advanced HMI, like neuro-links that others are working hard at to prove out, but at the end of the day, our evolved human factors is the base from which we’re working with. And through this understanding of first principles, do we arrive at why the north star proxy being the “metaverse” is just a natural evolution of how we humans continue to evolve the sophistication of our tools.

In my opinion, the drive toward the metaverse is less about what we’ll experience when we’re there, but more about how we’ll interact with each other, request information, retrieve information from various sources (i.e. the internet). The what will be determined by the desire of the users (no doubt over time), the how is what will make it possible to realize it.

One success metric as I would like to put out. In previous incarnations of enhancements to HMI, we borrowed verbs or made up new ones to build our vocabulary of the interaction (e.g. clicking, a mouse). The holy grail is to be able to just use the same vocabulary that exists in our language today and that it’ll just blend into the action that one took, be it in the virtual or “real” worlds. There will be no need to stretch connotations nor any qualifications required in our language to convey that action we took in the metaverse. That’s when we’ll know we’ve arrived.

Post-script: Coincidentally, a similar description of this holy grail was also envisioned in a The Verge article today.