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Opinion: Big investments in metaverse will alter industries 

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Right out of a futuristic fiction novel, the metaverse is now a reality living as an integrated system of virtual online worlds. Corporate pioneers of the metaverse are investing billions of dollars to capture the new infotech frontier. 

With special headsets that cover the eyes, users can experience the metaverse through either virtual reality or augmented reality. Virtual reality allows users to trade out their current surroundings for a new fabricated world with a 360-degree view. In augmented reality, a headset adds objects to current surroundings. 

In the metaverse, users can create their own worlds. Have you always wanted to own a nice, cozy place on the side of an asteroid hurling through space? Well, now you can. Users can also trade out who they are in their real life for avatars who live in the metaverse as their alter egos. 

The term metaverse was first introduced in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in his novel “Snow Crash.” In the book, the characters used special goggles to experience an imaginary world to escape the real-world corporate takeover of government. 

There are practical purposes for VR and AR that span education, gaming and social interactions, and they’ll likely reach areas yet to be explored. Technology companies have recognized the mass appeal and have made sizeable investments for advancements. 

Facebook has bet big on the metaverse. The company went so far as to change its name to Meta Platforms Inc. in October 2021, recently updating its stock symbol (Nasdaq: META) to match. According to reports, last year Meta invested $10 billion into the metaverse, and officials said it expects to bleed cash for the next three to five years while it continues to invest in the space. In 2021, Meta sold over 10 million of its Quest 2 VR headsets. However, at the annual shareholders meeting earlier this year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the Meta board are reported as saying some of its new products will not be ready for market for 10-15 years. 

Another key player entering the metaverse is Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). In January, the company announced plans to acquire gaming giant Activision-Blizzard Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI), representing its largest purchase to date with a price tag of nearly $69 billion. Activision is most known for its games, creating such hits as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush. 

The World of Warcraft game, for example, allows individuals anywhere in the world to form social groups or band together to fight enemies using avatars in a virtual world; the game has 4.8 million subscribers. Microsoft’s purchase of Activision seems like a logical choice to acquire users in preparation for the expansion of its metaverse investment. 

There are avenues where VR and AR could intersect with the real world, including live music experiences, hosting “in-person” meetings, gaming, science, education and other means of connecting people. The integration of blockchain technology and advertising will monetize the metaverse. 

The metaverse could very well pioneer new methods of education. Imagine being transported back to the land of the dinosaurs, marveling at the corridors of the Colosseum in ancient Rome, walking the grass around prehistoric Stonehenge, floating through space like an astronaut on the International Space Station or studying the human brain from the inside. This technology is available today and enhancements are continuous.  

With a minimum recommended age of 7 years old, given the newness of this technology and growing global adaptation, more research is needed to determine the impact that this could have on the developing brains of children, the possibility for ocular impairment and effects on real-life social skills. Parents should limit the time usage and remain vigilant on what information – or misinformation – their children are being fed.  

With back to school in full swing and the incredible advancements in technology, it’s fascinating to think that maybe your child’s job has yet to be invented. 

Andy Drennen is a certified financial planner and senior portfolio manager at Simmons Private Wealth in Springfield. He can be reached at andy.drennen@simmonsbank.com

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