Concepts, technologies and products that affect the entire world from time to time emerge and are spoken from country to country, disappearing or taking their place among the norms of daily life. The concept that has occupied the agenda of the technological world, especially in recent days, stands out as the metaverse. It is difficult to predict how quickly it will take its place among the norms of life. As a unifying novelty in the digital and social world, which has now become an indispensable part of your daily life, the metaverse promises opportunities and changes that should already be considered.
First of all, if we analyze the concept, which is derived from the Greek words Meta meaning “after, beyond” and universe meaning “cosmos” in English, refers to a fictional virtual universe where the physical world and the digital world are intertwined, and all digital universes are united.
Today’s internet users can communicate with each other through various platforms and interact by joining various communities. In the new universe that is planned to be developed, the aim is to do everything he or she does in physical life, in this virtual universe; that is the transformation of communication into an experience with virtual reality and augmented reality applications, virtualizing our physical existence, almost as if a digital twin, our avatar traveling in this new universe, playing games, working, shopping, even having fun. Although all this is still a dream in the process of being realized with today’s technology, the idea of the Metaverse has never seemed so real to me since the day it first came to mind… Those who say that this is delusional will not be those who predict the future.
The concept of metaverse was first encountered in the award-winning science fiction writer Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, which was translated into Turkish as Parasite. Unfortunately, I cannot read such books due to my workload. I learned from my friends that Stephenson writes 600-700
–page novels about the future. In the novel in question, a virtual universe in which people are represented by their avatars is the subject, and the concept of the metaverse is voiced. Actually, I don’t think we heard about this for the first time from Neal Stephenson. Isn’t fiction created to define this new universe in the Matrix, Tron, Total Recall, Black Mirror movies, and TV series that I watched with interest? The movie that most clearly enlivened the definition of the metaverse in our minds was the movie Ready Player One (Start), which was released in 2018 and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film tells the story of a young man who goes to the virtual reality universe Oasis to get away from the troubles he experiences in the physical world. Although the story is generally a classic struggle between good and evil, the universe in which the story takes place was of a kind that would make it easier to visualize in our minds the Metaverse realm, which has the potential to swallow even physical reality in the coming years.
At this moment, I should also point out that my first encounter with this metaverse universe was through the tales my late grandmother told me. At that time, stories were told about saints regarding extraordinary situations such as going to a distant place at once, living in a moment for a very long time, being in more than one place at the same time. (thaumaturgical teleportation) (1)
What brought the concept of the metaverse, which had only been on the agenda in movies and mostly games before, to the agenda of the whole world was: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook announcing in an online meeting with investors (2) that he wanted to transform Facebook beyond being a social media company into a company that offers a virtual world close to reality. To focus on this goal, Facebook’s name was changed to Meta a short time ago. Zuckerberg claims that he made the name change to permanently change the company’s route towards the metaverse and create a new vision, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that data crises such as Cambridge Analytica, which Facebook was also involved in, also played a role in this change so as to ease the burden on the aging tech giant.
Zuckerberg, who allocates an annual budget of 10 billion dollars to create the Metaverse world, says that the future of the internet is in the Metaverse concept, existing content can only be accessed, but with this concept, the internet will be tangible and accessible thanks to mixed reality. Zuckerberg bought the Oculus VR Company, which specializes in virtual reality headsets and software, for 2 billion US dollars in 2014, and in the following periods, he made moves to add depth to the company in this area by purchasing a game studio, BigBox VR besides investing in AR glasses and wristbands. Oculus VR version 2 is said to be more successful and causes less of a headache in long-term use.
If we compare this new universe, which Zuckerberg describes as the future of the internet, with our current experiences, today, data/content on the internet is mutually shared between users and publishers. However, in the new universe, it is thought to be direct interaction with 3D content beyond pure text or video content and content can be experienced beyond reading and seeing. For example, you can view a piece of art we exhibited at Contemporary Istanbul only on screens in the Web 3.0 world
, and you can read an article about the work. When the metaverse universe is realized, information about the related work will appear on the glass of the you are using and you will be able to experience the work by entering the virtual hall where the work is located.
As far as I know, it is planned to appeal to the eye with Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality applications in the early stages of this universe. However, when supported with wearable technology products in the next phases, objects will be felt at the same time. (3) Indeed, although it is difficult to imagine today, a remarkable future awaits us in terms of showing what man is capable of.
We encounter new technologies every day, but the adaptation of people to these technologies is sometimes determined by the flow of life that goes out of routine. Virtual meetings, which were not preferred before the COVID-19 epidemic, became the lifeline of all of us who had to stay at home due to epidemic concerns, and serious developments were made in this area as the effects of the epidemic extended, and virtual meetings became the new normal of the business world.
I don’t know if it caught your attention; Facebook trying to turn the crisis into an opportunity held a press conference by evaluating the increasing awareness of the companies and introduced the Horizon Workrooms application produced for the Oculus Quest VR headset at the meeting. Stating that video-connected meetings compressed onto a flat screen were developed in a virtual reality environment to create the feeling of meeting face-to-face in the same office, Zuckerberg stated that the meetings held with Horizon Workrooms offer an interactive world due to the use of body language provided by the application, as well as the ability to convey emotion with gestures and facial expressions. Could “Metaverse Presentation” be the top image to sell this new app? Technology companies connect the business so much with technology that they start and finish everything with technology, you suspect, but I am sure that this revolution is close; look, even my grandmother was talking about it in the last century.
For example, for Teams, another application that we all frequently use for digital meetings, Microsoft also announced a new Metaverse solution, Mesh. In the statement made by Microsoft, it was stated that (4) with Mesh, they aim to create a mixed reality environment where employees participating in Teams meetings from different physical environments can join the meetings with their avatars, work on the same document, and chat.
So, at what stage are we in realizing the Metaverse Dream?
Facebook (now Meta) and Microsoft stand out among the institutions interested in the metaverse, but these two technology giants are not the only ones investing in this technology. We know that Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who believes that metaverse will change the game world from end to end, has also collected 1 billion dollars investment from investors by sharing the company’s Metaverse vision. (5)
Metaverse activity is also experienced in Roblox, an online game development platform that allows users to program new games and other users to play these games. Aiming not to miss the Z generation, especially by investing in the ecosystem already, Nike applied to the Patent and Trademark Office for its virtual products and asked for their products to be registered. In addition, global brands such as Nike, Gucci, and Lego have started to offer virtual store experiences on the Roblox platform.
When we put all these developments on top of each other, a metaphor comes to my mind that we call “Emergence“. Emergence refers to the coming together of parts that do not have any function on their own and revealing a talent that is not present in each part. For example, when we evaluate the wheels, wings, radar, engines, and body of an airplane one by one, they do not perform any function, but when they are brought together in a certain order, the admirable “flying” ability emerges.
I liken the Metaverse universe exactly to this; Technologies such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Extended Reality, Mixed Reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, 5G, wearable technologies, sensor technologies, and processor architectures, each on its own contains a function, but when these technologies come together in a certain harmony, something “emerges” and gives clues that can transform the Metaverse universe from being an illusion to the new normal of the world.
I would like to talk about my experience. Until recently, we were in production and distribution activities in more than fifty categories at fmcg. This production continued in more than 80 factories. Although I am not even an engineer, I took place in the initiation of these factories and even designed and manufactured their machines. How? First I incubated and then made it work by imagining it on a flat white wall. I used to say to the engineers who asked, “well, I saw it working.” Then the team proceeded like it or not.
How Does It Affect Our Business?
I think that the Metaverse universe will first seriously affect the retail industry, which is the most interacting with people. It is not difficult to predict that the purchasing preferences of consumers, who have shifted from physical stores to online/mobile commerce, especially with the effect of the pandemic, will change direction towards the virtual universe, even the global virtual universe, after the Metaverse experience. I am also one of those who think that one of the most important challenges facing the retail industry will be to prepare for the new customer expectation that will be created by the Metaverse universe, which is thought to be effectively usable in 10 years.
The answer to the question of how this will happen is both very easy and very difficult. It is easy because according to the description made for the Metaverse universe, this universe will be an extension, a reflection of the physical universe, in this case, if we can successfully adapt the practices and strategies applied in physical environments to virtual reality stores, there is no reason why we should not continue our success that we achieved in the physical world. It is difficult because although there are many developments that we can speculate about the Metaverse universe, no one knows exactly how this universe will work yet.
Although there are a few examples that are just taking shape before us, we should not forget that these examples constitute the infancy of virtual retailing. Virtual Imporium is just one of the remarkable examples in this sense. Another member of this new concept, which allows you to visit virtual stores, offers personalized customer experience, and develops its campaigns through digital channels, is being developed with the cooperation of Central Retail and Thai Telecom operator AIS 5G. This new virtual mall, where 20 international fashion brands will serve together, will be a part of the V-Avenue ecosystem, which also includes other virtual shopping points such as Asian Lifestyle, M Lifestyle, and RS Mall.
When we think in terms of needs and purchasing experience, although experiences such as accessing the products we consume in the physical world from our seat in virtual stores and buying a suit we like after trying it on with AR, it should not be overlooked that an economy will emerge where people will spend within the values of the virtual world. For example, caring about the dress of your avatar in the virtual universe as much as your suit that you care about in the physical world, and allocating a budget for this dress may seem crazy for people of the day, but this will be an ordinary behavior for digital natives. NFT paintings, dresses, photographs, shoes, which we often hear with sensational purchase news, will also find their exact equivalent in the Metaverse universe. Fashion brands and sports equipment manufacturers are already investing in this universe and have already filed for patents to sell virtual dresses, hats, and shoes online. (6)
In the virtual universe, thoughts are usually centered on the objects seen, I wonder, can the flavor also be digitized? When you let go of your thoughts on the subject, you reach very interesting points: The incident that neuroscientist David Eagleman discussed in his book Incognito was quite remarkable. Erik Weihenmayer, a mountaineer who had lost his sight at the age of 13 due to childhood illness, regained his sight with a plate consisting of 600 electrons attached to his tongue and BrainPort (7) glasses, albeit in a different way, and climbed Everest to appear on the cover of Time Magazine. Images from Weihenmayer’s glasses were converted into electrical signals, these signals were transmitted to his brain via electrodes connected to his tongue, and these images were created in his brain. This development brings to mind the following question, if we transmit the signals from our sense organs to our brain, albeit through different channels, will we achieve the desired result? The Brainport device shows that this is possible.
Well, why shouldn’t the same thing be possible for the digital transfer of flavor to virtual environments? We have heard about Neuralink, another groundbreaking project of Elon Musk, the founder of projects such as Tesla, SpaceX, and Starlink. Can it make this possible? Neuralink aimed to create a brain-computer interface with an implant that can be connected to the human brain and to digitize thoughts into commands and manage internet-connected devices with the power of thought. The key point here is to digitize the signals in the brain because if the functions of the brain can be fully digitized, perhaps we can say that it will be possible to digitize human emotions and feelings. So, if the feelings of taste and pleasure can also be virtualized and put into algorithms, how will the future of food be shaped?
In such a case, for example, it will be inevitable that we transform the pleasure created in our minds by our iconic product Halley into algorithms and present it to the consumer in NFT form in Metaverse virtual stores. Consumers who want to experience this pleasure by purchasing the virtual Halley and interpreting the flavor algorithm with a Neuralink-like brain interface, instead of physically consuming Halley by unpacking it, will most likely be among today’s children born into the digital age. This change may seem quite impossible because the idea that we would abandon the pleasure of reading the paper newspaper and get the information from the screens seemed very distant to us. But the flow of life and the preferences of the young people were in favor of screens, not paper.
In the event that the Metaverse universe, which is still in its infancy and where dozens of technology companies have invested billions of dollars in contributing to its development, materializes, we will continue to add happiness to life in both physical and virtual universes by adapting to this change in the best way as in previous years and changes. If one day our customers will be happy by consuming the Halley flavor that algorithms will provide in NFT format, we should start preparing for this to make them happy. It seems quite far for now, but the future will come one day…
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