24 Feb What is the Metaverse and how can we protect children in it?
Since Facebook rebranded itself as Meta last year there has been a lot of hype around the idea of the Metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg predicts that a fully operational metaverse will be part of our daily lives by the end of the decade. But what is the Metaverse, and is it something we should be concerned about? And is it going to be a good thing or a bad thing for our children, and the generations to come?
And um… What exactly is it?
THE METAVERSE IS:
- A term attributed to novelist Neal Stephenson and his dystopian cyberpunk novel Snow Crash (1992).
- Collective virtual shared spaces accessed through the internet using handheld or wearable devices. One day this may extend into our bodies. There is now talk of Elon Musk’s Neuralink neural interface technology which could one day connect our brains directly to computers, and therefore the metaverse.
- A digital reality (or realities) where individuals can communicate and transact with each other and with digital items in an immersive way.
- It’s also a digital economy, where users can create, buy, and sell virtual and real world items like currencies, services, art and even identities.
- It can be a virtual or an augmented form of reality. (More on these terms below)
- Interoperable. Many Metaverse projects seek to avoid creating self-contained ecosystems. Metaverse developers want to create technologies that are compatible with each other and can mix worlds, brands and assets. This is often referred to as Web 3 and/or open source.
- Already here: Fortnite, Pokemon Go, Roblox and Minecraft, are already metaverse-like platforms children all around the world use on a daily basis.
Still not sure what the Metaverse is? That’s okay. It’s sort of difficult to define, because what it is, and what it might become is evolving rapidly. To make matters more confusing, the very idea of what it is shifts and twists with the same bewildering speed. So it doesn’t refer to any one particular type of technology, but a change in how we interact with, and use technology.
Leaving Elon Musk’s device and it’s nightmarish possibilities aside for one moment: The metaverse comes in two flavors at this time. So, first of all let’s explain the difference between VIRTUAL REALITY and AUGMENTED REALITY as they can be confusing terms.
Uses immersive visual audio technologies to create an interactive, three-dimensional image or environment.
VR headsets completely take over your vision to give you the sensation that you are in a different world entirely.
In simple terms: VR replaces reality.
The minimum age limitation for VR gaming tends to be 7+. Most VR headset manufacturers say these devices are not suitable for children under age 12 or 13 and we fully agree with this.
Overlays video and audio onto the physical world to provide information and embellish our perception.
While virtual reality replaces your vision, augmented reality adds to it. It is designed to layer images over the real world.
In simple terms: AR adds to reality.
Because AR does not always require the wearing of immersive hardware there are less age restrictions on the tech. AR capabilities already exist on most smartphones.
Enthusiasts of the Metaverse promise that it will be the future of life, work, and play. It promises to enable developers to create words which allow us to connect with each other in a new way. In the coming years, experts say expect to see a rise in remote work and virtual offices, as well as a growth in metaverse gaming. The world is seemingly trundling headlong towards some form of augmented reality in our daily lives, but is it even necessary or desirable, especially in a child context? Should we, as parents and educators, be worried about it? Like any new technology or tool it all depends on how we deal with it.
In higher education, AR/VR can help learners grasp abstract concepts and gain hands-on experience in low-risk virtual settings, so the same is likely true for young children.
Access to immersive content, with multi sensory interactive experiences for specific subjects or learning.
New tools for students with learning disabilities.
The possibility to meet and interact with friends and relatives over long distances or remotely.
Can promote movement in sedentary children if designed properly.
Has the capacity to increase surveillance in children’s lives. There is a reason why Mark Zuckerberg is so interested in moving his company towards this tech.
The younger the child the less they can discern between the real and the virtual worlds. So a toddler or young child’s brain may think that what he did in VR was real, or at the very least be confused by the two.
Kids can fall and hurt themselves using AR.
Some games can be played in crowded or public places, which can be unsafe for children.
The possibility for harassment and abuse is always there when a child is online. Studies have proven how the emotional and physiological impact of VR can be powerful because our brains register it as real.
Can make sedentary children prone to an even more sedentary lifestyle if not designed properly.
Right now the Metaverse is a kind of an overhyped buzzy marketing term for something that has already been with us for some time. Despite the mania, the technology is nowhere near as mature to make a significant impact on our daily lives. The reality is that NOT all business meetings will take place in the metaverse in the near or medium future (not if you don’t want a constant headache and dry eyes). Video conferences will continue to be most people’s replacement for in-face meetings for the foreseeable future.
And… By and large children’s play dates will not all migrate to some cartoon world, but it is the type of technology that can creep its way into our lives and we need to stay up to date on how it evolves. It’s coming. We can’t stop it.
We can of course keep children safe from the metaverse by avoiding it completely but that may rob them of opportunity. What we should probably strive towards is teaching kids the digital literacy skills they will need to navigate and participate safely and wisely in this brave new world.
References and further information:
What is the Metaverse? https://www.wired.com/story/what-is-the-metaverse/
Are Virtual Reality Headsets Safe for Eyes?
The Promise of Immersive Learning: Augmented and Virtual Reality’s Potential in Education