How we describe the metaverse makes a difference – today’s words could shape tomorrow’s reality and who benefits from it

Quick, define the word “metaverse.”

Coined in 1992 by science fiction author Neal Stephenson, the relatively obscure term exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly after Facebook rebranded as Meta in October 2021. There are now myriad articles on the metaverse, and thousands of companies have invested in its development. Citigroup Inc. has estimated that by 2030 the metaverse could be a US$13 trillion market, with 5 billion users.

From climate change to global connection and disability access to pandemic response, the metaverse has incredible potential. Gatherings in virtual worlds have considerably lower carbon footprints than in-person gatherings. People spread all over the globe can gather together in virtual spaces. The metaverse can allow disabled people new forms of social participation through virtual entrepreneurship. And during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the metaverse not only provided people with ways to connect but also served as a place where, for instance, those sharing a small apartment could be alone.

No less monumental dangers exist as well, from surveillance and exploitation to disinformation and discrimination.



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