Let's meet in the metaverse
Leveraging technology to find better ways to build a digital community
The return to face-to-face human interactions post-pandemic is exciting
Our experience working remote has shown the need for new virtual solutions
Zoom meetings were wonderful at first, but quickly led to fatigue and burnout
The development of Web3 and the metaverse provides a window into new worlds
Our digital lives will soon go beyond social media to more immersive experiences
Living “the Sims”: connecting in a virtual world
Last Friday’s edition of Forestview focused on the exciting and thrill of reconnecting with other humans IRL: in real life. This month, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with so many friends, associates, and former colleagues on calls and at conferences. Yesterday, I had another one of these encounters with an old friend - in the metaverse. It was weird at first - we were connected by audio like a video conference over the Internet, but instead of having our webcams on and seeing each other’s faces with a blurred out background, we were standing next to each other on a virtual campus. My friend Joe patiently walked me through the mechanics of “looking around” and exploring the virtual landscape he had created - complete with an office space with meeting rooms, an expo hall, and an auditorium. I had some technical troubles but finally was able to successfully build not one, but two realistic looking avatars:
Both are based simply on a photo I took with my webcam. The first one isn’t super realistic but passable. This second one bears an uncanny resemblance to me, except my actual hoodies and sneakers are nowhere near as cool! Over the course of 90 minutes and with Joe as my guide, I was able to slowly get acclimated to our virtual surroundings. His avatar was “talking” with somewhat normal hand gestures, and while it did not feel realistic in any sense, it became a familiar experience. Similar to the Sims franchise which my wife Dani was fond of playing back in the day, it wasn’t hard to imagine that Joe and I were standing in a courtyard having a conversation. I learned how to move around, sit and stand, clap and jump, and bust out some dance moves. (All but this last part were familiar: my avatar was not a great dancer but he far surpassed my limited capabilities!)
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Our digital twins need more “real life” experience
Joe is an independent insurance agent by day and quite a content creator. Like many of us, he went through a lot of life events during the pandemic. He and his wife had a newborn who is now 2 years old, and his oldest just went off to college. Staying connected with clients and carriers, he struggled through the Zoom meeting experience like most people. When Joe began thinking of Web3, NFTs, and how the metaverse might be applicable to agent/broker community, he starting rethinking what a virtual experience might look like. Consciously or not, almost all of us have curated a “digital life” for ourselves online, whether it be through social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok or uploading videos on YouTube or simply using Gmail or LinkedIn for work. The ability to connect to family and friends as well as people with similar interests around the globe is powerful. Yet most social media conforms to a strict like/follow type rhythm: I post a bunch of information about my life and a few people react to them, mostly based on which posts a proprietary algorithm shows. Yes, you can comment on someone’s post or get into an argument on Twitter, but most social media misses out on the “social” part: as a result, we lack deep connections digitally.
As a result of technology our digital encounters, while powerful, are not as immersive as they could be. Anyone who has attended a virtual networking session or online expo can attest to this. Replicating the content from conferences has been relatively easy: the same keynote speaker or panel discussion you would have observed in person isn’t that much different online. But these sessions tend to be more one-way interactions: a presenter talks and we listen. It’s when you’re trying to have a more enriching back-and-forth or explore new and unfamiliar territory such as meeting new people in a casual setting or asking questions at a table or booth of a company that things become awkward without being IRL. The metaverse helps to overcome these challenges: by making the virtual environment more immersive than a simple logo background, it lends itself to more productive interactions with the unknown.
Learn to make the uncomfortable familiar & fun
I plan to write in more detail about Web3, crypto, NFTs, and the metaverse in future months, but suffice it to say there is a lot to learn and take in for most of us. Joe shared with me that the vast majority of users exploring applications for the metaverse today are artists and gamers. Part of his work in scoping out potential uses for the insurance community is simply introducing people to the space and inviting them to explore. His view is that it is better to bring people in to this new virtual world and let them explore a bit first, then once they are comfortable start having meaningful conversations about how they might benefit from being in the metaverse.
A key principle that Joe and others are following is to send out personalized invitations to their metaverse, help people create an avatar and become acclimated with navigating around, then suggesting possibilities before allowing them to roam and explore on their own. This process includes 1:1 sessions but also online events to make things fun. There can be educational presentations and videos that are viewed within a virtual room, but also games and competitions can be organized to win virtual swag such as a custom shirt or wearable or earn tokens that can be used for rewards. While this virtual universe was new to me, it was easy for me to make the connection to the first time I bought a Nintendo Wii and “won” virtual goods playing Tiger Woods Golf. (Like dancing, I am much better at virtual golf than at the course.) By making new technology and digital spaces like the metaverse familiar and fun, it speeds up the learning curve and people’s feeling of discomfort fade away, allowing us to overcome our fear of the unknown and see new possibilities for building connections and community.
Have you spent any time exploring a metaverse world? What were your initial impressions? How do you see this technology evolving over time? What are the future possibilities you see? How can the digital space be improved to make it more like connections in real life? How will the ability to further curate online communities benefit society - or harm it?