It’s hard to believe that it was only mere decades ago that the internet was created. In what seems like the blink of an eye, we’ve seen internet technology advance at an incredible pace, constantly evolving and improving while simultaneously becoming indelibly entwined with our daily lives. In fact, if the internet were to suddenly disappear today, it’s almost impossible to imagine the widespread impact this would have on the world – it would be nothing short of absolute chaos.
It’s interesting, then, that as time goes on, we seem to be integrating the internet and social media even deeper into our lives.
But what could this mean for us in the future?
The era of interconnectivity
By 2025, it’s estimated that 64.89 million individuals in the UK will have a smartphone.[i] Currently, the average Brit uses their phone for 148 minutes a day, with 97.5% of people using their devices to access social media on a daily basis.[ii]
These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, but the message is clear – social media is now part of our lives whether we like it or not. For many, multiple social media platforms play a role in how they spend their free time, and it’s not unusual for someone to have a Twitter, an Instagram, a TikTok and a YouTube account – let alone any of the other smaller, less mainstream social platforms. While trends come and go (TikTok is a perfect example of this, suddenly appearing a couple of years ago and becoming the most popular social media platform in the world in record time) Meta, previously known as Facebook, owns most social media platforms.
Meta has plans to expand its influence over the world with the creation of the Metaverse – effectively a bid for complete dominance in the social media landscape with the creation of a fully immersive, virtual world. Meta’s version of the Metaverse is a “tightly interconnected set of digital spaces” where the only rule is the limit of the technology itself.[iii]
With the creation of this world, Meta is aiming to completely transform how we spend our time online, allowing us to shop, socialise and perform our real-life tasks inside this virtual space. People can traverse the Metaverse via virtual reality – immersing themselves in the world with VR headsets. However, there does also seem to be call to allow individuals to enter the Metaverse via a standard internet browser – potentially because VR is currently prohibitive on a wide scale even though Meta has sold roughly 14 million VR headsets to date.[iv]
When the Metaverse is fully introduced, there’s every chance that it will mark a new era for the internet. For dental professionals, this could present a number of interesting changes to how we do things. We could visit virtual showrooms and buy products online, attend virtual conferences and connect with others in an experience that would be akin to face-to-face interaction, just in a virtual world. Training could be conducted in this world, and we could one day find ourselves keeping up to date with all of the information of the industry while plugged into a VR headset. The effect this would have on every industry, as well as dentistry, is incredible. While there will always be a call for dentists to have physical locations so that we can perform our work, it’s not unfeasible that entire industries could move into operating solely from this virtual landscape – definitely food for thought!
But is the Metaverse safe?
I think, as with any hugely revolutionary idea, there is potential for the Metaverse to have its shortcomings. As I delved deeper on the subject of how a digital online world could integrate into our lives, I found information about a Japanese Animated film from 2009 called Summer Wars. In this film, an online digital world has so fully become part of people’s lives that they do everything on there – all until the mainframe of the world is hacked and people’s digital identities get stolen. As every part of the real world has been entwined with this digital universe, the hacker is able to stop traffic lights, flood water mains and cause widespread havoc – even hijacking a satellite and programming it to crash to earth, endangering people’s lives.
While this level of sheer chaos is unlikely to occur outside of a film, it does bring into question how readily we should be integrating our lives with the internet. A fully digital world is an exciting concept – unbounded freedom at our fingertips is always going to be a very appealing prospect – but there are definite concerns to address here, too.
Journeying deeper into a digital life
No one could have predicted exactly how important the internet and social media have become in our modern world. The Metaverse is coming – and it is bound to cause a similar shake up to how we live our daily lives. As with many of these concepts, until it’s here we can’t know the full extent of what’s in store – but it’s definitely a development for everybody to keep an eye on.
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[i] Statista. Forecast of Smartphone User Numbers In The United Kingdom (UK) from 2018 to 2025. Link: https://www.statista.com/statistics/553464/predicted-number-of-smartphone-users-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/ [Last accessed October 22].
[ii] CyberCrew. 30+ Smartphone Usage Statistics for the UK . Link: https://cybercrew.uk/blog/smartphone-usage-statistics-uk/#:~:text=An%20average%20person%20in%20the,in%20the%20world%20at%2078.9%25. [Last accessed October 22].
[iii] XR Today. What is Facebook’s Metaverse? Link: https://www.xrtoday.com/virtual-reality/what-is-facebooks-metaverse/ [Last accessed October 22].
[iv] Facebook, Beware: The Metaverse Is Flat. Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-09-20/facebook-beware-the-metaverse-is-flat-and-zuckerberg-needs-a-plan?leadSource=uverify%20wall [Last accessed October 22].