A Framework for The Metaverse
When did the mobile internet era begin? Some would start this history with the very first mobile phones.
I first wrote about the Metaverse in 2018, and overhauled my thinking in a January 2020 update: The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite. Since then, a lot has happened. COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions into Zoomschool and remote work. Roblox became one of the most popular entertainment experiences in history. Google Trends’ index on the phrase “The Metaverse” hit 100 in March 2021. From January 2005 to December 2020, it never exceeded seven. With that in mind, I thought it was time to do an update - one that reflects how my thinking has changed over the past 18 months and addresses the questions I’ve received during this time, such as “Is the Metaverse here?”, “When will it arrive?”, and “What does it need to grow?”. Welcome to the Forward to ‘THE METAVERSE PRIMER’.
When did the mobile internet era begin? Some would start this history with the very first mobile phones. Others might wait until the commercial deployment of 2G, which was the first digital wireless network. Or the introduction of the Wireless Application Protocol standard, which gave us WAP browsers and thus the ability to access a (rather primitive) version of most websites from nearly any ‘dumbphone’. Or maybe it started with the BlackBerry 85x series, the first mainstream mobile devices designed for on-the-go data. Most would say it’s the iPhone, which came more than a decade after the first BlackBerry and eight years after WAP, nearly two decades after 2G, 34 years after the first mobile phone call, and has since defined many of the mobile internet era’s visual design principles, economics, and business practices.
In truth, there’s never a flip. We can identify when a specific technology was created, tested, or deployed, but not when an era precisely occurred. This is because technological change requires a lot of technological changes, plural, to all come together. The electricity revolution, for example, was not a single period of steady growth. Instead, it was two separate waves of technological, industrial, and process-related transformations.
The first wave began around 1881, when Thomas Edison stood up electric power stations in Manhattan and London. Although this was a quick start to the era of electrical power — Edison had created the first working incandescent light bulb only two years earlier, and was only one year into its commercialization — industrial adoption was slow. Some 30 years after Edison’s first stations, less than 10% of mechanical drive power in the United States came from electricity (two thirds of which was generated locally, rather than from a grid). But then suddenly, the second wave began. Between 1910 and 1920, electricity’s share of mechanical drive power quintupled to over 50% (nearly two thirds of which came from independent electric utilities. By 1929 it stood at 78%.
The difference between the first and second waves is not how much of American industry used electricity, but the extent to which it did — and designed around it.
When plants first adopted electrical power, it was typically used for lighting and/or to replace a plant’s on-premises source of power (usually steam). These plants did not, however, rethink or replace the legacy infrastructure which would carry this power throughout the factory and put it to work. Instead, they continued to use a lumbering network of cogs and gears that were messy and loud and dangerous, difficult to upgrade or change, were either ‘all on’ or ‘all off’ (and therefore required the same amount of power to support a single operating station or the entire plant, and suffered from countless ‘single points of failure’), and struggled to support specialized work.
But eventually, new technologies and understandings gave factories both the reason and ability to be redesigned end-to-end for electricity, from replacing cogs with electric wires, to installing individual stations with bespoke and dedicated electrically-powered motors for functions such as sewing, cutting, pressing, and welding.
The benefits were wide-ranging. The same plant now had considerably more space, more light, better air, and less life-threatening equipment. What’s more, individual stations could be powered individually (which increased safety, while reducing costs and downtime), and use more specialized equipment (e.g. electric socket wrenches).