Taken from fastcompany.com | Author: Harry McCracken
Last April, the Coca-Cola Company issued a triumphant press release announcing that it had introduced a soft drink in the metaverse. The 136-year-old beverage maker touted its latest concoction, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Byte, as “transcend[ing] the digital and physical worlds.” Along with a limited-edition real-world version that was aimed at gamers, the drink was available in virtual form within the wildly popular online game Fortnite.
Coke’s landmark moment had an absurdist tinge: After all, you can’t taste a virtual cola or get a caffeine hit from it. But it would have been almost odder if the company hadn’t staked its claim in the metaverse. Over the past year, many high-profile brands have trumpeted their own arrivals in this curious netherworld, from Zara (fashion for avatars) to Ferrari (a digital 296 GTB supercar) to Nike (an entire virtual theme park called Nikeland).
Yet, here’s the strangest part of this mad rush: The metaverse doesn’t exist yet.
Sure, we’ve got virtual worlds such as Fortnite—and Roblox, Minecraft, Decentraland, and many others. But they aren’t the metaverse. What the metaverse’s true believers are imagining is a universal, global 3D environment that seamlessly merges digital and physical realities—possibly via lightweight goggles you wear throughout your waking hours. That might still be many years away, if it comes to be at all.
So what is this metaverse that all these brands (and venture capitalists and startups) are talking about? For one thing, it’s a white-hot buzzword that intersects and overlaps with other trendy concepts, such as Web3, virtual reality, augmented reality, NFTs, cryptocurrency, and the blockchain. It’s an obsession among the leaders of today’s most powerful tech companies—most notably Meta, née Facebook, which changed its corporate name to underscore its pivot to colonizing this emerging world. It’s also a concept, a potential reinvention of our relationship with technology that some see as democratizing and others regard as downright creepy.