If you feel pleased with mastering your smartphone and being able to wrap your head around TikTok, brace yourself. A host of new challenges are coming your way.
If you don’t know your metaverse from your blockchain and “non fungible token” sounds like a mould cleaner, now is the time to sit up and pay attention.
Why? Because all three are predicted to be vital elements of “Web3”, the latest online buzzword and one that promises seismic changes in how we engage with the digital world.
For those who like things pretty much the way they are, there is some good news. Meta (formerly known as Facebook) recently acknowledged this transformation won’t arrive overnight – instead it is likely to develop over the next 10 years, giving us all time to get to grips with it.
Another big plus is that the confusing terminology will fade into the background. Rather than having to understand blockchain, NFTs or a metaverse, using Web3 should be like switching on a light – benefitting from electricity doesn’t mean you have to understand how it is produced, stored, distributed or enabled.
Reassuringly, the biggest positive of all is that the changes are likely to deliver enormous opportunities for businesses large and small. Experts across multiple sectors suggest it will be a bigger step in digital evolution than that which saw media, commerce and finance move to mobile devices.
Just what is Web3? At the moment nobody really knows. If you are old enough, transport yourself back to 1999 and imagine trying to predict what the internet would look like by 2022. That’s roughly the position we find ourselves in right now – knowing there is great potential, but how it will pan out is anybody’s guess.
What we do know is that the main underpinnings of Web3 are likely to be the twin pillars of virtual reality and the blockchain.
You may arch an eyebrow at the thought of entering virtual worlds where our avatars will meet and greet other avatars. At first that might be for shopping, concerts or gaming. But increasingly it is likely to involve work meetings, job interviews - or even to meet with your lawyer or view a property.
Pie in the sky? Just two years ago, video meetings were a niche product being happily resisted by the vast majority of us. Now they are a normal – albeit highly imperfect - part of daily life. It’s not difficult to imagine being able to meet and interact with others in a more natural, immersive way, rather than staring at a flat screen.
That’s the promise of the metaverse: to meet and engage with other people in a realistic, safe and comfortable virtual setting. That could help plug the gaps that currently exist with home working, by making it easier to build trust, to undertake training and to create social interactions that dispel feelings of isolation.
Blockchain is the same technology which underpins crypto currencies, like Bitcoin. It allows crucial information – records of purchases, proof of copyright ownership, proof of identity – to be recorded on a massive, distributed ledger spread across the internet. It cannot be hacked or tampered with.
It has also spawned Non-Fungible Tokens – known as NFTs – which are transforming ownership of digital assets. Artists, sports teams, film-makers and musicians are now selling digital assets with NFTs providing proof of ownership.
You could welcome visitors to your virtual office by displaying the digital assets you own – whether an artwork, footage of your football team’s winning goal over a rival, or even a key scene from a movie or TV show.
Sceptical? Consider that financial bible the Wall Street Journal recently reported how investors are spending huge sums to buy up virtual land, property and real estate in the metaverse, with one expert likening the boom to buying property in New York 250 years ago. Why? Blockchain tech guarantees that metaverses are finite, like the real world – and scarcity drives gold rushes.
Now is the time to start considering what Web3 could mean for your legal firm: More productive meetings? Enhanced remote working? Better client experiences? Greater talent attraction and retention?
Virtually all of it.
Rob Aberdein is Managing Partner of Simpson & Marwick