Are We in the Metaverse Yet?

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“The fact that we’re surrounded by a global layer that’s there at all times,” Mr. Tehranian said, referring to the Ethereum blockchain, “where there’s no central party that determines whether or not something is available or not?” That, he said, is the antidote to the digital world we already live in — one that he describes as akin to a metaverse but “with dictators” (Apple, Google, Facebook).

His metaverse hews to a particular definition of freedom. “The thing I really care about is that you as an individual own objects,” he said. “Property ownership is a tool. It works. It brings financial incentives.”

This may sound, depending on your ideological orientation, more dystopian than utopian. To Mr. Tehranian, it’s merely realistic.

“We’re still talking about human nature, which is greedy and selfish,” he said.

Indeed, many are looking at the metaverse as a financial opportunity. Mike Winkelmann — a.k.a. Beeple, the guy who sold an NFT of his artwork for $69 million — is working on a start-up called Wenew, which will sell NFTs associated with moments in time, creating, in the company’s words, “the memory palace of the metaverse.” (Its early offerings include moments from the tennis star Andy Murray’s career.)

Despite his stake in the crypto-oriented vision of the metaverse, Mr. Winkelmann’s sense of what it might be, or already is, remains wide. Whatever the metaverse is, it’s not just virtual reality, or augmented reality, or the blockchain and NFTs, or virtual worlds and games.

“People are very much looking at it as this ‘Ready Player One’ thing, or a V.R. thing,” he said.

“That’s just about how close that screen is to your face,” he continued, holding his phone up to his eyes. “This doesn’t change the fact that a lot of these things are happening in a space that is already virtual.”