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What is the Metaverse? Tech entrepreneur’s 3 part theory suggests we’re at a pivotal point in civilization

January 13, 2022, 8:22 PM UTC

As the hype around the metaverse builds and builds, an Instagram post went viral this week by theorizing the emerging digital world will accelerate the shift to thinking about our online selves as more important than our physical ones.

Shaan Puri, a tech entrepreneur, outlined in three parts how technological advancements have progressively drawn more and more of our attention toward our screens, and how the metaverse may be the final stage in this massive shift.

In Part I, Puri says we need to stop thinking of the metaverse as only a “place” where we can play VR games and meet avatar versions of our friends and colleagues. In Part II, he says we need to understand that the metaverse represents a specific moment in time. In Part III, he says we need to accept that in this moment, after the metaverse has assimilated most aspects of our lives, our digital selves will become more important than our physical ones.

“Our attention has been sucked from the physical to the digital,” Puri’s post reads. “And where attention goes, energy flows.”

Puri believes that we currently devote half of our attention and energy to our online lives and half to the physical world. He believes the metaverse will redirect 90% of our attention toward the new virtual reality, and our identities within it, revolutionizing our sense of self. 

“That’s the moment in time when the metaverse starts. Because at that moment, our virtual life will become more important than our real life.”

The metaverse is a term for a part of the internet that promises virtual playgrounds where, through an avatar, you can journey through digital platforms rife with entertainment venues, workplaces, retail stores, and dozens of other cyber-locations. All you have to do is put on a set of VR goggles (or just log on through a phone) and design a persona to dive in

A fully realized vision of the metaverse is probably more than a decade away, but investors are already grabbing up virtual real estate. And the metaverse is already filling up with digital versions of everything that is important in our lives: clothes, offices, even our finances as we invest more money into digital assets.  

Whether or not the metaverse will completely reorient our values and make us prioritize our digital personas over our own selves, it is undeniable that technology has made us more concerned about our online profiles.

Around 60% of Gen Z, ages 18 to 25, believed that presenting oneself well online is more important than doing so in person, and 44% were more comfortable presenting themselves online than in person, according to a July 2021 Harris Poll survey by Squarespace.

Not only are younger generations placing more importance on their digital selves, they’re also becoming more comfortable with virtual interactions than real-life ones.

Gen Z respondents in that same survey were more likely to remember the last website they browsed (43%) than their partner’s birthday (38%) or their own Social Security number (31%).

“The majority of Gen Z believe that how you present yourself online is more important than how you present yourself in person,” said Kinjil Mathur, chief marketing officer at Squarespace, on the survey’s results. “They’re also more likely to remember the color of a website than someone’s eye color.” 

Big Tech is betting big on the metaverse, with Meta (formerly Facebook) committing to investing $10 billion into the technology, and major figures like Bill Gates believe most office meetings will take place there within three years. 

The metaverse hype may ebb and flow, but technology will continue to push on ahead, potentially diverting more and more of our attention and energy toward a new virtual world. And younger generations seem to be halfway there already. 

So is Puri right? Will the metaverse lead to people becoming more invested in their digital selves than who they are offline? Maybe, but he isn’t panicking just yet.

“Is this a good or bad thing? Like anything, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a thing. A very different thing,” he wrote. 

Fortune’s upcoming Brainstorm Design conference is going to dive into how businesses are building experiences in the metaverse. Apply to attend the event on May 23-24 in New York.