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Rabindra (Robby) Ratan | The Metaverse Is Emerging

Welcome to eXchange where we discuss what’s next for intentional experience design with expert change agents. This season focuses on demystifying the metaverse and explaining how the foundations of this emerging reality will change how we all come together. In this podcast summary, we’re visiting with change agent, Rabindra Ratan, Associate Professor, Department of Media and Information, Michigan State University.

Does the metaverse exist?

Mostly, the metaverse doesn’t exist yet. It’s as if you had said the Internet doesn’t exist yet in 1991. The Internet had existed for decades as a form of ARPANET and then opened up to the masses of early adopters. Yet, the phenomenon that was the Internet that changed dramatically the social and cultural fabric of everyday life just wasn’t there yet.

That’s where we are now with the metaverse. We’ve got a bunch of early adopters, willing to spend some time in a virtual world, It’s accessible. You don’t need to be a millionaire to jump into a virtual world and hang out with thousands of people, not simultaneously yet, but you can have immersive virtual experiences. There are metaverse-like experiences in the same way as in ‘91 with America Online.

The way that the Internet changed our expectations of interacting with each other is going to happen again with the metaverse. I can say meet me in this virtual world. I can assume that you can get easily from one metaverse-type experience to another in the same way as, today, we can very easily jump from one social media platform to website, to browser…. but we’re not there yet. The user experience isn’t great. The technology is getting way better and cheaper. So, that’s why we’re optimistic about the metaverse.

What does the metaverse offer in its potential?

There’s potential for stronger social interactions, feeling like you’re really with someone, being able to give your grandkid a drawing or a frame, and then they make some art, and they hand it back to you. Being able to sit with your colleagues and look at an object that someone has designed, see it from all angles, and critically analyze it together. Stronger social interactions drive human motivation to do other things: build families, companies, to help each other.

We’ll be drawn to these spaces as individuals, as humans who want to do our human things that we do now through other media. We might be able to do it better or more immersively in the metaverse. Companies will be drawn into these spaces with the potential to influence people through advertising, direct sales of virtual items. If you need to have a meeting where you are sharing digital objects, that metaverse makes so much more sense than really any other modality. We could sit in a 3D meet space, and then look at a 2D screen together, and kind of rotate it, but you’re not getting that experience. If you’re selling 3D objects, you probably want to meet and experience those things in a three-dimensional, immersive space. It’s hard to fully understand and appreciate on a flat screen.

The other piece is productivity. I have students who write research papers, they’ve got different monitors up, and you can bring other people into that space. Unlike a Zoom meeting where, when you’re trying to share similar things, we can only share one screen at a time. It just becomes so much more efficient than in a Zoom meeting or a physical meet space. Just getting everyone around a table together and having so many people look at different screens at the same time is pretty difficult. The metaverse is not as good as it’s going to be, but it’s already better for some use contexts like that, regardless of what industry you’re in, as long as you’re kind of in an information worker role.

Why is the metaverse inevitable?

The metaverse inevitable because we humans just can’t stop building new stuff. The technology is progressing incrementally. As we see the potential for the metaverse to emerge, we just run to it.

The best part of the metaverse will be?

Sharing truly connected moments.

What’s missing in all digital communication right now?

We need more human empathy. When we interact with people through mediated communication, we lose that sense of individual identity, our sense of self that allows us to temper some of the things we are likely to say to a stranger whose feelings we don’t care about.

What would it take for people to want to work in the metaverse?

We need experiences that are seamless and less fatiguing and taxing. I can put this headset on and spend an entire class period with my students. Everyone has a great time, but we are tired afterward. As augmented reality becomes easier to use and less invasive, I think it’ll be easier to work in the metaverse.

What’s a positive change with increased adoption of the metaverse?

Potentially, we could see an improvement in environmental degradation. If, we can truly replace business travel with metaverse technologies, then, in theory, that would reduce our carbon footprint. At the same time, you’ve got to think about net change. We’ve got to spend all these resources on facilitating the metaverse through server time and mining crypto, if we’re still doing that to support the metaverse. So, I would hope there’s a net benefit in terms of climate change.

What’s your biggest worry about what the metaverse could bring?

Privacy. The information the headset collects as you’re moving around, involves things related to your body, the locus of your health information. If you have something you want to keep private, the headset, or at least the company using that data to allow you to move in the metaverse, might have access to that. So, we need strong privacy protections – government-supported, HIPAA-type regulations.

Listen to the podcast.

Guest Bio – Rabindra (Robby) Ratan 

Rabindra (Robby) Ratan is an Associate Professor and AT&T Scholar at Michigan State University’s Department of Media and Information as well as Director of the Social and Psychological Approaches to Research on Technology-Interaction Effects (SPARTIE) Lab. Ratan researches the effects of human-technology interaction, focusing on how media technologies (e.g., avatars, agents) influence meaningful outcomes (e.g., equity, inclusion, motivation) across societal contexts (e.g., education, health, business). Learn more at

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