The term “metaverse” is popping up all over the place these days. It refers to the collective virtual, physical and augmented environments that people occupy these days. The term is not new, but it has renewed life because of Facebook’s forays into augmented reality, gaming and more.
For me, step one of the metaverse is already here, because it applies to the state of virtual and in-person events that took hold during the first stages of the pandemic and which threaten to be the primary format for the remainder of 2021 and heading into 2022.
Let’s face it: Just four short weeks ago, we thought things were heading back to normal. In-person meetings were taking place. Business travel was back. Things were feeling a whole lot more like the “old days.”
Then Delta comes along and messes it up for everyone. The surging variant is getting people sick and bringing back a world of stay-at-home workers plus masks for inside interactions.
Most event organizers were bullish, as they had been prepping their events to be held in person in exotic locales like Orlando and Las Vegas. Some are still bullish, but most are holding closed-door virtual meetings to discuss “Plan B.” Plan B looks a lot like what we saw all of the last 18 months, and people are not too excited about it.
Virtual events are fine, but they lack the spontaneity and the networking opportunities of strolling across a floor and engaging with people at random. We miss that. The industry misses that. At the very least, people were looking forward to the metaverse equivalent of some on-site, online combo for the big shows, where you could soak in the content and limit your exposure to other people if you needed to.
Not everyone was leaning in, and now even fewer are leaning in again.
The rest of 2021 is likely going to be similar to the early part of 2021. Big in-person events will be on hold or require proof of vaccination and/or negative COVID tests.
Personally, I am OK with that. If you want to be part of society, you have to play by societal rules. If you want to be in public and with large groups of people, get vaccinated. If you want to be in public and with large groups or people, wear pants. The analogy is that simple. If you don’t want to be in public, stay home and don’t get vaccinated. Watch the virtual version. Only wear pants if you feel the need. After all, you’re at home and can do whatever you like.
If we all agree to play by societal rules and have consideration for others, then things can get back to normal once again. The way we felt four weeks ago will be what it feels like again very soon. Events can go back to being big and in person. Virtual events can be supplemental and not the standard. The metaverse can shift back to gaming and entertainment where it belongs. The gamers can game in their virtual worlds, while the rest of us get outside and enjoy the sunlight with our friends and family. That’s where I want to be.
Here’s to hoping we can get past these next few weeks or months and get back to the way we like things to work. I look forward to a handshake, fist bump or elbow bop -- whatever you each like -- at the next in-person event!