Metaverse, a trending term on social media, promises to change our lives by changing the working environment and the way we interact with the world. It removes boundaries and introduces new tools that can increase productivity while decreasing costs. However, technological progress is not even, and developing countries will have to double their efforts to catch up with the rest of the world.
The metaverse, a virtual space where anyone can register and work, promises to revolutionize workplaces, forever changing the work environment. It is a platform that can be accessed anytime and anywhere offering useful tools for productive remote work. As the next-generation virtual world, it can also help to decrease costs as employers can reduce the expense of office rental and equipment.
While the metaverse is still in the early stages of development, it has already been adopted in various sectors, including education, healthcare, and production. According to McKinsey, in 2022, approximately US$120 billion was invested in the metaverse which is double the amount invested in 2021. The same source also suggested that the economic value of the metaverse could reach US$5 trillion by 2030. However, while this new workspace promises economic benefits, it also raises questions of a social and safety nature. A further significant question is whether the metaverse will be sustainable and inclusive.
Digitalization, new technologies and platforms, including the metaverse, put pressure on the emerging world, widening the gap between developed and developing countries. With the current speed of development being driven by next-generation technologies, running to keep up is no longer enough. Emerging countries should at least double their speed of development to catch up with the rest of the world. The pressure is particularly significant for least developed countries (LDCs) as these economies have not yet undergone digital transformation. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in LDCs, 75% of the population had no access to the internet in 2021.
Fig.1. Individuals using the Internet, 2011-2022
To minimize the gap and ensure inclusive digital transformation, the World Bank (WB) emphasizes the importance of digitalization for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in LDCs. The WB noted that SMEs represent almost 40% of national income in developing countries, and yet their level of digitalization is extremely low.
According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s Industrial Analytics Platform, while there is no one-size-fits-all solution, some all-purpose recommendations can help LDCs to improve their digital capacities. The platform’s suggestions include focusing efforts on creating regulatory ecosystems and institutional frameworks, including public-private partnership, and raising collaboration at both internal and international levels.
Whether the metaverse or digitalization, in general, will further widen the gap between emerging and developed worlds will only become clear over time. However, with the answers to so many questions still hanging in the air, it is not clear whether we should be optimistic or anxious about the future. Pearly Chen, Vice President of HTC, Head of Business Development and Content Partnerships, explains:
“Consumer electronics evolve very quickly and the cost of components comes down quickly. Smartphones that started out as an elitist new gadget have now become the center of everybody’s lives and livelihoods, even in low-income countries. So it is important to push the boundaries of these new technologies that will always carry concerns of unintended societal consequences and impacts.”
In conclusion, the metaverse and next-generation technologies promise to impact significantly the way we work and interact with the rest of the world. Working remotely is becoming more accessible and efficient with the use of the new tools and features offered by the metaverse. However, these new technologies also raise social concerns, particularly related to inclusiveness and sustainability. The developing world is not keeping pace with the rest of the world, and efforts should be made in order for technological progress to be made for all.