June 13, 2022

Four Lenses to Understand the Metaverse’s Impact on Culture and Community

By Vince Gennaro, Michael Diamond, and Elizabeth Haas, PhD

Malcom Gladwell describes a tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” As we are watching the Metaverse evolve, we are seeing and anticipating a plethora of tipping points to be crossed. For example, when the technology allows me to invite people into my home, not just onto a boxed screen, my behavior will shift from not caring what is in my room to really caring about how my surroundings might affect not only first impressions, but also meeting outcomes. When I can watch a ballgame from my living room and virtually touch players for less than a bleacher seat costs, my social habits will change, too, as will my level of game interest and fan loyalty. When I can bend time and visit my grandmother in Amsterdam at a museum by turning on my Oculus and clicking three times, my relationship with her will tip from the quasi-theoretical to the real thing…with an increase in emotion, enjoyment, and up-close conversation. In fact, the Metaverse is challenging every assumption we have about how we live, how we work, how we play, and how we learn, and turning the world on its head.

As the forces of the Metaverse take hold, the impact will be felt most in changes to our culture and to our community – or what we do, how we live, and who we do it with. These cultural and community shifts will be transformative, “in the moment,” and disruptive to social norms – challenging the assumptions upon which every organization is built. These enormous changes are being fueled by the underlying technologies taking shape. AI, VR, 5G, and Blockchain are already responsible for dramatic changes in how we do things. Yet, it is the impact on and implications from the collective “what we do” that is rattling our core and demanding our attention.

In response to these forces and their impact, we have chosen a path that capitalizes on what we do best and, in so doing, creates value in the Metaverse – that is, teaching it, experiencing it, researching it, and influencing its evolution. We are also relying on the tenets of social ecology—documenting change across industries including Art, Fashion, Real Estate, Tourism, and Sports—and translating these changes into social implications, opportunities, and needs. We recognize that this path means entering a space never traveled before and learning before we walk, responding before we run, and delivering immense value all along the way.

The four lenses that will guide our activities and facilitate our conversations and insights along this path are:

Experiencing … Models our “tried and true” hands-on approach to education by bringing students (and ourselves) into an experience or space that best represents the Metaverse scenario they (and we) are about to enter. We believe that, until you spend time in a space or with a challenge, you have little sense of what it is going to take to translate your understanding into action, or the extent of the new degrees of freedom. Armed with this experiential understanding, students will be prepared, as change is happening, to make decisions, test ideas, watch the behavior of the community around them, and adjust their thinking “on the fly.” Much as medicine is taught by experiencing it, leading in the world we are living in requires experiencing it–-feeling the shifts underfoot, observing the changes in behavior, asking the “what if” questions at the heart of understanding a scenario, and making it better.

To get started, the “experiencing” team is looking for opportunities to test our thinking about the changes underway and the scenarios where we can “play.” In the short-term, we are working with Marc Beckman of DMA United on building an NFT Gallery for NYU students to display and sell their art. We are also setting up classrooms in the Metaverse for the Fall in our science and destination marketing disciplines, as well as working hand-in-hand with members of the Burning Man team to observe how the Metaverse will impact their Summer 2022 event. Longer term, we are designing a twin university in the Metaverse for SPS that will house, among other activities, a research and conference site. And, we are building two labs on our campus that will enable students and faculty to work in and experience the Metaverse, complete with an ever-evolving set of technologies to support our learning and our contributions. For us, our success in bringing students into the experience—as these actions demonstrate—rests with how well we have prepared them to take on leading roles across industry.

Researching … Is about taking a pulse on critical events and momentum occurring across the industries and practices we touch—from who Company X is hiring to head up Metaverse marketing activities to what industry is experiencing a downturn as business models change due to the Metaverse. It is about getting early reads on how these events impact our lives, decisions, and the communities we are part of—from VR’s use as a tool for autistic children to travel customers’ virtual immersion into a faraway destination. It is about translating and testing the impact and boundary conditions of any given scenario—across global industries—to better understand what needs to change to be successful in the Metaverse.

The “researching” team is launching an executive survey (September 2022) designed to profile what is happening in the Metaverse space across industries. This survey will be a barometer on our proprietary metric—the Metaverse Momentum Index© (MMI), which calibrates the level of interest and engagement by sector (including primary industries and governments), as well as measuring citizen and community adoption.

Simultaneously, multiple applied research projects will be underway. We believe proof of success will be in how well our students, faculty, and administrators engage with an idea and bring it to life through collaborations with our industry partners who look to us as a source for talent and thought leadership.

Influencing … Takes advantage of the Metaverse and the uber-connected world we now live in by documenting and sharing “up to the minute” insights across a range of media and technology platforms. Often, the most important insights and innovations are discovered randomly, during water-cooler moments, and as part of conversations that started out in one direction and ended up at a completely different destination. These conversations will act as a fundamental lens through which we can see events that are occurring and then rapidly connect the event to another inspiration recently uncovered. It allows us to ask the question, “What new technologies are emerging, how are they being applied, and what does the scale up of this technology mean to our lives?”

The team has already drafted a series of thought pieces and blogs to highlight what we have learned about the Metaverse’s influence on our day-to-day lives. We are also planning to dig deeper on key topics emerging from the Metaverse by hosting several podcasts, forums, and conferences where the latest ideas can come together. We plan to include the entire SPS community in our conversations on the Metaverse and are counting on students, faculty, and our partners for ideas on how best to contribute to and influence the Metaverse’s impact. We will know if we’ve had influence based on a significant increase in external engagement activities, as well as a big boost in our brand reputation and the value it brings.

Teaching … Starts with translating what we are learning into experiences that prepare our students for how to interact with and shape the Metaverse. From where we sit, who better to challenge the assumptions being overturned by the Metaverse than our students. As we have come to know and understand, our students improve our teaching exponentially because they possess little loyalty to the assumptions we’ve made—historic or otherwise. Our Metaverse efforts will focus on teaching them to trust what they challenge as well as to challenge their own, newly minted assumptions.

Through the experiences we create for them, students will learn to think inside the Metaverse and translate what they are learning into choices and actions that contribute value to their respective professions.

Working with experts, the “teaching” team is focused on discussing Metaverse topics of interest and delivering Metaverse-inspired, immersive experiences in (and outside of) the classroom. In September 2022, the team is launching a boot camp on the Metaverse for all students regardless of their area of study, as well as incorporating the Metaverse in several of our courses (such as Immersive Marketing,  Destination Marketing, and Chemistry).  In this same timeframe, the team is planning to offer an executive education program with the first course planned for September. We will be successful in teaching the Metaverse if: our students acquire a strong working knowledge of and experience the Metaverse; possess an ability to make choices in their professions; engage leadership in conversations critical to the Metaverse; and understand the changes and implications of their actions.

Only when our students experience the Metaverse—by visiting it, building an idea using it, and being part of the multiple communities forming within it, will they have a true sense of what it is, why it matters, and how it will impact their lives and the lives of so many others.  

The Metaverse Collaborative—formed by NYU SPS and our partners—will host an ongoing conversation on the emerging issues and opportunities resulting from the integration of the physical, digital, and virtual worlds of the Metaverse. Our vision and mission is to influence and deliver value within the Metaverse, while enabling our students and partners to experiment and lead across global industries, professions, and communities.”

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