The Metaverse is here: What is it? How will people use it?

On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast:

The metaverse is here. Hosts of the Talking Tech podcast Brett Molina and Mike Snider join Shannon Rae Green on today's episode to discuss how the virtual worlds that many of us already live in will become much more advanced. There's significant privacy and security risks, plus mental health issues to consider. Microsoft, Facebook and other tech giants are making plans.

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Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below.This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text. 

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Hey there. I'm Shannon Rae Green, and this is 5 Things. It's Sunday, November 28th. These Sunday episodes are special. We're bringing you more from in-depth stories that you may have missed.

                                           On today's episode, we're talking about the metaverse. To me, it feels like something I can't quite wrap my head around. It's almost as if it's this other dimension that I can't understand until I experience it. I've used a VR headset, but it doesn't quite feel as immersive as I imagine the metaverse will be. Obviously, there's big risks. What will it mean for society when it could be hard to tell the difference between actual reality and what is happening in an extremely realistic virtual world? So I'm pulling in the experts. I've asked the hosts of USA TODAY's Talking Tech podcast to join me, Brett Molina and Mike Snider. Mike, Brett, thanks so much for being on the show.

Mike Snider:                    Thanks for having us.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       First question, what is the metaverse?

Mike Snider:                    You want to go Brett, or you want me to go?

Brett Molina:                   You go.

Mike Snider:                    Okay. Well, first of all, the metaverse can mean a lot of different things to different people, but the thought is, it's an extension of real life. Just as you now do banking and go to meetings and events virtually, eventually you, your avatar, will be able to do nearly everything in the virtual world that you do now in the real world.

                                           For instance, we're in a virtual world right now. We're on Teams. We're seeing each other, but we're not physically together. In the future, as you mentioned headsets, currently, the thought is you would use a headset for this. I think in the real world, I don't know that everybody is going to be wanting to wear headsets.

                                           But two of the big players, Microsoft and Meta, the company formally known as Facebook, are creating virtual workplaces and other environments where you use a virtual reality headset. Meta has Oculus headsets, and Microsoft has HoloLens, which is a mixed reality headset that blends reality with workplace applications.

                                           The theory is that you will be able to do pretty much everything you do in the real world, in a virtual world. The metaverse is not here yet, but there are visions of it already. I mean, for instance, an online game may have millions of people playing. Brett and I can be playing Call of Duty, and our virtual avatar is running around trying to compete and do things, and we're talking to each other. So if you think of an online multiplayer video game, that is kind of a metaverse, but that's a segment. Right? The thought is, anything in the world you want to do, you would be able to do in the futuristic metaverse. Right now the building blocks are being laid.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       How have you both learned about it? What are some stories you've worked on that have dealt with the metaverse?

Brett Molina:                   Well, we've seen a lot of companies and businesses dive in, in their own ways, just in terms of trying to help people kind of take the first steps toward being involved in a metaverse at some level. Some of the earliest examples that we've seen so far are in video games.

                                           Fortnite is one of the first ones that jumps out. A lot of people know them as a video game and a multiplayer game, but they've actually been experimenting with a lot of different other events within the game itself, so it's not as much a game as more as a larger kind of community, if you will. They've hosted concerts there, with Travis Scott, for example. They've also hosted J.J. Abrams who directed the last Star Wars film. They had him on to talk about the upcoming movie at the time. A lot of the players, instead of playing it as a game as you would, they would go and attend these conversations or attend the concert and be in this moment virtually.

                                           Another game that we've seen do this is Roblox, which is very popular with kids. Roblox is kind of this, not a marketplace, but more of kind of a hub for players to play games, but also for creators to make their own games. We're seeing a lot of companies get involved there, as well, offering their own virtual goods. The shoe company,

                                           Vans, as an example, I wrote about how Vans opened up their own Vans World, where it's like a giant skate park, and players can go in and skate and go to different places across the world and skateboard. But then there are also Vans shops, and you can create your own pair of virtual Vans. There was talk too, about, at some point, being able to have virtual Vans and then having that same matching pair of Vans in the real world. So it really is kind of those first seeds of taking what you do in the real world and kind of making it almost mirror what this virtual metaverse is.

Mike Snider:                    One of the stories I got to do recently, it was actually back in April when we kind of realized we'd been in this pandemic world for a year or so, and the pandemic has accelerated this, I think it's safe to say. We learned to work and visit each other virtually on things like Zoom. One of the stories I did looking at how companies had kind of moved their plans forward, I got a chance to have an avatar of myself made. This is a company that works with Microsoft, and they basically did a photo scan of me with dozens of cameras, high-res cameras and created a mic that I could take with my cell phone and put it anywhere in the world. Now that was in just a couple minutes, so the thought is that you could have real camera-ready avatars of yourself that could be used in various places when this metaverse comes to be.

                                           For instance, if a art gallery wanted to create a 3D version of, whether it's the Louvre or the National Gallery, whatever, you could, in theory, walk your avatar through the gallery, and then when you get in front of Monet or Pissarro, whoever it is you want to see, then you could click into a 3D representation that would either be on your computer screen, your cell phone, or in your headset. I think as broadband develops and 5G is expanded throughout the nation, we have enough capability to have a metaverse in various ways, whether it's through a headset connected to a game system, a computer, or even on your phone.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       It's so interesting. I'm really curious about what you both have learned about things that are coming down the pike five years from now, 10 years from now, and some of the risks that are involved with what I said earlier about how it may be difficult to separate reality from what's happening in these virtual worlds.

Brett Molina:                   One of the first jokes I thought of when I was thinking about the metaverses is where are the bathrooms? Because it feels like when you talk to a lot of these companies and you see a lot of the stuff being announced, they make it sound like you're going to be just living in this virtual realm most of the time. And so, it almost feels like, are you ever going to get a break from this? Especially now when we've been in the midst of the pandemic, and we really haven't been around a lot of people. It's just interesting to see this pushed by companies wanting us to dive virtually into the metaverse with these headsets. But then we also have this craving just as humans to be around other people, so there's that element to it.

                                           There is also obviously a big privacy security element to it. I know the company [inaudible 00:07:06] Meta, previously known as Facebook, has faced a lot of scrutiny over data and how it handles data. Now they've sort of got this metaverse that they're trying to create and are wanting people to entrust even more of their data, to the point where they're pretty much living their entire lives virtually or most of their lives virtually. And so, this company has all this information they know about you at every turn, and so that becomes another layer of, should I be trusting this company with all of this in depth data about myself?

Mike Snider:                    To add to that, I mean, even before the pandemic, there are people who didn't want to be out in society, and there are people who couldn't separate reality from fantasy or vice versa. They were in fantasy and they didn't want to deal with reality. Well, we've seen what happens when misinformation runs rampant in society over the last several years. There will be a lot of risks here. I mean, part of this, there's going to be a lot of fun to be had, but there also will be societal ramifications that we don't even know that will happen as this technology becomes deployed.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Yeah, it's pretty sobering. Let's talk about the fun, too. What are you excited about when it comes to the metaverse?

Mike Snider:                    I'm a big music fan, and I did a lot of streams of concerts during the pandemic. I foresee a time where that is almost like 3D and super high res, whether it's watching it on a better TV or a curve TV screen or something like that. Or I guess you could do a headset, though, again, I'm not really keen on wearing a headset. If you have your wife or your girlfriend, boyfriend, kids with you, are you all going to wear headsets in the living room, watching whatever it is you're watching? I don't see that happening. But as screen technology becomes even higher res, I foresee being able to go to things I would never get to go to. There was this great Pink Floyd concert held in Venice out on the water. I would love to have a VR experience of that to see what it was like to have been there and get as close to experiencing it as I can. That's kind of the fun I see.

                                           I mean, I know Brett and I both, I think, touched on, I think Microsoft works with the NBA in addition to the NFL, there's a lot that could be done with sports to make it put you more in the game versus sitting and watching it on TV. Because each athlete in the NFL is tracked. You could actually rewind the action, see how Patrick Mahomes completed that pass, and how the receiver got free and made it to, whether 10, 20, 30 yards, whatever. So the things we do now to entertain ourselves are going to become more robust as part of the move to the metaverse.

Brett Molina:                   I think another element of this is going to be interesting, too, is how the hardware for all this evolves. A lot of the companies have been presenting this, as Mike mentioned, in virtual reality, so you have these larger headsets that you're wearing. Facebook, or Meta, rather, has been experimenting with things like smart glasses. They had a partnership with Ray-Ban where they introduced these glasses that had a camera on them. You wore them like regular sunglasses or eyeglasses, but they had a little button, you could take a photo or a video, just take little moments in, in the world around you. I'm interested to see how that evolves, how these devices change and how they're going to look. Because, obviously, it is going to be challenging just to always be on these VR headsets. I'm curious whether there is better technology that comes down the road that makes this stuff more mobile, and therefore, we can feel like we're physically in the world, but also we can pop in to this virtual world at any moment.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       I like the sound of hybrid, and I love that you shared that joke about the bathrooms, because it's so strange to think about these two worlds colliding so heavily. How can people keep up with you, Brett and Mike, what's the best way?

Mike Snider:                    I'm on Twitter @Mike Snider, S-N-I-D-E-R, and, obviously, we would love you to come to, or you can go into the USA TODAY app and highlight tech and various story subjects, and you get both our stories.

Brett Molina:                   Yeah. And don't forget, we also have the Talking Tech podcast, which comes out every day, new episodes, and you can subscribe to the Talking Tech newsletter. Go to and subscribe to Talking Tech.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       Brett you're BrettMolina23 on Twitter?

Brett Molina:                   That's right. Yep. On Twitter, I'm @BrettMolina23.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       That's great. Well, thank you both so much for being on the show today.

Brett Molina:                   Thank you.

Mike Snider:                    We'll see you in the metaverse.

Shannon Rae Gre...:       You can read Brett and Mike's stories about the metaverse and the links I've included in the episode notes, and definitely make sure to look for the Talking Tech show wherever you listen to your podcast.

                                           If you liked this episode of 5 Things, please write us a review on Apple Podcast. I want to say thanks to Alexis Davies for her help editing this episode. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with 5 Things you need to know for Monday. Thanks so much for listening. I'm Shannon Rae Green. I'll see you next time. Until then, you can keep up with me on Twitter, where I'm @ShannonRaeGreen.