Finance Monthly - March 2022

Stephenson in the very early days of the internet revolution. Way back in 1992 he presented a vision of human avatars inter-reacting in a 3D digital space. He pretty much nailed it – establishing digital life alongside concepts like “proof of work” leading inevitably to the concept of digital currencies, the genesis of Bitcoin, the Blockchain and even Non-Fungible Tokens. Today, the Metaverse is being “imagined” as ripe with opportunities; as some kind of Internet version 2.1 – describing how we will all integrate digitally. It will offer a more immersive world of deeper engagement into virtual and augmented reality – once the technology catches up with the promises. “Digital Visionaries” are talking about how natural it will become to do everything from shopping, business and living a social life online in the form of single or multiple digital avatars… It informs the world of “Ready Player One” and raises fears about a “Matrix-like” future. The thing is – whatever Zuckerberg is telling us – it’s already happening and has been for some time. Meta is not the leader – it’s just a follower. The global gaming sector is now infinitely larger than the film industry at over $100 billion per annum. Zuck is trying to paint the Metaverse as a Meta creation where he intends to own as a virtual environment where “you can be present with people in digital spaces”, an “embodied internet”, and how it’s going to “succeed the mobile internet”. It’s an opportunity for him to monetise Facebook’s investment in things like the Oculus VR set and to diversify his earnings from pure (yet risky) advertising to actually selling hard and soft stuff in the Metaverse. Will he succeed in making Meta the dominant venue in the Metaverse? Don’t underestimate the potential for monetisation in the Metaverse. Last year 17-year-old artist, Fewocious, sold 600 digital sneakers in NFT format through an online auction for…. $3.08 million. There is now a whole digital fashion universe selling unique NFT apparel gamers can wear online. As yet there isn’t a way of being able to dress across the net (enabling digital avatars to wear the same gear across multiple games and in multiple venues) but I’m assured it’s going to happen. There are now a host of earnest fashion designers exclusively focused on digital fashion. There clearly are also real and valuable applications for the metaverse in terms of virtual reality business and education. Effectively, education went virtual last year when millions of school kids zoomed an academic year because of COVID. Imagine a future where kids can attend any school they want as digital avatars – interesting and horrific in terms of real social interaction, not to mention the health consequences of living online. Zuckerberg is a smart fellow who sees potential. He knows Facebook is a risk business – the declining numbers of young people using it isn’t compensated for by the ones using Instagram. The dominant younger generation platform is TikTok, which is now part China Government-owned after it took an ownership stake in Bytedance. As the Facebook brand inevitably fades, its advertising revenues will plummet. Therefore, he is staking the next stage of his brand’s development on his company’s 3D universe. Zuckerberg will find new ways to monetise whatever data Meta can find in its virtual and augmented reality universe – which is not without associated risks to consumers and therefore the company. And that’s where the jury is out – can he make Meta as much of a monopoly as Facebook once was? If not, and I suspect it’s going to be a very crowded space, then Meta’s future is debatable longterm. So how does this end or Meta? What happens next will likely start to happen quickly – fast and broken. Meta is already in trouble for inhouse bullying and whistleblowers about its rotten corporate culture. As the stock tumbles and belief wanes, it will suffer key staff defections. The stock price will spike up and down. The firm will miss deliverables, and while trying to fix Facebook, lose focus on Meta. The stock will probably stage a buy-the-dip rally, but like any mainsequence star towards the end of its life, it’s burnt all its hydrogen fuel of imagination, inventiveness and innovation. It won’t go supernova, but as it collapses inwards and atoms fuse into heavier elements, first helium and down the sequence and it will briefly become a red-giant burning brightly in the financial media-sphere for months before it contracts into its white-dwarf long drawn out slow-burnout into nothingness…. Ouch… but not a bad metaphor if I say it myself. Finance Monthly. Bus i ne s s & Economy 15

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