Imagine a day when, despite being thousands of miles apart, you and your grandchildren can put on visorlike headsets and “walk” together through a digital version of the Smithsonian, Times Square or even your local shopping mall. You’ll be able to watch movies with them or attend virtual reality “concerts” together and then hang out with the artists and other fans in a virtual “backstage” salon after the concert. You’ll be able to do this with your loved ones in real time, even though you’re on opposite sides of the world.
That’s the future of the metaverse!
Most of our retired clients remember back when Internet access started with that annoying screeching sound when you dialed in over your phone line. Since then, we’ve seen the Internet transform by leaps and bounds. But get ready, because the Internet as we know it is on the cusp of making a quantum leap. And that could have a big effect on our pocketbooks and our lifestyles within the next few years.
How We Got Here: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0
First, let’s do a broad overview of where we’ve been and how we got here.
Web 1.0 refers to the World Wide Web as it was up until about 1999. Amazon was just getting off the ground, and people were learning to use the Internet to advertise and buy and sell goods and services online. We saw the rise of rudimentary online banking, and the Internet was finally a daily part of consumers’ lives in a big way. But our experience with the Web was still largely passive. Most Americans were Web consumers. But very few were active participants. That changed with Web 2.0.
With Web 2.0, consumers all over the world became actively engaged in the greater Web community. It started with the explosive popularity of personal web logs (or “blogs,” for short). “Bloggers” were instrumental in disrupting and disaggregating traditional media. The rise of Wi-Fi, fiber-optic and broadband technology made mass video production and distribution possible for ordinary individuals (think “YouTube”).
Then, in about 2007, smartphones took all that technology – the capacity for ordinary people to both consume and create content – and put it in people’s pockets. And companies like Facebook and other social media platforms gave us an easy way to form communities and share this content with each other.
Now Introducing Web 3.0 – The Metaverse
That brings us to today. Years of innovations in artificial intelligence, machine learning, graphics, data transmission, big data storage, video gaming and blockchain technology are about to transform our world as we know it.
Where our participation in Web 1.0 was passive and in Web 2.0 we became active, our participation in Web 3.0 will become immersive.
Remember the holodeck on Star Trek? Imagine strapping on a helmet and visor and being able to take the holodeck with you. And interacting with your family and friends as you do this.
Web 3.0 is already allowing users to be in the same space with other people in a virtual environment – a parallel digital reality called the metaverse. And it’s already happening.
In the metaverse, you and your grandchildren will be able to put on goggles and spend time together, doing activities such as “walking” through a digital version of the Louvre or visiting Miami Beach. You’ll be able to watch movies together and hang out wherever you want.
You’ll be able to do this in real time, even though you’re on opposite sides of the world, and even from a wheelchair or a nursing home.
All you will need is a good Internet connection and a virtual reality helmet or headset like the Oculus – made by a company owned by Facebook, which (did you notice?) recently changed its name to “Meta.”
JPMorgan Chase is the first bank to enter the metaverse with its virtual “Onyx Lounge.” On the lounge’s wall is a picture of the bank’s CEO Jamie Dimon.
The metaverse is an economy, but it’s a frontier economy with open space, something that always attracts all types of people to its limitless borders.
Combining the Physical and Virtual Worlds
We’re also already seeing elements of the virtual world popping up in the physical world. Some of you may have had children or grandchildren who enjoyed “hunting” Pokémon around your towns and cities. These Pokémon were digital creatures – virtual beings dropped into our physical space that were visible using a combination of cellphone and GPS technology.
Your kids hunted Pokémon using their mobile phones years ago. Today, you can already buy augmented reality glasses that enable you to “see” a parallel digital reality in the metaverse, even as you walk your dog down a city street.
Very soon – within the next few years – as you’re walking through a downtown parking lot, you may see people actively engaged in virtual sword fighting, “hunting” vampires or engaging in pitched laser tag battles. And here’s the kicker: “Life” in these digital environments will go on, even when you’re not playing.
In the near future, you will be able to spend entire days immersed in a virtual environment – shopping, exercising, playing 3D Dungeons & Dragons, exploring virtual museums and cities, re-enacting historic battles and more.
The Metaverse Economy
It is important to note that this article is for informational purposes. Our firm does not engage in or recommend the purchasing or sales of any type of cryptocurrencies.
The metaverse will be based upon a parallel digital economy – powered by blockchain and cryptocurrencies – in which users can buy and sell goods and services. This economy will include major brand names that are already purchasing prime virtual “real estate” and that are already building and selling space in virtual reality shopping malls.
As you read this, there is an invisible “land rush” occurring entirely in the digital space. Technology giants, major consumer brands and thousands of startups are raising billions of dollars to create a navigable digital reality. For example, Nike just bought a company that makes nothing but digital shoes that your avatar can wear while you’re in the metaverse.
Now here’s where it really gets wild: The virtual economy that will connect the metaverse will likely be built on a brand new blockchain application called nonfungible tokens, or NFTs. Early versions of NFTs are already making headlines in the form of crypto art, or more broadly, crypto media.
Crypto art is a digital version of a media product – a piece of art, a piece of music, a movie – that you can buy and sell “shares” in using the blockchain. The blockchain itself is the same networked computer system underlying Bitcoin and its somewhat lesser known competing digital currency, Ethereum.
$69 Million for an NFT Image!? An Explanation Why
The Internet wouldn’t be the Internet without the occasional insane, crazy, speculative bubble. And Web 3.0 is looking like no exception.
Case in point: Recently, a digital piece of art sold at Christie’s for a staggering $69 million! The image – created by digital artist Michael Winkelmann, also known as “Beeple” – is a collage of 5,000 images, one made each day over the course of 13 years. The price was an all-time high for an artwork that exists only digitally. Beeple’s collaged JPG was made in February 2021 as an NFT.
With an NFT, a secure network of computer systems records the sale on the blockchain, which gives buyers proof of authenticity and ownership. Many NFT transactions are paid using Ethereum tokens – including this one, in a first for the 255-year-old auction house Christie’s.
You might be thinking, why pay so much for a digital image? Well, imagine that you owned the actual Mona Lisa painting. You’d have a lot of options: You could sell it, loan it to museums or art shows for a fee, allow people to sell images of it in books or postcards, and more. However, if you only take a photo of the Mona Lisa, you don’t have the rights to do anything commercially with that photo, and you could be sued if you try to do so without permission.
Well, if you own the NFT version of the Mona Lisa, there is only one NFT of it available, and in the metaverse, that NFT probably would have a value to collectors or to businesses that would want to display it to attract visitors, or museums or galleries might pay to display it because there would be only one true NFT Mona Lisa image throughout the metaverse world.
Does that make a little more sense now?
The artist Beeple followed up his $69 million sale with another one: A hybrid sculpture/NFT that sold for $28.9 million. And another set of NFTs, called the “Bored Ape Yacht Club,” has already generated more than $750 million in trading volume.
The Real Value of NFTs, According to Mark Cuban
That’s the beauty of it. The value of crypto art, or NFTs, has nothing whatsoever to do with any artistic merit. Nothing.
If you look at these transactions simply as art sales, the pricing seems clearly absurd. But in the NFT world, depending how the digital token is structured, these aren’t merely art sales. You can structure an NFT in all kinds of ways.
For example, you can buy an NFT representing a unique 3D art “character” that represents you in the metaverse. In the case of Bored Ape Yacht Club, owning part of the NFT comes with additional perks, such as access to an exclusive Discord server where you can hobnob with other celebrities and jetsetters who also bought in, as well as preferred access to other NFT collectibles – which owners can presumably sell to later adapters, speculators or suckers – at a profit.
Moreover, everyone who buys a Bored Ape NFT representing a unique character also owns the intellectual property rights to that character.
Want to make an animated movie using the Bored Ape character that resembles Gwyneth Paltrow? You would need to buy the rights from Paltrow, who owns the NFT.
Billionaire investor and Shark Tank TV personality Mark Cuban has been aggressively investing in crypto ventures and in NFTs in particular. In a brilliant essay posted on his blog, Cuban sets out to destroy the conventional wisdom that “assets” need to have intrinsic value to function as stores of value.
“What happens when everything is digital? What happens when literally anything digital can be a store of value?” asks Cuban. “To so many the idea that a CryptoAsset could be a store of value is crazy. To them, there is no there, there. There is no intrinsic value. To them it is a digital representation of nothing, that crazy people are paying good money for. That is not the case,” Cuban asserts.
And that brings us back to Ethereum and smart contracts. Back to Mark Cuban:
“What is a digital good that can be sold? Literally ANYTHING digital. If it can be generated and saved in a file format, then it can be defined as part of [a] Smart Contract. That Smart Contract can be powerful with plenty of “If this than that” rules that allow for levels of control of that digital good which in turn can define its availability or scarcity, what happens when [it’s] sold, whether ownership is conferred, and my favorite and what I think [is] possibly the ultimate game changer, whether or not future sales pay a percentage of every sale to the person/company who originally minted the digital good.”
So maybe you don’t need to own a $69 million JPG collage from Beeple. And you probably don’t need to pay $1.3 million for your own Bored Ape character NFT, as pop star Justin Bieber did.
But these transactions are harbingers of the vast metaverse economy to come.
Lots of investors got wiped out in the South Sea Bubble of the 1720s, the radio stock craze of the 1920s, and the Internet stock bubble of the late 1990s.
But they changed the world, and huge fortunes have been made in each of these fields since.
The metaverse could change the world, too – very, very soon.
Neither AEWM nor advisers providing investment advisory services through AEWM recommend or facilitate the buying or selling of cryptocurrencies. Stuart Estate Planning Wealth Advisors is an independent financial services firm that utilizes a variety of investment and insurance products. Investment advisory services offered only by duly registered individuals through AE Wealth Management, LLC (AEWM). AEWM and Stuart Estate Planning Wealth Advisors are not affiliated companies. All investments are subject to risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. Any references to guarantees or lifetime income generally refer to fixed insurance products, never securities or investment products. Insurance and annuity product guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Media appearances are paid placements. The appearances in Kiplinger were obtained through a PR program. The columnist received assistance from a public relations firm in preparing this piece for submission to Kiplinger.com. Kiplinger was not compensated in any way. 1236237 – 3/22
President, Stuart Estate Planning Wealth Advisors
Craig Kirsner, MBA, is a nationally recognized author, speaker and retirement planner, whom you may have seen on Kiplinger, Fidelity.com, Nasdaq.com, AT&T, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, and many other places. He is an Investment Adviser Representative who has passed the Series 63 and 65 securities exams and has been a licensed insurance agent for 25 years.
The appearances in Kiplinger were obtained through a PR program. The columnist received assistance from a public relations firm in preparing this piece for submission to Kiplinger.com. Kiplinger was not compensated in any way.