Insight Study

NFTs, the Metaverse, and Gen Z: Exploring Limitless

In a recent insight study, we asked three student journalists to unpack the world of the Metaverse and answer the question: should brands be paying attention?

Read on to discover what Gen Z really think of the Metaverse, and their views on the future of Web3.

Darcie Henton, 21, from the University of Nottingham, explores limitlessness with NFT’s, the Metaverse and Gen-Z.

Find her LinkedIn here.

A quick explanation of three key terms (by my understanding) to help you get stuck in

The Metaverse. A digital world offering complete virtual freedom, wherein life could function just as it does in physical reality except with the addition of endless opportunities for improvement. Unlimited reality. This sounds super broad, and that’s because it is. Its broadness is its appeal.

NFTs. Non-fungible Tokens. Although traded, these are different to forms of Cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, as one Bitcoin can be exchanged for another whereas the value of an NFT is not equal to anything but itself. They are unique assets. An NFT’s worth is determined by a digital blockchain, the purpose of which is to verify ownership and value. What this essentially means is that NFTs do not really fit into any pre-existing system of value determination, anything can potentially develop worth.

Web3. This is sort of the idea of a new internet, wherein users help to control that space. In Web3 Foundation’s words the idea is ‘a decentralised and fair internet where users control their own data, identity and destiny.’

All three of these ideas share a similar groundwork, they all operate in a sphere of virtual impossibility and limitlessness. 

"This process was sped up exponentially by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed not only our generation but the entirety of Britain to think outside the box and inside the web in order to carry on operating as a nation."

Gen Z and life online

In theory, Gen Z is the perfect demographic amongst which concepts such as the above should blossom. As a recent graduate and 21-year-old myself, I am vividly aware of how much of our lives are lived online. At this stage of digital development, the Metaverse hardly seems far away, especially as most young people already operate at least partially in a virtual sphere. Of course, this process was sped up exponentially by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed not only our generation but the entirety of Britain to think outside the box and inside the web in order to carry on operating as a nation.

For this reason, it is unlikely that  young people around my age would reel in shock at the proposal of a permanent virtual reality wherein our normal physical lives could be turned online in a bid for efficiency. The pandemic has proven for many that some things just do work better remotely.

Equally as comprehensible is Web3, which advocates itself as a decentralised and fairer internet in a way which is hardly shocking nor unbelievable. The idea that users should be able to own their own information and data as opposed to it belonging to large corporations and faceless businesses is understandably appealing to many young people who have been consistently taught to keep their credentials safe online. The same goes for that promise of secure digital transactions and decentralised systems through which to exchange values. 

"At times, virtual entrepreneurialism feels more like an exclusive club for tech-heads than it does an expansive opportunity for us all to invest in."

NFTs, limitlessness, and the issue of inaccessibility 

The difference we find with NFTs is that in many ways, they push the boundaries of what some of those in Gen Z consider non-negotiables. For example, the Metaverse and Web3, although drastically different to the spaces we operate in currently, are founded upon systems we are already familiar with as a generation. We know virtual reality already, the same goes for the internet. Cryptocurrency operates in a similar manner to online transactions which many young people use now as their primary form of payment, through online banking and virtual investing, although of course a Bitcoin is by no means an equivalent to the everyday Pound. NFTs, however, make the suggestion that we do not need to follow any of what have usually been standard rules of trading or evaluation, and due to this, they move away from a more familiar realm of virtual ambition into a real unknown space for many. Leaning upon limitlessness, the NFT brands itself as an idea essentially completely unchained from tested standard procedure.

I was introduced to NFTs via several incomprehensible tweets raving about Ethereum Blockchains, CryptoPunks, and millions of dollars. Like many others, I scrolled past, assuming that if I couldn’t understand a 12-word tweet it was probably a discussion beyond my realm of understanding. Even when attempting to properly research the world of NFTs, most young people will be met with a barrage of complicated wording wrapped around each attempted explanation, to the point where you wonder if promoters and investors are intentionally keeping NFTs away from the grasp of the general public. At times, virtual entrepreneurialism feels more like an exclusive club for tech-heads than it does an expansive opportunity for us all to invest in.

As mentioned previously, Logan Paul is one influencer keen to promote the value of NFTs, but in his own words he is working and creating “for a space or a world which doesn’t exist yet”. It is this which seems to hold back many in Gen Z from investing fully in all these new and exciting concepts. Limitlessness is indeed an exhilarating prospect, but by keeping NFTs and the Metaverse as an untapped and in many ways impossible vision, it stays designated to the future, just beyond the grips of the everyday young person. 

Impossibility and accessibility perhaps need to be given greater equilibrium to help the younger generation get stuck into NFTs, the Metaverse, and Web3.

"The pandemic has proven for many that some things just do work better remotely."

Jordan Dargan, 19, explains how students are rejecting the Metaverse, and why:

Hustler mentality:

Since the launch of the internet in 1983, it seems as though everyone is getting rich overnight from “the next big thing”. First it was forex, then it was crypto, with the conclusion being that very quickly we realise that all of these “life changing opportunities” are very rarely (if ever) tilted in our favour.

From my experience, Gen-Z seem to have a burning lust for quick and easy money. This is evident in Tik Tok trends surrounding side hustles, investment and crypto currency. However, in actuality, this has made them extremely vulnerable.

Power in numbers:

The beauty of being a student is that we are optimistic about building a future, yet we have no one depending on us, so Gen-Z are often the pioneers who jump head first into new opportunities without a second thought.

Gen-Z have been the wave that carried advancements such as video streaming, social media, and online gaming to unprecedented heights making companies such as TikTok household names. So surely the next big tech revolution should be backed by us as well, right?

The Metaverse:

In late October of 2021, Mark Zuckerberg broke the internet when he announced that Facebook would not only be rebranding itself to ‘Meta’, but that it would also be opening a multi-million dollar department dedicated to creating the world’s first fully immersive metaverse.

However even now in 2022, the majority of Gen-Z are yet to adopt the concept of the metaverse into their lives. This is no surprise considering the barrier to entry is so high in all aspects.

"Very quickly we realise that all of these 'life changing opportunities' are very rarely (if ever) tilted in our favour."

Barriers to entry:

The first is the financial barriers. To enter the metaverse you’ll need to begin by purchasing an oculus VR (virtual reality) headset, which starts from £299. This isn’t exactly affordable for the average student.

The second is the educational barriers. Even with all the equipment a student still requires a basic understanding of cryptocurrencies and products linked to them such as NFTs. This aspect of the metaverse can be quite overwhelming and a big turn off for your everyday student.

Escaping reality:

The idea of the metaverse is to escape the dull reality we live in by immersing ourselves in a fully fledged virtual reality lifestyle powered by the advancements of web 3. 

Zuckerberg envisions the world doing everything from going to work or university, to dating and exercising, all from one central metaverse, each user having their own unique experience. It’s hard to envision a world in our lifetime where this concept will receive mainstream adoption. 

Student wellbeing:

There’s also the question of mental health. About 1 in 5 students worldwide are diagnosed with mental health issues, but it’s believed that 3 out of every 5 in have suffered some kind of mental trauma during their lifetime. In a “perfect” metaverse reality, some would find little reason to want to return to the reality in which we currently live in.

Conclusion:

Web 3 is the most eccentric concept we’ve seen in the last 20-30 years. Although the idea of replacing money with NFTs, and running around a limitless metaverse sounds exciting, students are not likely to adopt this anytime soon. For brands trying to reach students, for now, the metaverse is not the place to do it.

 

"For brands trying to reach students, for now, the metaverse is not the place to do it."

Ryan Keane, University of Nottingham graduate, explores what his Gen-Z peers think of the Metaverse and NFT’s.

Find his twitter here: @ryanjameskeane

For many people, the ‘metaverse’ has become a scintillating topic. The virtual-reality space has allowed its users to interact with others in a unique, computer-generated environment. It’s also enabled people to invest in digital forms of finance such as cryptocurrency and digital assets known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) which serve as cryptographic records of ownership for an item that is encoded into a blockchain. 

As the parameters of the internet expand, so does the popularity of the metaverse and its properties. 

Given Gen Z’s reputation for being internet-savvy, I have set out to understand what our generation thinks of the growing popularity of the metaverse – and to see if they hold any concerns about it.

“It could really be the next huge thing!”

Tom Kerkour, 22, who works as a young tech journalist in France, believes the metaverse could become immense in the coming years. He says his team first heard about the metaverse “1.5 years ago” and that initially, they didn’t think much of it. Now, however, he knows much about it and says he sees the good and bad in it.

“It’s exciting,” he says. “It could really be the next huge thing! But I think that people who try things like concerts in Fortnite or buy VR headsets quickly get bored. There isn’t much to do yet.”

It’s clear that Tom believes the metaverse hasn’t yet peaked in popularity. Whilst he does admit the prospect of a larger metaverse is thrilling, he does believe that the virtual-reality world can cause problems: “If we take crypto, its purpose is to decentralise finance and help everybody get a better grip on their finances. But right now its main usage is either speculation or some cases of money laundering.”

Despite some misgivings about the metarverse, Tom goes on to say that he would love to play a “fully immersive video game” or “be able to hang out with friends hundreds of miles away” through the metaverse but that he wouldn’t want to live his whole life in it. 

“I think it’ll explode”

Similarly, 22-year-old John M., who works in cyber security, says his job has given him a sharper “understanding” of the metaverse, insofar he himself has invested in cryptocurrency. He explains his reason for this is because of “financial gain”. Cryptocurrency, he says, will be “invaluable” over the next ten years.

It’s clear that Joel views the metaverse favourably. He says, however, that he doesn’t like NFTs. He says he has no use for them and that they’re not environmentally friendly. This is a common concern. NFTs are often bought and sold with Ethereum – a cryptocurrency that supposedly uses a lot of energy and can release greenhouse gases. 

Joel also expresses that the metaverse more generally is something that intrigues him. He says: “I think it’ll explode, that it’s going to be growing massively over the next few years and the possibilities of what it could be used for really excites me. I’m interested in tracking it and seeing where it ends up.

“I think the whole idea is exciting… it definitely worries me”

Tom and Joel work in the world of tech and cyber. But what about members of Gen Z whose opinions aren’t informed by ample technological experience?

Similar to Tom and Joel, Jess Walker, who is in her early twenties and says her knowledge is “limited”, sees a varicoloured side to the metaverse, regardless.

Jess says the “whole idea is exciting”. Citing films where things such as virtual reality are branded as harmful, Jess says these concerns played out in fictional ways aren’t “good-enough reasons to brand such amazing innovation as harmful”. 

Jess, however, does say that the metaverse may elicit some issues down the line. “It definitely worries me. I think the main concern is how our views on privacy have changed even with social media.”. She explains that she has some “safeguarding and censorship” concerns as the metaverse could impede upon our ability to just sit with ourselves and ourselves alone.

A big picture

It would be unfair to argue that Gen Z thinks one way or another about the metaverse. Regardless of the extent of their experience with technology, it’s apparent that people in this cohort have expansive opinions on it. They can see both the good and the bad.

We as a society can’t be sure yet of what will happen with the metaverse. We don’t know what it will mean for society as it progresses, either – or more specifically, a generation that often has its fingers on the technological pulse.

 

 

"It would be unfair to argue that Gen Z thinks one way or another about the metaverse...they can see both the good and the bad"

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