Immersive experiences have been on a major increase as technological improvements continued soaring since the beginning of the last decade. Companies have scrambled to make their mark in the virtual world.

The Covid-19 pandemic helped speed up improvements to some digital platforms like ZOOM and Google Meet, which were key in keeping people in touch while social distancing. Video gaming also boomed.

However, others have been left behind due to limited connectivity. According to Statista only 24% of those who reside in highly vulnerable areas managed to get internet access during the Covid-19 pandemic period.

Experts have warned the rise in innovations like the metaverse could worsen the digital divide as they require technologies that are not accessible to everyone.

Immersive experiences not for everyone

An article published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) discusses how the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the digital divide in the world.

This is based on a study by Ipsos, which shows Covid 19 worsened the digital disparity, as billions still remain without access to the internet -a basic human right.

The study reveals that differences based on gender, age, education, ethnicity and income exists in affinity to and participation in the metaverse and virtual worlds.

According to the study, most people in China, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saud Arabia expressed the opinion that the “metaverse is for people like me.”

The US trailed at 43% while only 27% in the UK expressed a personal affinity to the metaverse.

Another major difference from the study was that higher income households and the employed warmed up to immersive experiences more than those from lower income households and unemployed.

In this regard, 49% with household income of $100 000 or more agreed “metaverse is for people like me.” This was in comparison to 34% with households of $45 000 who showed affinity to “metaverse is for people like me.”

Location also plays a part in interest in the metaverse. City dwellers -59% – agreed to personal affinity to the metaverse compared to suburban and rural residents at 33% and 36% respectively.

Feeling at home in the metaverse

The study shows a clear line drawn between those above 40 years of age and those 40 and younger. There is also a gender divide regardless of age as men registered more interest and engagement than their female counterparts. Additionally, the Ipsos study shows men are much more likely than women to say they feel comfortable in a virtual world.

In terms of level of comfort in the virtual world, those who struggle with identity in real world find the metaverse a safer place to be themselves with 71% agreeing “metaverse is for people like me.”

“This is one of the more interesting and potentially troubling findings in the survey,” explained Ipsos.

According to the study, most active communities for the metaverse are gamers, creators and influencers.

Most survey participants said they participated in an immersive experience while a third said it was for gaming, spending time with friends and watching a show, movie or concert.

Virtually out of immersive experiences

Proponents of the metaverse like Meta envision it as a space where users work and socialize without sharing same physical space. But to enjoy this, people need high speed connectivity, devices such as immersive virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses and or a combination of wearable devices.

Edge Hill University cyberpsychology specialist Dr Linda Kaye however told Lifewire that the introduction of the metaverse would only worsen the digital divide.

“With the proposal of the metaverse, which would require specific hardware as well as stable and high speed connectivity, it is conceivable that this will cause even more issues for access for those who are currently excluded,” said Dr Kaye.

Way forward

The Ipsos study shows that although most people’s immersive experiences are predominantly for gaming, there is room for increased engagement beyond gaming.

The WEF sees opportunities for bridging the digital divide, for instance building more awareness on the metaverse and increase opportunity for trial.

This is in addition to demonstrating how people can participate as well as speak of opportunities to participate through broad interests. For instance, experiencing a new tourist destination, fitness or learning.

However, connectivity and access to devices remains critical in achieving this.

In the US, bridging the digital divide is one of the key elements of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill which set aside $65 billion for broadband infrastructure. The legislation will also help lower prices for internet services and close the digital divide.

The Ipsos study was done in October 22 and surveyed 5 markets, that is China, UK, US, UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

This article is originally from MetaNews.


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