I am old enough to remember the advent of the internet and the accompanying speculation about its utility and staying power. While the internet was subject to ridicule, today no one would deny its major role in our lives. Quite simply, it changed the way we interact with the world from personal lives to businesses to commerce. The internet has evolved over the past 20-plus years, but the underlying concept remains the same: a digital universe where people work, play, communicate, hate each other, fall in love and basically live out their lives through virtual personas.
However, one main characteristic of the internet is that the digital world is separate from the physical one. We may use the internet to learn about plants, but we still must use the physical world to experience them.
Now, technology is evolving past mutually exclusive physical and digital worlds and into a new space that has been described as “phygital” or the blending of the two (think Pokémon Go as an early example). Largely driven by advances in augmented and virtual reality, in a phygital space, the web is more than a place to learn or connect from afar but actually to engage in immersive experiences — which is a game changer.
How can a physical reality support us as a society, and what does this mean for how we connect, work and play? How can the phygital revolution be used for good and not just as another avenue for capitalism? Here are three ways the phygital space could positively impact humanity across industries.
Want to climb Mt. Everest? Experience the northern lights? Take on category 5 rapids? Many of us have dreams and desires for these experiences, but how many actually get to participate? Phygital spaces make these adventures accessible to all. Moreover, they allow people to experience epic adventures and not just learn or read about them.
Recently, on a family vacation, I brought my Oculus, and my family members (most over 60 years old) all climbed Mt. Everest. We were amazed at how realistic the experience was — an experience they figured they would never have, save for reading books and watching videos.
2. Training and Education
From health care professionals to first responders to students, bringing content to life in a way that impacts learning is a constant struggle for educators. While computers afford us a myriad of ways to train and educate people, experiential learning is extremely unique. Virtual and augmented reality allows medical students to practice surgery, firefighters to experience real-life scenarios without putting themselves in danger and students to learn from dynamic environments. For example, botany students may need to wait months to see a plant grow, but in a phygital space using augmented reality, this growth can happen in a matter of minutes.
Prior to the pandemic, services like Zoom and Google Meet were used primarily for businesses with remote workers. But once everyone was forced to stay home, they became vital tools for maintaining connections with family, friends, co-workers and schools. But, let’s face it, getting together for Zoom birthday parties leaves something to be desired. While we can see the others on the call, we are not experiencing their presence in the flat, 2D world of video calls.
Phygital spaces could improve upon this by bringing people together in the metaverse, where they can interact, play and work in a more realistic environment. Families who live far apart can congregate around the fishing hole, travel around the world, attend a concert or just hang out in a lounge and chat. While in-person experiences might be the gold standard, travel costs, schedules and global pandemics make physical experiences a great option.
Web3 and the metaverse are tools that support the evolution of a physical environment. Web3 is the blueprint for how the physical and digital worlds connect, and the metaverse is the virtual environment that supports immersive experiences. These are not companies or brands, but rather concepts that facilitate the development of our phygital future — a future that we have been moving towards for quite some time. Whether it benefits or harms humanity — that’s up to us. Building the phygital around the concepts of accessibility, training, education and connection can help ensure its role in improving humanity.