Metaverse and bitcoin fall into the hype category. Smart devices and micromobility don’t. Those are the conclusions from an influential survey carried out last month in the US. Over 2,500 people were polled across all age groups. Amara’s Law has always been an important principle that influences how we think about the future. As Roy Amara famously noted, “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short-run and underestimate the effect in the long-run.”
Begin with the good news. We are becoming digital by default, a trend we believe began to accelerate with the pandemic in 2020. 75% of adults said that they or someone in their family interact regularly with a voice-activated assistant, typically a phone or speaker. A majority (58%) own at least one smart home device, while 21% own three or more. Even at these penetration levels, there’s still ample room for Alexa and peers to become even more embedded in our lives. There is similar optimism for smart cities. 51% want to live in places where the key infrastructure components (grids, traffic lights etc) are connected to each other in a network. A bigger percentage (74%) support the placement of micromobility devices in public places. We made the case for micromobility last year.
Levels of endorsement for the idea of a metaverse are markedly lower. Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s enthusiasm for the concept, almost five times as many people are ‘scared’ rather than ‘excited’ by the concept (32% vs 7%) although a markedly bigger percentage (58%) were simply indifferent. A comparable number (60%) were not even familiar with the idea of a metaverse. It’s still very early days, in our view, perhaps similar to where the internet stood a generation ago. Since the benefits are not yet tangible to many – unlike for smart devices or micromobility solutions – reluctance for metaverse solutions is currently elevated. It’s certainly not going to stop companies from investing in the space. At present, it seems to us, there is a potentially irrational landgrab underway.
Bitcoin and other digital currencies face similar challenges. Only 16% of adults currently own any form of cryptocurrency. When asked why they were reluctant to do so, 34% says it’s too risky and susceptible to fraud, while another 21% see it only as an investment opportunity and not as a practical currency, while 20% believe “it’s worthless and will eventually crash.” While we are not in the camp that would support the latter observation, we are very much of the opinion that a variety of economic, technical, operational and public policy issues need to be addressed before digital currencies can become meaningfully established. It’s also important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. We will be discussing this in a more detailed note shortly, but where we are most likely to be underestimating the future could be when thinking about the potential embedded in blockchain solutions, the foundations for decentralised finance.
13 April 2022
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