Yesterday evening, I finished work, had dinner with my family and then cycled up Alpe d'Huez.
Not the real, physical one, but a simulacra of one in Zwift, the virtual cycling app / game / training tool. I wasn't on my own, there were thousands of other cyclists on the mountain. Well not on the mountain - in their garages, sheds and living rooms.
Over the last few months there's been a lot written / spoken / tweeted about the Metaverse. Especially since the company that makes Facebook (previously also called Facebook) changed it's name to Meta. Of course nobody who regularly uses the Metaverse is calling it "the Metaverse". They are spending time in Roblox. Or playing Minecraft. Or even Second Life (for the retronauts).
This concept of a virtual world where people can interact in a 3D way has been around for some time. I remember working on virtual cafe for Nescafe, as a graduate at a small web agency all the way back in 1999. It was slow. People still had dial-up. Nobody was really interested in a branded cafe experience. Especially one sponsored by an instant coffee company.
The other day someone asked me if TodayTix Group had a Metaverse strategy. I can imagine the company selling tickets for virtual events. But so much of what the company does is about getting people together at live events. It sounded odd even verbalising it. For me the hours spend in Zwift are a means to an end. An attempt to do some exercise and get a bit less unfit in a fun and convenient way.
So what's next for the Metaverse? Maybe people will spend even more time in these places - the price of hardware will fall and faster internet connections become more ubiquitous.
Will people choose the Meta over reality? With better 3D googles? And more painfully realistic recreations of alpine climbs? I'm not so sure. I can't see people choosing the Meta in-place of reality. If you offered me a week cycling in France or 7-days on a virtual trainer I know which one I'd choose. But as a facilitator of convenience or entertainment there's a place in our connected world for these virtual spaces.
It’s a surprisingly warm summers day. We’ve been coming to Mull for more than a decade, but we’ve never had weather like this. It’s a flat calm on Calgary beach and the sun is beating down. The beaches of the west coast of Scotland often look like the Caribbean, but for once they even feel like it!
It’s pretty busy, for the Inner Hebrides, which means not that busy at all. Once I push out from the beach the hubbub slips away and I’m floating over the seaweed below, looking out for fish beneath the gentle waves lazily rolling in. I stand up from my kneeling position. After a few minor wobbles I’m ready to scoot round the northern side of the bay, up towards the old pier. There’s a couple having a picnic who are slightly surprised by my “hello”!
The bottom drops away from this point, and I get a moment of vertigo as I suddenly feel like I’m a long way from shore. I spin the board round and head back in a little before pushing across the bay towards the far side, past a yacht anchored a little way off shore.
As I head back in, the effort starts to hit me, there’s more current here than you might think, and on another day it would be a much riskier enterprise, but with a few minutes of long pulls on the paddle I’m back in the shallows where the girls coming splashing in to meet me.
I've always been interested in boats without actually spending much time on the water. Born by the seaside, my dad had worked in the customs on the Humber. I had plenty of childhood stories of jumping from ship to ship on rummage crews. As a child I devoured Swallows & Amazons, reading the series again and again. But apart from the occasional ferry to Arran I didn't really spend much time afloat.
I did convince my parents to let me try some dinghy sailing. But the romance of sailing wore off in the cold of a Sunday morning on Hollingworth Lake. I was clearly destined to be a landlubber.
Years later, I managed to spend some time commuting along the Thames by the underused river boat service. From Greenwich to Charing Cross on the clipper. Then if the connection ran to time you could transfer to a small boat down to Chelsea. This seemed like a hidden service. A chap called Peter at the helm who seemed to be straight out of a Graham Greene novel. He'd tell you about what was "app-nin on the river" or ignore you as the small boat nipped along the grey Thames.
A few years ago we moved to rural Northamptonshire. As far from the sea as it's possible to live in the UK. At first glance without much in the way of waterways to need anything more than a pair of wellies to navigate by. Firmly landlubber territory.
However, on our annual trips to Scotland I started to do some sea kayaking. Inspired at first by Nick Ray in Tobermory. Then with the family paddling round Castlebay. I rediscovered the quiet joy of travelling under my own steam by Kayak.
Like most people our horizons have been a little closer to home in 2020. We've managed to keep this going on the more sedate waters of the Nene and The Broads. The odd bit of portage aside it's a pretty relaxing way to spend a day as a family. It opens up the landscape and wildlife in it's own unique way.