The Metaverse and the destruction of human community

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Facebook's new Meta logo. Photo by Mary Kate Leonard

“In the metaverse, you’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine — get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create — as well as completely new experiences that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today …

“In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up.”

So unfolds Mark Zuckerberg’s terrifying vision of the future, as related in the Oct. 28 Founder’s Letter explaining the rebranding of Facebook into a new conglomerate company dubbed “Meta.”

Companies change their names for a multitude of reasons. Robert Cyran’s Oct. 28 Reuters article “Facebook rebrand more Altria than Alphabet” argues that this specific name change is a hasty band-aid on a tarnished reputation.

As Cyran explains, the name “Meta” allows a level of abstraction and distance between the parent company and the website itself. Just like other companies whose main product has developed a negative reputation, this allows a deflection of media attention or even signals a shift in the business itself.

Marlboro renamed itself as “Altria Group” in 2003 when big tobacco companies came under fire, Google rebranded as “Alphabet Inc” in 2015 to allow more focus on its other businesses, and Apple changed its name from “Apple Computer, Inc.” to Apple Inc. in 2007 once they began diversifying.

The company-formerly-known-as-Facebook also owns a ridiculous amount of other companies. 

Since its first acquisition in 2005, it has spent more than $23 billion on a variety of companies, according to Titlemax’s “Everything Facebook Owns: Mergers and Acquisitions from the Past 15 Years.” Over the years, they’ve acquired Instagram (bought for $1 billion), Whatsapp ($19B), Oculus VR ($2B), LiveRail ($500M) — just to name a few. 

Furthermore, Instagram is estimated to have contributed $8-9 billion to Facebook’s revenue in 2018. All the cute, aesthetically pleasing feeds that we love so much inflate not just our egos but also the pockets of Silicon Valley’s higher-ups.

Before the company went public in 2012 (due to its sheer size), it was privately owned by overlord Zuckerberg. The original owner started Facebook as a strange “which girl is hotter” website dubbed Facemash. Facebook as we know it today was launched in 2004 from Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room.

But the Facebook we know today is drastically different. As highlighted in the 2020 documentary “The Social Dilemma,” big social media companies use algorithms that encourage addiction in users ​​and harvest personal data in order to yield profit from targeted ads. 

But as Zuckerberg reiterated in his recent letter, “As I wrote in our original founder’s letter: ‘we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.’”

Right. Because the billions upon billions of dollars that goes in and out of this company are exclusively used to benefit customers and employees!

As Zuckerberg embarks into this brave new world, this final frontier of internet exploration, he reflects on the identity of the company: “We’re a company that focuses on connecting people … The metaverse is the next frontier in connecting people, just like social networking was when we got started.”

The “metaverse” is a reference to science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” in which the metaverse is a 3-dimensional world where humans interact with each other as avatars. 

Facebook is investing billions of dollars in development of their own metaverse. But to what end? 

Is the goal to create a new wave of a digital brain-drain, some shiny toy that will waste countless hours, days or, God forbid, years of our time? Is the goal to push users toward interaction solely as avatars in a false reality?

This article woefully neglects mention of the large amount of study done to show the negative impact of social media products on social development and teen mental health — as well as the impact of screens on young children.

But, as Zuckerberg warmly tells us, “The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place. Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology.”

Wasn’t that the dream of … humanity? Real, human-person interaction in real, actual life?

Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to have an answer. Rather, Meta will offer “augmented reality glasses to stay present in the physical world” and a future of holograms. Whew. There’s a lot to unpack there, but the short of it is a troubling paradox straight out of the aforementioned sci-fi novel.

Virtual reality is not inherently bad, neither are Instagram accounts or family Whatsapp group-chats. But there is something inherently bad in a potential future that strives to strip away all human-person interaction.

Dear reader, I implore you to, if you are strong of heart and sick of technology, delete all — or at least some — of your social media. 

If that’s too hard, then at the very least read Zuckerberg’s letter. Think about it, its words and its ethos, and then think about how often you check your vice — excuse me, social media platform — of choice. Before it’s too late.

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