The Zuckerverse arrives. Just over a week ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced this in a lengthy interview with Facebook The Verge, that his social network is preparing to become “a metaverse company.”
He first appeared in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, Metaverse is an immersive successor idealized on the Internet: a virtual space where billions of users will move, interact and operate across a myriad of different but interoperable worlds and situations, always retaining their avatar identities , virtual possessions and digital currencies. It’s hard to fix Metaverse (more on that later), but the way to distinguish between cyberpunk fog is a version of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One they meet Fortnite, is with virtual reality, is with blockchain. A game-y galaxy that blends seamlessly with Meatspace. The important thing is that Metaverse is now the buzzword of the day, and that Facebook wants a piece of it. The bad news is that Zuckerberg’s Metaverse ambitions seem boring.
Time and time again, during the interview, Zuckerberg set aside a language that seemed to have been removed directly from the 40-page information report of some covered consultancy. He made a lyrical phrase about Metaverse’s ability to increase “idle time and individual productivity.” He coined the sad “infinite office” formula, a supposedly desirable scenario in which Metaverse residents conjure multiple virtual screens into their Oculus VR headsets in order to perform various tasks as professionals. Zuck was “excited[ed]”(!) About Metaverse’s potential to host RV office meetings.
Evangelists and open source advocates of metaverse have been concerned about the invasion of Metaverse by Big Tech, about how regular suspects (Facebook, Google, etc.) would consolidate their foreign position in the digital world, picking up the our data and reconsidering the memorable practices of surveillance capitalism and the evils related to misinformation, manipulation and door maintenance. But Big Tech’s foray into the Metaverse could end up being far less a super-villain power catch and simply turn the Metaverse into a cold snoozefest: a hybrid between Heavy rainARI detective glasses goggles and a crisp depiction of an Accenture publication. When Microsoft starts talking about endless opportunities for a “business metaverse”, you know there will be no fun to have fun.
The idea of Metaverse was always likely to be captured by corporate squares, if at all, because there is no clear definition of what it is even supposed to be. The texts of the Metaverse – Snow Crash and without a doubt Ready Player One – they are science fiction novels that really cannot form the basis of rigorous research. Venture capitalist Matthew Ball has come closer to a systematic study of what a metaverse does, leaving room for interpretation of what we will finally see when the thing arrives. It’s natural for Facebook and Microsoft to decide to propose their vision on what the buzzword will convey, but it’s also discouraging that they were so unimaginative.
A crucial element that seems to be spoken of quietly in almost every metaverse analysis is its nature crisis technology. While most meta-prophets expect this virtual universe to evolve almost naturally from technological progress and social dynamics, they don’t really explain why anyone would want to spend all that time there. However, in its fictional incarnations the Metaverse is desirable because the alternative, i.e. the Earth, is unbearably dark. In Snow Crash, people sink into Metaverse while the world is a violent anarchic mess, haunted by mafia cartels and hyperinflation; inside Ready Player One, a world lower class living in shantytowns and poor villages, connects to the Oasis (Cline’s Metline version) for days and days in hopes of winning a scavenger hunt in the game.
While the narrative of the Metaverse refuge as a nuclear refuge may be a little too catastrophic, it’s no coincidence that the Metaverse began to really enter public discourse in 2020, as the pandemic was sweeping the world, forcing the majority of people inside and forbidding all but essential human contact. Of course, you want to launch into Metaverse when you slow down your days at home glued to a screen and when you do a lot of things you do: “investigate” QAnon conspiracy theories, change GameStonks to Robinhood, play with Technoking Musk and his puppy memes – they look like mixed reality games anyway. Closer, of course, you’ll want better meetings and better multitasking ribs when you’re trapped inside again while the 205 Omega variant circulates.