We don’t need Zuckerberg’s metaverse – opinion

Facebook’s proclaimed new focus on something called the Metaverse is fascinating because, unlike its other products, the concept seems psychologically unappealing and is even likely to fail, except as a twist on the older profession.

Always from the heights of Start-Up Nation, some caution is recommended with technological forecasts. Most of us are so in awe of the technology coding of everything that we lean toward passivity as our lives and businesses turn upside down in waves.

With tech-related companies making up nearly 40% of the S&P 500 valuation, there is a feeling that they should know what they are doing. The innovations of the last few decades are so logical and intuitive, yet the tech-savants were the first to think of them. And once they did, the value was so obvious that adoption was on a planetary scale.

Consider how clearly this applies to the specific innovations below:

The web: Internet is the original virtue (or sin), which allows a computer to connect to a distant one, exchanging data. It eliminated the need for physical proximity for many of the human experience use cases. This won’t kill bars or brothers, but the rest is up for grabs.

Small toy figures are seen in front of Facebook’s new rebranding logo, Meta, in this illustration taken on October 28, 2021 (credit: REUTERS / DADO RUVIC / ILUSTRATION)

Email: Even before the web, certain industries and universities were linked in networks that allowed file sharing. It’s a short way to send letters instantly and without the need to fold papers, lick stamps, or days of waiting. The people exposed to it (including me, as a computer science student in the 1980s at Penn) knew that traditional mail would be dead.

Flat screens: They were possible since the 1960s, but only became widely visible with the spread of certain laptops (journalists often used the Tandy model sold at Radio Shack) two decades later. Those who used them then knew: it would soon be sayonara for the square, flickering television.

Mobile Phones: Why Connect Phones to the Wall with a Cable? The idea becomes absurd once you have walkie-talkies with a range. Despite some strange initial resistance in the United States, this was quite clear in the early 1990s.

Ecommerce: Instead of searching the shelves for a hard-to-find edition, online stores can post everything that’s ever been published, let you read snippets, and enable user reviews. The economy may have caused Amazon some delays on the road to profitability, but for the consumer, since the late 1990s, it was a no-brainer.

Smartphones: If you are going to carry a phone with a flat screen and a processor, and the Internet exists, why should it be just a phone? The usefulness of what is possible was astonishingly obvious from the moment Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007.

Social networks: Facebook provides a personal news service to your friends; Twitter lets you send searchable text to the world; Instagram creates a global art gallery from your photo album; LinkedIn transforms resumes into public, mega-linkable generators of career maps. It probably takes a genius to come up with these things, but not to identify usefulness.

Streaming – On-demand online audio was widely possible since the late 1990s (Napster; torrents), but it undermined the music industry so much that problems ensued. With broadband and a lean business model, this spread to video and became legal. Netflix’s 2013 release of House of Cards made it clear: There’s no reason to be a slave to schedules anymore.

Virtual meetings: the modern economy connects workers from anywhere in the world; you can’t congregate them all in one office. It is also not necessary when we have synchronous video calls. Offices are good for team building and some tasks, but demand will collapse. COVID is just the accelerator.

All of these developments were helpful in immediately apparent ways (less apparent was the damage to come: the destruction of journalism; the amplification of dangerous lies; the exacerbation of humanity’s obsession with appearance).

In addition, the network effect, whereby a service improves the more people use it, created a series of niche monopolies.

Now ask yourself if you need to replicate our existing universe as a 3-D cartoon while wearing a headset. That is, essentially, Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse.

It can be useful for games, a great deal for sure.

It primarily has limitless potential related to sex, an area where the real universe falls short for many people (notice what this did to Tumblr, OnlyFans, and even Instagram). Consider the failure of Second Life, an early version of what Facebook, renamed Meta, is trying to develop: Its biggest hit about a decade ago was probably the thriving perversion scene in its virtual rooms.

Note the disappointing adoption of both virtual reality and 3D television. Most 3D TV buyers regretted the purchase about a decade ago, when there was a push to market them. Analyzes tended to focus on implementation (old-fashioned glasses, extra costs), but the demand for the content itself was non-existent.

All these failures are related and the reason is psychological. A 3D experience takes over your consciousness and invades your personal space; You literally cannot be kept at a distance. Although many people turn to drugs to intentionally lose control, most like their experiences with media and art to be controllable. To enjoy it, most art must be contained and contemplated. A 3D universe that takes over your brain can be immersive, but again, a torture chamber is immersive.

Unlike Facebook, we don’t need the Metaverse.

Some see Facebook’s rebrand as a ploy to divert attention from the embarrassments of its civilizationally damaging algorithm. But with the Metaverse tactic, one wonders if the company hopes to fail: get rid of regulators while its real business continues to dominate the planet like a digital Godzilla.

The writer, a technologist by training, is director of strategy at digital engagement firm Engageya and managing partner of Thunder11, a communications firm with a specialization in technology. Prior to that, he was the Associated Press’s senior editor in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In the 1980s, he was one of the first to develop and commercialize multilingual word processors for personal computers.


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