Metaverse schmetaverse

Another set of reactions to Meta’s easy-to-mock metaverse announcement, and reminders that its sci-fi inspirations were dystopian novels.

Mocking Meta: Facebook’s virtual reality name change prompts backlashThe Guardian
Satirical late night news programme the Daily Show tweaked Zuckerberg’s Meta presentation video by superimposing the tech billionaire onto footage of the January 6 Capitol riots and the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist march. Both events were organised on Facebook. “Imagine you’ve put on your glasses or headset and you’re instantly in your home space and it has an incredibly inspiring view of whatever you find most beautiful,” Zuckerberg says as footage of Capital rioters and a group of tiki torch-bearing white supremacists plays in the background.

Meanings of the metaverse: Productizing realityRough Type
Facebook, it’s now widely accepted, has been a calamity for the world. The obvious solution, most people would agree, is to get rid of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has a different idea: Get rid of the world.

Experts warn Facebook’s metaverse poses ‘terrifying dangers’New York Post
Professor Reid is concerned about the vast amount of data that could be collected from the metaverse and who controls it. He also fears that avatars could be hacked and you could end up interacting with cybercriminals rather than people you know and trust. Reid explained: “The metaverse’s ultimate aim is not just virtual reality or augmented reality, it’s mixed reality (MR). It’s blending the digital and the real world together. Ultimately this blend may be so good, and so pervasive, that the virtual and the real become indistinguishable. And the market for that is gigantic. Whoever controls it, will basically have control over your entire reality.”

From ‘metaverse’ to ‘metacapitalism’.

Metaverse: how Facebook rebrand reflects a dangerous trend in growing power of tech monopoliesThe Conversation
The backlash has ranged from moral outrage over Facebook itself, to ridiculing Zuckerberg’s new vision for technology. What is overlooked is how this represents the desire to create metacapitalism – which uses technology to shape, exploit and profit from human interaction. It is a completely marketised virtual reality world fuelled by the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, unjust global working conditions and the constant invasion of users’ data privacy for private financial gain. […]

These moves play into a broader strategy to socially rebrand metacapitalism positively. The introduction of the metaverse is part of a new trend of what business ethics academic Carl Rhodes has referred to it as “woke capitalism”, noting in a recent article that “progressive gestures from big business aren’t just useless – they’re dangerous”. Whether it is the Gates Foundation initially opposing the spread of global vaccines in order to protect patent rights, or Elon Musk promising to create an “multi-planet civilisation” – while avoiding paying much-needed taxes here on Earth – corporations are now increasingly using philanthropy and utopian visions to hide their present day misdeeds.

Do you think he’s worried, though? Doubt it.

Meta and the Facebook Papers: Why Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to fearSalon.com
[L]et’s face it: Investors aren’t foolish if they continue to act as if there’s no chance in hell that the behemoth social network will face serious consequences for anti-social behavior. On the contrary, anyone taking a look at Capitol Hill right now would be surprised if that American leadership could reliably regulate a dodgeball game, much less an international company that is eroding our collective faith in humanity. […]

Zuckerberg has proved, time and again, that he cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it conflicts with his profit motive. Yet politicians at a federal level look like they’re powerless against a company they supposedly have a legal right to regulate. So, as much fun as it is to imagine Facebook will be toppled by this deluge of scandals, right now, the smart bet is that they’ll come out on the other end of this doing just fine. The rest of the world, however, won’t be so lucky.

Still, this is all some way off.

Metaverse: five things to know – and what it could mean for youThe Conversation
Different corporations will probably have their own visions or even local versions of the metaverse but, like the internet, they will all be connected, so you can move from one to the other. … I suspect Facebook will need to be in this for the long haul and that their vision of the metaverse is still many years off becoming a (virtual) reality.

Metaverse! Metaverse? Metaverse!!Benedict Evans
So, all of this is rather like standing in front of a whiteboard in the early 1990s and writing words like interactive TV, hypertext, broadband, AOL, multimedia, and maybe video and games, and then drawing a box around them all and labelling the box ‘information superhighway’. That vision of all consumers everywhere being connected to something was entirely correct, but not like that, and many of those components were blind alleys. ‘Metaverse’ today is again a label for a bunch of words on a whiteboard, some of which are more real than others, and which might well all end up combined, but not necessarily like that.

This article from PC Gamer has been my favourite take-down of all this metaverse hype, I think.

The metaverse is bulls**tPC Gamer
The metaverse is bulls**t because tech moguls missed the part where cyberpunk is dystopian. More than NFTs or cryptocurrency or any of the other brain-melting nonsense tied up in the tech landscape of 2021, this is the part that truly makes me want to stick my entire fist in my mouth and bite down. The push to create the metaverse, at least from companies like Epic and Facebook, seems entirely built on a teenage boy’s reading of Snow Crash: zeroing in on the awesome vision of future technology while totally missing the book’s satirical skewering of capitalism.

Microsoft’s making a start, though.

Microsoft takes on Facebook by launching metaverse on TeamsFinancial Times
The US software giant said that in the first half of next year, users of its Teams collaboration software would be able to appear as avatars — or animated cartoons — in video meetings. Remote workers will also be able to use their avatars to visit virtual work spaces, which would eventually include replicas of their employers’ offices. … “With 250m people around the world using Teams, the introduction of avatars will be the first real metaverse element to seem real,” said Jared Spataro, the head of Teams.

The metaverse will mostly be for workQuartz
For all of the chatter from Facebook/Meta, Nvidia, and other companies about building the metaverse, though, he thinks the metaverse will be mostly empty. That is to say, there won’t necessarily be a lot of things to do in this immersive version of the internet. While social experiences and games could come to define the space, Bailenson, who founded Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, is betting that education and work will remain the “killer apps” of virtual reality (VR) in the years to come.

How dull. I know where I’d rather be.

Zuckerberg’s metaverse: Lessons from Second LifeBBC News
Rei’s concern about a metaverse monopoly is one shared by many, including Anya Kanevsky, vice-president of product management at Linden Lab – the company running Second Life. Anya has watched with interest as several tech giants have started to talk about the new idea of a life online. Second Life has been going since 2003.

“I’m a little bit concerned about the dystopian nature that the conversation seems to be taking on right now,” she says. “The entry of a slightly oversized and outsized player into the space seems to signal to people that they are not the owners of it, that someone else is going to be setting the rules and kind of running the show and they will just be the consumers.”

As has been pointed out many times now, it was Neal Stephenson’s dystopian Snow Crash that first gave us this term, back in 1992.

Snow Crash and four other novels which are required reading for the Facebook generationVerdict
Arguably the most prescient element of the novel is the government’s failure to legislate to curb the technology which controls the world. At one point, the villain of the novel notes: “Y’know, watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favourite sport… It’s like if they figured out a way to regulate horses at the same time the [Ford] Model T and the airplane were being introduced.”

What’s he working on these days?

Sci-fi icon Neal Stephenson finally takes on global warmingWIRED
[H] read journalist Oliver Morton’s 2015 book The Planet Remade, about solving the problem of climate change with scientific and technological trickery on a planetary scale. That idea made Stephenson think there might be a novel there. “Nothing else matters in comparison. It’s going to be the issue for 100 years,” Stephenson says. “I’m a guy who found a niche writing fiction about technical and scientific topics. It seemed odd to me that I should get to the end of my career and never take a whack at it.”

Another sci-fi author whose name crops up when discussing the metaverse is Ernest Cline. Here, he shares with us some thoughts on his debut novel, Ready Player One.

Ernest Cline’s Kindle notes & highlights for Ready Player OneGoodreads
“Besides, now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”

When I wrote this back in 2011, several movie stars had already been elected to public office here in the United States, and it was becoming obvious that fame and familiarity had the power to sway a lot of voters. In trying to envision my future dystopian reality of 2045, I imagined that at some point, only movie stars, radical televangelists and reality TV personalities would be able to get elected. I didn’t expect that it would take less than a decade for a reality TV personality to be elected to the highest office in the land.

When all’s said and done, other social networks are always available, as John Atkinson reminds us.

A century of social networkingWrong Hands

Author: Jerry McNally

SL cybercafé manager, keen reader, occasional blogger

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