Kevin Elson: As Facebook becomes Meta, how much do we really want to be connected?
Picture this: you wake up in the morning and put on your augmented reality (AR) glasses. You go into the kitchen and with one glance at the coffee maker, it lights up and brews your coffee. Must be low again as an ad for your favorite brand of coffee is displayed as a hologram giving you the option to purchase more.
With the brew in hand, it’s time to get to work. You sit down and join a virtual office. Hunger? No problem, visit the Amazon or Walmart virtual grocery store and choose what you want delivered right to your door.
Later, you jump into another room simulating a tropical island where you relax to the sound of the incoming waves. Maybe in the evening you buy premium entry to a venue that offers the virtual front row seating experience of a concert by your favorite artist.
Need socialization? No problem, there are a lot of rooms available in various settings that allow you to connect with others. All you have to do is walk to a room and voila, your couch can now teleport you anywhere on the planet and beyond.
Does this sound like a utopia or a dystopia to you? Have we come so far in our human evolution that we no longer need to leave our homes? That we can experience what we once called life through just one screen?
The idea of ââliving online is not new. There are many current applications, especially video games, which already offer the concept of an artificial environment for socializing. VRChat, Tower Unite, and Second Life all provided an alternate environment for spending time with old and new friends.
Beyond these game worlds, there are also those related to cryptocurrency like Decentraland and Somnium Space. Besides simply offering customizable avatars and environments, users of these crypto-based platforms can invest in virtual space and items using real money.
The idea of ââa metaverse from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg takes these existing concepts and aims to expand them significantly through an attempted âMetaâ rebranding. To fully digitize our lives, let alone monetize it.
Two quotes stood out for me in Zuckerberg’s hour-long Facebook Connect video. “I go to the metaverse” and “this is how we will all interact one day”.
I sure hope not. Is this really the next step? To shut us off from the real world, from real experiences and from real connection with each other? You certainly can’t get a real tan on this virtual beach, you can’t feel the sand between your toes as the waves hit the shore.
As bold as Zuckerberg’s plans may be, his hopes of plugging us all into his software will inevitably fail. Other similar platforms that I have mentioned barely maintain a remarkable user base. With Steam boasting over 120 million monthly active users and over 60 million per day, VRChat, one of the most popular virtual social platforms, only saw around 28,000 people per day at its peak.
Although Facebook hosts over 2.5 billion users each month, user adoption of a virtual or augmented metaverse would be a fraction of that. This will remain a niche that many will reject.
We get it, this pandemic has changed the way we all work and socialize, but people don’t want this new standard of Zoom calling and working from home to stay for good. This new normal is not normal for our social species. What we really want is a return to the world we knew, not a new pixel fact.
For a business that has been criticized for its security measures, data collection, and privacy in general, would you invite them further into your personal space? The invasion of big technology into our lives should be a constant concern.