I’m not going to chew over Facebook’s rebrand as Meta too much here (check out last Friday’s Geekout newsletter
for more on that), but one thing is clear: it’s successfully shifted the media conversation away from Facebook’s past wrongdoings and onto its glossy future in the metaverse.
The metaverse is fun to talk about as it involves speculation about a sci-fi future, rather than grubby and often difficult-to-explain misdeeds that don’t seem to translate into widespread public outrage.
There’s been plenty of cynicism about Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse, varying from ‘it’s just more VR’ to ‘he’s just catching up with Roblox’, to ‘it’s just vaporware to distract from the company’s problems’.
All of these things are to some extent true, but it’s also true that Meta is very
serious about taking the company in this direction. Just this week we heard about a “skin-like” material
the company has developed that could bring the sensation of touch to the metaverse, further immersing you in a virtual world. The company has also acquired
the maker of a hit VR fitness app.
And with 10,000 metaverse jobs planned in the EU alone
, and around $10bn of investment
in metaverse R&D planned in the coming year, this is a serious effort to move the company beyond traditional social media.
But should you actually care about a load of interlinked virtual world experiences? If it’s all years away, does it make any difference to your life in the here and now? Probably not. In the short term, the metaverse is a distraction. It’s a way of saying ‘yes, the world is a bit of a mess (partly due to Meta’s past actions) but there’s a bright future to look forward to. Shiny shiny!’
But the metaverse could
also be the next big shift in our relationship with the internet, just in a different way to how Mark Zuckerberg describes it. In a much-shared Twitter thread, Shaan Puri wrote
that we should think of the metaverse not as a product or a place, but rather “the moment in time where our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life”
. In that respect, we’re already moving towards the metaverse, and we probably won’t notice the exact moment when we start spending most of our time in it.
In the meantime, expect countless half-baked startup ideas to promise ‘x for the metaverse’ over the next few months as they leap on the latest buzzword (sorry, angel investors out there!).
On the other end of the scale, Microsoft is already trying to tell us
that its Flight Simulator, Minecraft, and Halo games are metaverses, which is a stretch. Meanwhile it’s bringing Teams to the metaverse (supposedly
) with 3D avatars and ‘immersive’ meetings. Are they really ‘in the metaverse’, or just some avatars?
I much prefer Shaan Puri’s time-based definition of the metaverse, rather than it being a place or a series of places. If individual apps can be metaverses at the behest of their creators’ marketing departments, then the entire concept will have lost all meaning six months from now.
A time-based idea of the metaverse also makes it seem much more inevitable than thinking of it as a place that everyone will jack into everyday within a decade.