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February 24, 2022

Coming Soon: Facebook’s Metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse is his next big thing, and it’s no longer merely science fiction.

Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg changed the world and made billions of dollars with the introduction of Facebook, his social networking service. What, then, will he do for an encore? With our civilization still reeling from what social media has wrought, Zuckerberg is planning to make Facebook, under the parent company Meta, a completely immersive experience in the metaverse.

The metaverse’s current pop culture iteration is multiple “real” worlds — alternate realities, if you will — with various versions of the same people in Hollywood’s Marvel movies. Yet it’s a term that originated with science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in 1992, and he used it to describe a network of virtual worlds that are accessed through hardware like a virtual reality headset. This is where Facebook comes in.

Zuckerberg’s metaverse will immerse the user digitally inside Facebook. Here, you’ll be able to virtually join your Facebook friends for a concert or a movie, or any passive activity regardless of geographical distance. Zuckerberg also envisions the technology being used in the working world, where people hold jobs and perform tasks in the metaverse.

Much of the technology that will be necessary to bring Zuckerberg’s vision to life is already here. Facebook purchased Oculus, a groundbreaking virtual reality headset maker, in 2014. And other technologies being developed independently will make the metaverse available on a large scale.

Zuckerberg is all about the metaverse. Again, he changed the name of his company from Facebook to Meta back in October, and he’s pledged to put $10 billion into research and development each year until his Facebook metaverse is fully up and running in about a decade. With that kind of investment, it stands to reason that Zuckerberg is expecting a healthy return.

“What the metaverse broadly is going to help people experience,” says Zuckerberg, “is a sense of presence that I think is just much more natural in the way that we’re made to interact. And I think it will be more comfortable.”

Or at least more comfortable for Zuckerberg. By creating an immersive environment, users will no longer be distracted and pulled away from Facebook. They will instead be inside Facebook, looking at it through goggles, listening to it with headphones, maybe even wearing other sensory components as well. People will be completely captive, untethered from the real world.

But in the real world, Meta will be collecting data on everything they do, from eye twitches to wrinkled noses and everything they say and hear. And that data will be monetized by Facebook, as it sells its users’ information to advertisers. Remember: On Facebook, you are the commodity.

If all goes according to plan, Zuckerberg’s metaverse will make gobs of money for him, for his company, and for other companies that partner with or advertise on Facebook. And by using all the power that Facebook brings to bear, the metaverse that Zuckerberg creates will become a world where all the transactions that take place, whether social or economic, are controlled by Facebook.

The Facebook metaverse will be sold as a digital community where people gather and exchange ideas, where they make the world a better place. This, of course, was the same promise made of social media, and there’s no reason to think that the metaverse will be any better. For example, a sexual harassment claim has already been made in the metaverse, and this opens up all sorts of questions. After all, while it may be a digital world, people will still be its key component, and there will still be a need for law and order. Whose rules are we to follow in a global metaverse? And what work arrangements will be made between one country and another?

Plenty of questions will have to be answered as we move toward a reality that just a few years ago was pure science fiction. Technology sometimes advances regardless of whether we’re ready for it. But rest assured: Mark Zuckerberg is ready for it, and he’s angling to create a whole new digital world with billions of users that will be his to control. There are serious implications here, and we should give some serious thought to them.

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