Behold, Facebook Is Building a 'Metaverse'

Company touts concept of a massive shared virtual world, but critics have some questions
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2021 9:20 AM CDT
Behold, Facebook Is Building a 'Metaverse'
In this April 14, 2020, file photo, a sign showing the like icon is seen at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

In his 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson mentions a concept called the "Metaverse," a giant, shared virtual world combining augmented reality with virtual reality, where users appear as avatars and access this new world via special goggles. Facebook is now ready to bring that idea to fruition, with plans to hire 10,000 workers in Europe over the next five years toward that end, reports NPR. In a blog post, the social media giant notes that "the metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social and economic opportunities." Critics, however, wonder how Facebook will handle user privacy, as well as the misinformation and conflict that seem to emerge whenever the platform pushes toward more connectivity. More on the metaverse plan:

  • Explainers: The BBC and Reuters get into the nitty-gritty, delving more into exactly what the metaverse is, why there's suddenly buzz about it, and other entities that may have interest in it.
  • Ownership: Getting a queasy feeling that Facebook is taking yet another step to take over the world? The company assures in its post that "no one company will own and operate the metaverse. Like the internet, its key feature will be its openness and interoperability."
  • Mark Zuckerberg Q&A: The Verge sat down with the CEO, where he had this to say about the metaverse, using their interview as an example: "In the future, instead of just doing this over a phone call, you'll be able to sit as a hologram on my couch, or I'll be able to sit as a hologram on your couch, and it'll actually feel like we're in the same place, even if we're in different states or hundreds of miles apart. So I think that ... is really powerful."
  • Brands, take note: Ad Age looks at the possibilities from an advertising angle, and it predicts that the metaverse could be a "revolution," with "all signs [pointing] to massive potential and possibilities, including the opportunity to completely redefine how we interact with consumers."
  • 'Bleak' outlook? Ben Sixsmith agrees that a metaverse could have its benefits. "Escaping, or at least subverting, individual, geographic and societal limitations offers people pleasure and [fulfillment]," he writes for the Spectator. But he also notes that metaverses won't solve the "propaganda, misinformation and abuse" wrought by social media, or the resulting loneliness, conflict, and compulsive use. "We should have learned by now that the digital isn't altogether healthier than the real," he writes.
  • Lagging tech: Writing for Fast Company, Mark Sullivan sees a different problem: The technology—including high-performing VR/AR glasses and extended battery life—just isn't there yet. "It's a mistake to continue talking about it years before this mythical realm actually exists," he notes. "Facebook may eventually be seen as just another Big Tech company that promised something it wasn't able to deliver."
  • Devices: While Screen Rant concedes that the gear needed to support the metaverse is likely still in the infancy stage, it does find hints in what that gear would look like, pointing to a recent Facebook post by Zuckerberg himself. An Oct. 13 image shows the CEO wearing a bulky device over his eyes, which he calls "an early retina resolution prototype," before adding: "The future is going to be awesome."
  • Stephenson's take: Vanity Fair asked the man who came up with the metaverse concept what he thought "of the prospect of a Zuckerberg-controlled Metaverse." Stephenson's reaction, per the magazine: "low laughter and a very, very, very long pause." Check out the rest of his response here.
(Read more Facebook stories.)

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