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In a blog posted two days ago, I highlighted phrases and sentences from Mark Zuckerberg’s recent keynote speech sketching his vision of Meta’s intended metaverse. Here are thoughts triggered by his words:
1. “ you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine … “This isn’t about spending more time on screens … [include] communities whose perspectives have often been overlooked … consider everyone …”
No, Mark, be honest. This is about getting more people into Meta, and about getting them to spend more time in the metaverse, because that’s the only way you can sustain the growth your shareholders expect, and the only way you can withstand the onslaught of firms like Tiktok that now have greater appeal to the next generation of users.
2. “to feel present like we’re right there … making eye contact, having a shared sense of space, and not just looking at a grid of faces on a screen”
As researchers have known for years, eye contact is important in intimate conversations or delicate negotiations. But eye contact is not supported in currently available VR technology, nor are there prototypes without hardware more complex than today’s unwieldy and commercially unsuccessful headsets. Presence is more than photorealistic images of participants in a conversation, or eye contact, which are insufficient for real presence, which requires a bond of trust and a shared sense of purpose. These have nothing to do with technology. Despite Zoom fatigue from hours of looking at a grid of faces on a screen, there is no reason to believe that immersion in a sea of avatars on a head-mounted display or digital glasses will be more satisfying and less stressful.
3. “in new, joyful, completely immersive ways … Everything we do online today connecting socially, entertainment, games, work is going to be more natural and vivid.”
Myron Krueger’s pioneering Videoplace in the early 1970s showed the potential of VR for artistic experiences. VR is a proven success in high-end technologically complex gaming environments and will continue to provide even more compelling gaming experiences. AR is useful in certain kinds of surgery; it will soon also be assisting in firefighting. Both VR and AR have good uses in education for rich kids. But the notion that these technologies will be used for “everything we do online today” is ludicrous, as is the claim that this will make all experiences “joyful” and “more natural”.
4. “Technology .. built around people and how we … experience the world and interact with each other”
We experience the world in many ways, sometimes individually. sometimes in close interaction with one or more people. To assert that VR and AR makes our experience of the world more natural is false, even though it does create immersive and engaging and effective experiences in certain situations.
5. teleport to a private bubble to be alone. …
Why not just turn off the technology to be alone?
6. “You’ll … have a photo realistic avatar for work, a stylized one for hanging out … a wardrobe of virtual clothes for different occasions … put up your own pictures and videos and store your digital goods.”
It is hard to imagine many adults getting turned on by this idea, although it could enable new forms of play for kids. The degree of tech addiction of many children, and the documented destructive effect on many, as studied by Jean Twenge among others, makes one question its desirability. Is Mark’s Metaverse going to be better than traditional play worlds which deliver engagement and stimulate imagination? Is spending time online creating multiple avatars, imaginary clothing, and virtual wall decorations anything other than a new playground for the rich and the technically adept?
7. “new forms of governance … Privacy and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one … we need to make sure the human rights and civil rights communities are involved … we believe that neural interfaces are going to be an important part”
Based on Facebook’s track record, do we trust Meta to accept reasonable governance and to prioritize our privacy and safety? Has Facebook ever prioritized human rights? Do we trust Facebook to gather even more intimate data and to connect us via neural interfaces?
Facebook intends to spend $10B over the next year to build the metaverse. Such intense development will yield some interesting prototypes and products. But do we want a Metaverse from Mark Zuckerberg, a brilliant technician whose commitment to ethics has been manifested only through platitudes and apologies before congressional committees?
FOR THINKING AND WRITING AND DISCUSSING
I do not want Mark’s Metaverse, nor do I condone allowing his social media monopoly media to finance its construction. Do you want it? Why or why not?