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What the Tech: Facebook doesn’t need a metaverse, it needs a reality check

As Mark Zuckerberg eyes Facebook as an all-conquering monstrous metaverse, perhaps it’s time he took a step back and fixed the small stuff first.

You have to feel a bit of sympathy of Mark Zuckerberg. With his billionaire friends having founded their own rocket companies and gone into space last week, he must have been feeling awfully lonely on the tiny little planet of ours that is evidently too small for his overweening ambition.

Perhaps that’s why, in an interview with The Verge this week, he declared his ambition to conquer the universe (scratch that, not yet) metaverse.

You see, the thing that Zuckerberg believes we all really lack in our lives is yet more social media. That’s right, even if you haven’t yet been politically radicalised or developed anorexia nervosa, the Zuck still wants his claws inside you on a ‘meta’ level. So what exactly does that mean?

Well it’s hard to know exactly what it means because, as ever, this concept is shrouded in the kind of fuzzy technological terms that seem to have been thought up by a crack-addled sci-fi writer. The gist of the metaverse seems to be that it will be an all-encompassing digital platform that is especially integrated with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, including holograms, allowing you to work, play, socialise and shop in the same digital environment without the use of a “small, glowing rectangle”, as Zuckerberg (who is definitely not an alien that uses the phrase ‘puny humans’ in private) describes smartphones.

Aside from the massive invasions of privacy and enormous power it would give to anyone who sits atop this horizonless technology (three guesses as to who), there are a few things Facebook might want to put in order in its own house, before it goes about invading literally every other house on Earth.

For one thing, Facebook’s current Virtual Reality offering is seriously subpar. Aside from plastering adverts in front of your eyeballs based on harvested personal data, the Oculus Quest 2 goggles have even caused a physical reaction, inflaming users’ skin. Perhaps some improvements are necessary before seven billion of us wear them every day.

That’s just the hardware of course; the social media platforms owned by Facebook have already caused serious harm to individuals’ mental health (with 60% of respondents of a survey citing it as the cause of a negative impact on their self-esteem); the firm was embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scandal that implicated the Donald Trump and Brexit political campaigns; while vaccination misinformation is currently being spread on its sites almost as rampantly as the propagation of the pandemic itself.

So while in some not-too-distant future we sit in an inescapable Facebook metaverse, exhaling every last megabyte of our personal data and constantly consuming anodyne adverts through the VR goggles that cause our faces to swell up, all to fund Zuckerberg’s upgraded human skin suit, just don’t say that I didn’t warn you. In fact, I’ll probably appear next to you – in hologram form, naturally – with a smug look on my face, as the planet burns around us and billionaires in rocket ships circle above. Worth it. 

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