“Some people will say this is not the time to focus on the future,” said Mark Zuckerberg at the opening of the Facebook live stream 2021 Connect. He was clearly referring to the real, current controversies his company was facing. But after uttering that phrase, The Zuck slipped into a world of delusion. He spent the next hour touring a VR fantasy land, struggling to get a single point home – Facebook is no longer Facebook.
I mean that literally and figuratively. While the Facebook website keeps its name, the big company known as Facebook is now called Meta. This new name is a nod to the “metaverse,” a poorly defined concept of the future in which VR and AR technologies developed by Facebook are driving real-world commerce, social interaction, work and education.
This simple name change will not erase Facebook’s “mistakes,” as Zuckerberg calls them, nor will it protect the company from criticism or embarrassing hearings in Congress. People will continue to call Meta by its original name, as they say “Google” when referring to their respective parent company Alphabet.
I know some people will say that this is not the time to focus on the future, and I want to acknowledge that there are important issues in the present to work on – there will always be. For a lot of people, I’m just not sure if there will ever be a good time to focus on the future. But I also know that many of you feel the same way as me.
But this is where the figurative change of identity comes into play. Facebook spent its hour-long livestream making promises about the future, and those promises could affect our view of the company today. Once the metaverse is in full swing, Facebook says we will be playing AR basketball games with strangers from all over the world. We spend our working day on a desert island with cool VR glasses and of course buy NFT band merch for our Metaverse avatars.
To be clear, the Metaverse “future” shown during today’s keynote is delusional. It’s a mess of half-baked product pitches and impossible nonsense. But when you see a bunch of pre-rendered avatars playing these concepts at a mile per minute, forget that Facebook is Facebook. This stuff feels infinitely removed from the Facebook social media empire, which encourages divisive content and actively disregards children’s mental health. It’s quite a utopia.
Facebook’s keynote was a feverish dream from start to finish, but there was a definite whimper before it closed. Correctly; Facebook announced its powerful Oculus Cambria headset. This was a moment where Zuckerberg could bring it all together, put his metaverse fantasies back on the ground, and proudly accept Facebook’s place in the world. But like today’s “flaws” Zuckerberg briefly mentioned, the Oculus headset has been glossed over in favor of something that may be impossible – a harmonious Facebook-based world of tomorrow.
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