The too meta world of the Metaverse

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 16, 2021

Photo by Stella Jacob on Unsplash

Mark Zuckerberg could be a CEO (or Happiness CEO) in Dave Eggers’ new novel ‘The Every’. As Facebook’s founder changed his company’s avatar to Meta Platforms Inc. he said the “metaverse” is where we’ll connect with family and friends and that’s where we will express ourselves “in new, joyful, completely immersive ways.”

It sounds like something The Every, the fictional company in the eponymous Eggers novel, would adopt as its patter. Not sales patter, mind, because The Every doesn’t need sales patter, it’s too big to fail; it’s a quasi-sovereign entity, ruling over us all and the fictional metaverse conjured up by Mr Eggers.

What about the real metaverse? I mean the real imagined metaverse conjured up by Mr Zuckerberg?

Well, Parmy Olson’s account (paywalls) of her travels through the metaverse are no advert.

She spent two weeks out there, putting on an Oculus Quest 2 on loan from Meta and mingling “with people at an array of virtual locations including a concert, a church service, a conference and a speed-dating event.” She summed up the experience as follows: “Connecting with people in virtual reality is fun and exciting, but it’s also intense, tiring and often awkward. Going in as a woman was also deeply uncomfortable at times.”

Social VR she says, is a bit like “gaming combined with zany, old-style Internet chat rooms”. It’s got more men than women; doesn’t seem to have many rules and few moderators. Ms Olson writes that Meta warns all visitors “that its ‘trained safety specialists’ can dredge up a recording of any incident, and that users can activate a Safe Zone around themselves by pressing a button on their virtual wrist, muting the people around them. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I was uncomfortable, and there were no clear rules about etiquette and personal space.”