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Practical Techie: Meta, Facebook’s metaverse proposal has many scratching their heads

Facebook, the beleaguered social media platform is up to new devices with a revamped branding it calls Meta and an offshoot enterprise described as FB metaverse, or its multiple reality web.

So, what is CEO Mark Zuckerberg up to now?

Facebook defines its proposed metaverse as “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” An electronic realm that’s not tied to any one app or any single place, either deferred or in real-time. Zuckerberg explains this new platform is aimed at supplanting the old Internet with newer technologies that will merge digital life with real life. His words: “Anything you can imagine could be done.”

And, just like the physical universe, the Facebook metaverse is supposed to be highly interactive, immersive, and collaborative.

We all know Facebook is a company that monetizes on the personal data of its users and it now wants to also sell them the hardware to interact more actively, and also profit from the motion data generated by virtual reality (VR). Smart move, some say.

VISORS — Meta is reportedly planning physical stores to showcase virtual reality and augmented reality headsets, plus motion controllers as it pushes deeper into the metaverse. Already Silicon Valley firms like Apple and Google have found success in retail stores. Interestingly, Microsoft recently ditched its retail locations to focus on online sales.

The new goal, Zuckerberg adds, is to populate its new virtual world with inexpensive visor headsets for gaming, An example is fencing with holograms of real life Olympic athletes. Also, for productivity with VR business meetings with participants physically present and others broadcast from the metaverse as avatars. Another avenue is in entertainment with which users go to virtual concerts from different locations with their friend, all wearing visors as if they were in the same venue in real time. Items include Facebook’s already existing Oculus Quest headsets, now rebranded as Meta Quest. They will throw in video chat devices branded as Meta Portals. Meta may call its retail locations “Facebook Stores.” All this, of course, will lead to tons of VR advertising. An even smarter move, others say.

DETRACTORS — But this quest already has many detractors. Facebook’s own internal research found many of its users were into compulsive social media practices that interfered with their sleep or work patterns and even personal relationships. It’s a condition commonly known as “internet addiction.” Many fear it may intensify with metaverse. According to whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony before a congressional committee on October 2021, Facebook has become too toxic for teenage users.

Social media experts also fear the harassment and hatred postings could multiply, even amplify. Also, users may be monitored more closely and bombarded with targeted ads. Or that the metaverse may come with fewer restrictions and harbor new scammers, traffickers, and cybercriminals. Some critics even imagine harsher virtual bullying campaigns through avatars that will not go away and cannot be arrested. In other words, the metaverse will become a place attractive to miscreants and mis-informants.

Other critics simply state Meta is a mere attempt by Facebook to “distance” itself from allegations that the platform thrives on controversial postings.

In essence, no one fully understands how ow its users stand to benefit from Meta and many detractors see it as merely a more immersive extension of the already existing digital life on the Web. Another daily escape route to the Internet of things.

MEMES — Facebook’s metaverse wants to take people out of their bodies and real-life locations and put them into a virtual space. People will co-exist in avatar form as pioneered over 20 years ago by the Second Life platform. Many are cynical about Zuckerberg’s proposal and reacted with cultural outrage. As is usual on the Web, jokes, and memes about Facebook’s rebrand already abound. This site offers a collection of political cartoons, half of them dealing with the metaverse theme.

In retrospect, the “metaverse” idea came from the book “Snow Crash,” by Neal Stephenson. The author created a shared 3D virtual universe. In this metaverse, you can shed your corporeal form and step into an avatar that lives a pixel-created life of its choosing.

Author Details
Author Rafael Matos is a veteran journalist, a professor of digital narratives and university mentor. He may be contacted at cccrafael@gmail.com.
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