Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has changed Facebook’s name to Meta in an attempt to expand social media apps into virtual reality (VR) and futuristic technology. Their goal is to create 3D spaces where people can socialize and go to work.
The term “metaverse” was originally coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi book Snow Crash. In the book, the Metaverse is a fictional place where virtual reality allows people to live in an alternate space where they’re able to build things that don’t exist in reality and possess different personas.
Although Snow Crash provided inspiration for Facebook’s name change, Stephenson stated on Twitter, “I have nothing to do with anything that FB is up to involving the Metaverse, other than the obvious fact that they’re using a term I coined in Snow Crash. There has been zero communication between me and FB & no biz relationship.”
According to Meta, “the metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together — and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world.”
The change from Facebook to Meta has received skepticism. In an interview with The New York Times, Jaron Lanier, cofounder of Virtual Reality and creator of VR goggles and gloves, does not believe Meta is going to provide revolutionary VR technology.
When talking about Meta, Lanier said that it sounded, “like some megalomaniac took my stuff and filtered it through some weird self-aggrandizement filter.”
Additionally, many believe that the timing is suspicious with the Facebook whistleblower coming forward about data collection and harmful material that the site promotes. Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, revealed her concerns about the safety of Facebook in a 60 Minutes interview in October.
When asked about the metaverse, Haugen stated that Facebook “wants to fill our environment with sensors, microphones, other kinds of ways of monitoring us” and the adoption of the technology by companies would be “super problematic.”
I believe that the name change is trying to take attention away from the recent scandal. This may have been an idea in Zuckerberg’s head for a while, but the timing of switching the brand just a month after the whistleblower’s testimony is very suspicious.
As for the vision itself, I agree with Lanier that it’s not revolutionary. It seems like Meta is just focusing on moving the usage of VR into the workplace.
The pandemic caused many of us to have to work from home, but Zoom is efficient for that. We don’t need to feel like we’re in the same room in order to communicate with each other. Personally, I would find it even more distracting and there’s more room for technical error. It’s also more expensive than Zoom, since getting gear like goggles would be necessary for all coworkers to purchase.
Meta is neither revolutionary nor needed. At best, this is an attempt from Zuckerberg to expand into the world of VR in the most boring way, and at worst he’s trying to cover up his years of negligence on Facebook.