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Beware of ‘Meta’: Mark Zuckerberg's vision for social media is concerning

Facebook's name change may not seem super important, but in reality, it's a stark reminder of the media giant's sinister grip on society. – Photo by Meta / Twitter

“Metaverse” is not just some buzzword in the headlines of articles you’ll never read or captions of funny Twitter memes that jest at the eerily reptilian nature of Mark Zuckerberg.

The metaverse is a “virtual world” where our digital avatars will interact as an extension of ourselves, whether it be through virtual reality goggles or laptops and phones. Concerts, shopping, jobs, schools, hell, even walking on the moon will be made possible through virtual reality dubbed the metaverse, the next “generation of the internet,” as Zuckerberg describes it.

Facebook Inc.’s recent name change to Meta Platforms Inc. is not only a calculated rebrand to shift public attention from recent bad press but also a commitment to reshaping the internet to further serve Facebook and other corporations’ interests.

In short: The metaverse is what “tech visionaries” are calling the future of the internet, and Zuck’s recent name change is a signal that Facebook will be one of the companies at the forefront of this future, along with big tech and video game companies like Unity Software Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Every aspect of our lives will be regulated through private platforms. All the social interactions that make us brilliant creatures, all the human connections that make this existence worthwhile, mediated through corporations. Anyone seeing a problem with this?

The metaverse isn't exactly a new idea that sprang from the marketing geniuses and algorithmic gods at Facebook (excuse me, Meta). The term “metaverse” was first introduced in the 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stevenson. The way that the metaverse is being talked about now relies on ideas from “Ready Player One” and “The Matrix.”

In fact, because we’re still using a loose definition of “metaverse” (that is until the so-called technological innovators come up with a better way to brand and streamline their new world), it’s safe to say that metaverse-like experiences have existed before Facebook’s recent name change.

Remember when Roblox Corp.’s and Epic Games Inc.’s “Fortnite” hosted concerts with Ariana Grande and Travis Scott? Or Roblox's recent virtual immersive experience to celebrate Gucci’s 100th anniversary? Some even argue that “The Sims” is an early edition of the metaverse.

And the popularity of the next version of our sorry existence under surveillance capitalism is only growing. Justin Bieber is set to perform a virtual concert on Wave, a virtual entertainment platform, on Nov. 18. Bieber, who is an investor in Wave, said in a statement, “I am a big believer in Wave and love the platform as a new way for me to engage with my fans.” 

“Waves are live, interactive and immersive shows that are unlike any virtual concert you have ever experienced. We combine the best of live music, gaming and broadcast technology to transform the live music experience,” according to Wave's website.

If you’ve read any articles by a certain Ameena Qobrtay with “tech” or “Facebook” or “media” in the headline, there’s a good chance you’re probably left rolling your eyes at the verboseness of the writer (get to the point) and feeling your heart sink due to this recurring message: We lack the proper societal infrastructure to keep up with social media platforms as they are.

Media scholars have been saying this for decades, and just last month, whistleblower Frances Haugen recently called public attention to Facebook’s irresponsible and reckless behavior.

The metaverse as described and controlled by corporations will be worse than the mess social media platforms are creating for “our democracy” and, worse, our connection to one another.

But wait, before we get too ahead of ourselves: What the hell does “meta” even mean?

Some definitions of “meta,” provided by Merriam-Webster, include words like “situated behind or beyond,” “change” and “transcending." One meaning is “pertaining to or noting a story, conversation, character, etc. that consciously references or comments upon its own subject or features, often in the form of parody,” according to dictionary.com.

I believe that it is all of these definitions, but specifically the last fully encapsulates what the "meta" in "metaverse" is supposed to mean.

It’s hard to imagine what the gleeful big tech giants are concocting behind boardrooms, probably devising ways to sell us a new thing we don’t need.

Yes, it’s obvious, this new metaverse is a parody of this already skewed, heavily media-regulated reality, further bent in the favor of the “robber barons” (for lack of a better word — after all, what do you call people that know everything about you and are set to create an entirely new reality) of our age.

The metaverse isn’t going to go away — there are not any remotely decent laws to protect us from corporations who steal our data currently, and relying on the good faith of the corporations that got us to this point is wickedly funny (the writer of this has just barked with laughter at the thought).

There are countless articles and entire books to describe why we can never expect that the interest of the public would ever be considered by corporations like Facebook, but a good start would be “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” by Audre Lorde.

Accepting our fate and the inevitability of the metaverse isn’t good enough. We couldn’t stop Google and Facebook’s reign on our daily lives, and we’re paying the price for it.

Technology isn’t inherently bad. A system of exploitation called surveillance capitalism that relies on human experience as raw data to be bought, sold and predicted as ever-present forces in our lives, as Shoshana Zuboff argues … yeah, that’s “bad” to say the least.

So to anyone who’s made it this far in the article: Watching television and scrolling on the very internet that is set to become the prototype of the metaverse isn’t going to be enough. Infographics — what the hell will that do?

And don’t be fooled, this very writer is aware of the crippling notion that this earnestness, called an article, written on Google Docs (how very meta) will merely join the ever-growing media landscape designed to draw and distract and divert.

“Don’t panic” is the famous two-word phrase from the sci-fi extraordinaire “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. It’s more than just a brilliant choice of words, apt in its deadpanned-ness and effective for its simplicity but rather a lifestyle, a philosophy, a message about what to do in the face of the infinite greatness — or, more accurately — of the universe. 

The book-turned-franchise takes on a bemused tone to comment on the lack of control we have over fate and the ridiculous insignificance of the human species and our blue and green planet. But unfortunately, the mirrorball Adams used to see into to write such spot-on analysis didn’t foresee a new universe being created and dictated by a powerful figure like Zuckerberg.

The word powerful falls short, falls shorter than short, falls millions of miles of short, to describe the current position of Zuckerberg and, for lack of a better title, other big tech “CEOs.”

Prescient sci-fi novelists and media critics and politicians and linguists, all the smartest people in the world, couldn’t have accurately and truly prepared us for an alternate reality that's fully controlled by people who want to sell you things and who want to ultimately sell you. And distract, distract, distract.

Nobody likes to hear about how absolutely effed we are when it comes to the future. But: Do panic. A lot.


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