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The Metaverse Won’t Involve Mark Zuckerberg
During Facebook’s Connect presentation yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook’s new name, Meta, which signals the company’s pivot to “metaverse company”. If you don’t know what the metaverse is, as a concept, it’s a version of the internet powered by virtual reality and augmented reality, where users can interact with online spaces via digital avatars. Fortnite world, basically. The idea of the metaverse comes from Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, and, in the book, it’s, uh, not exactly a good thing.
What I think is so funny — and stupid — about Zuckerberg’s post-COVID obsession with the metaverse is how vague it all is. Zuckerberg is extremely enthusiastic about the metaverse, but it’s still actually wildly unclear what Facebook, or Meta, will be doing to build it. During an interview with Stratechery’s Ben Thompson, Zuckerberg described a metaverse product that would allow you to read text messages on a pair of smart glasses. He said he was inspired by “side channel conversations” people were having on Zoom calls with each other.
During the Facebook Connect, Zuckerberg showed of a slew of VR and AR products, including the Project Cambria headset, the Oculus Quest 2 (soon to be Meta Quest), and a social virtual lobby-like platform for Oculus users called Horizon Home. And Bloomberg got ahold of leaked photos of a Facebook Smart Watch, which is believed to have front and back facing cameras and connect to the internet via a cellular connection that wouldn’t require a smartphone.
What we can tell, from all of this, is that for Zuckerberg, the metaverse is an ill-defined hodgepodge of virtual productivity tools and lame wearables. It’s in line with this broader feeling in Silicon Valley right now that if you jam together a conference call and a FitBit, somewhere in the middle there, you’ll end up with the metaverse.
Look, here’s the thing, the metaverse will probably happen at this point, but it won’t look like anything in Zuckerberg’s stupid Connect video. It will be weird and janky and people will use it to have sex with cartoon characters and hide video game achievements in parks and interact with their favorite influencers, who may or may not be real. The metaverse may have some VR flourishes, but more likely it will look like the way things look now — a mix of mobile internet technology, cameras, geodata, and streaming video. It will involve big events that simultaneously happen online and offline, which can be consumed live or as a data trail of clips and memes afterwards. The world will feel like a Gorillaz concert. Going outside will feel like flash mob at a Comic Con.
And there will, of course, be a lot of problems. There will be privacy issues. And geographic spaces will start to buckle under viral physical traffic — a world of pink Instagram walls, cronut lines, TikTok challenges, and GameStop pumps.
Big platforms will inevitably create products that will facilitate this, but they won’t be Facebook. They’ll be stranger and more specific. They’ll emphasize small localized networks and faster and more visual communication: A Discord-like messaging app that has a Snap Map functionality and seamless live video filters. Digital assets, whether they’re NFTs or just memes you save on your phone, will be displayed in jewelry or small picture frames. You’ll turn a corner on the street and see a group of people standing together, staring at their phones or watches, and you’ll have no idea that they’re seeing together. Maybe one of them airdrops you the piece of content they’re all looking at. Maybe this has already happened to you.
But just think about the internet right now and think about how far beyond Facebook is already. It is laughable to think Zuckerberg is capable of creating a brand new VR-based internet. He couldn’t even beat TikTok!
Facebook’s strategy over the last decade has been to rip off what smaller apps are doing or just buy them outright. But you can’t do that with the metaverse because it doesn’t exist yet. In fact, after Facebook lifted the Stories feature from Snapchat, Snap just pivoted into becoming an AR and wearables company, which means Facebook isn’t even an early adopter in that either.
Zuckerberg will still be working on his smart home screens, Habbo Hotel rip-off Zoom calls, and budget Apple Watches, while young people are busy actually building a new internet, haphazardly, out of protocols that are free, easy-to-use, and the most convenient — Bluetooth, WiFi, video calls, free messaging clients, open source maps, QR codes, and the blockchain. And we will interact with this new metaverse on devices that we already own for a while. Then, slowly, new features will be added to help us interface with it better. Wireless bluetooth earbuds, smart watches, and phones will become more seamlessly integrated. They’ll have longer batteries, faster charging, brighter screens, better cameras, more wellness tools, and maybe eventually small projectors. We will create new user behaviors that companies will have to adapt to and then facilitate.
And there is no version of that where Facebook, or Meta, will be a key player. It is simply too big for them to dominate and, more importantly, it is already happening on Twitch, on Discord, and on TikTok. Zuckerberg is right. The metaverse is here, but it is has already left Facebook behind.
A Good Tweet
The “Let’s Go Brandon” Thing Won’t Go Away
If you have missed this, conservatives are sharing the meme “Let’s go Brandon,” which references an incident earlier this month where NASCAR driver Brandon Brown was being interviewed after a race. During the interview, fans in the crowd started chanting “fuck Joe Biden.” The newscaster told viewers, however, that they were saying “Let’s go Brandon.” Which, is, honestly, a little funny.
The meme then got turned into a bunch of rap songs, the most popular of which is by a rapper named Loza Alexander. Another “Let’s go Brandon” song by the rapper Bryson Gray was removed from YouTube because it was spreading COVID misinformation. Conservatives are now pushing the songs on iTunes, which has led to four different versions of “Let’s go Brandon” entering the iTunes top 10.
I do think it’s interesting how confusing of a meme it is. It’s not a typical dogwhistle, like the ok hand sign or Pepe the Frog. Instead, it’s very confusing and in most of the “Let’s go Brandon” songs have parts that say “fuck Joe Biden,” just to spell out what the meme even means. Which makes it all even stupider, really. Another interesting dimension of this is the manipulating the charts strategy is one of the main toolkits of K-Pop stans. Which I think is a pretty useful framework for thinking about how the online right organizes during the Biden era.
Elon Musk Is Still Posting, Unfortunately
Bad tweet 1:
Bad tweet 2:
OK, now, click here and read this chart.
A TV Station Chooses Not To Cover A Big Story
So if you can’t tell what’s going on here, these are screenshots of all of the major news stations in Japan. Earlier this week, Japan's Princess Mako gave up her royal title to marry a commoner, Kei Komuro. It was obviously very big news in Japan! In fact, the couple’s press conference was on every news station, except for Tokyo TV, which decided to air the movie Blade lmao.
Japanese culture site Sora News has a great write-up about this, which includes an amazing quote from TV Tokyo president and CEO Ichiro Ishikawa.
“I really can’t understand why so many people are concerning themselves with the situation,” Ishikawa said. “We would cover the story as part of our regular news programming. My hope is that Mako-san and Komuro-san can now live the rest of their lives happily together. Nothing more or less than that.”
I agree! Less royals drama, more Blade. One time, last year, I turned on the TV and Syfy channel was playing Blade, so I sat down and watched the whole thing. And then I went out and did a few things and when I got back home a few hours later a different channel was playing Blade. And you know what? I watched it a second time! A perfect Saturday.
Video game critic Tim Rogers released an 8-part review of the game Cyberpunk 2077 today. By my count, the whole thing is almost 10 hours long. I watched some of it this morning and I’ll be honest, I don’t care about any video games aside from Pokémon, but I still found this pretty interesting. If I have any readers who can make it through the whole thing, let me know. I have a few questions for you!
Megamind Shrine In The Girl’s Bathroom
A Really Good Weird Al Video
Costco Is So Hot In China Right Now
This is wild. Next Shark has a really good piece explaining what’s going on here. The Shanghai Costco opened in 2019 and it’s apparently really popular with Chinese influencers, who like to take photos in it and pretend they’re in Los Angeles. Apparently, the Costco hype was so big when the store first opened that they briefly had to shut it down after five hours because they couldn’t handle all the attention from excited shoppers.
Some Stray Links
“Zuckerberg Announces Fantasy World Where Facebook Is Not a Horrible Company”
“Patreon confirms it’s exploring crypto as a way for creators to make money”
P.S. here’s a really good dog video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
tim's intent for his cyberpunk review is that viewers only watch the intro, two of the first six stories, and then story #7.
i'd love to sit down and watch it, but it's spoiler-filled and i still want to play the game eventually.
My favorite metaverse take has always been Vernor Vinge’s RAINBOWS END, where people use wearables to skin the world around them (with micro licensing from rights holders) and there are epic Harry Potter fandom versus Pokémon fandom wars to maintain control over public spaces.