In 2014 Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus Rift (a virtual reality hardware headset company) for $2 Billion. It was the start of his vision project for a virtual reality world that would become the new universe to “connect, work, play, learn, and shop“. The Metaverse.
Since then he has doubled down and even rebranded Facebook’s brand name to “Meta”. He is expected to spend $100B+ to accomplish his mission to own the virtual world over the next decade. And in just the last year Reality Labs (Meta’s virtual reality branch) lost $21 billion.
Where did the term “metaverse” come from?
The term “metaverse” was coined in 1992 by the American sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson in his book Snow Crash.
In the novel, Stephenson paints a dystopian vision of the future, where rich people escape into an alternative 3D connected reality. This virtual realm starts out as a single 65,536 km road circling an artificial globe, but it expands as people buy, build and renovate virtual real estate. In this vision, there is just one world that everyone connects through.
Sounds like a place Mr Zuckerberg might feel at home.
Not everyone is buying into the dream of a virtual world
In an open letter Brad Gerstner of the VC fund Altimeter (who owns shares in Meta) called the $100+ Billion bet on the metaverse, “super-sized and terrifying.” He is worried that Meta is taking a highly profitable company into a loss making venture. That is just an investor’s viewpoint.
The investment is in many areas but the two main components are the headsets and the ecosystem to use them. These two parts are needed by the “Metaverse”. The hardware to use it and the virtual world to play in.
So how are they going?
The sales of the headsets are not setting the world on fire. Maybe a meltdown?
According to Forbes in 2022 the sales of VR headsets were down 12% from the previous year. That is not a sign of a booming market. In fact the area headsets are selling well is the gaming industry. But transforming that niche into general market adoption is a big ask.
The virtual world (Horizons World)
Horizon World (the ecosystem for people to play in a virtual reality) created by Meta has so far signed up just 300,000 users.
With a total subscriber base of over 3.9 billion people using Meta’s stable of platforms that is less than .007% of their total audience. Not a great conversion rate.
And many of those are not online at any one time. In the main it is a waste land. Deserted, buggy and lonely.
The physical world vs virtual
I am not sure that a full immersion into a virtual world is good for us. The social media world was an experiment that started off well but has descended into a commercial cesspool that is driven by raw and unbridled capitalism.
Making money at any cost and damaging society.
The Cambridge Analytica fiasco showed that Facebook was willing to sell your privacy to the highest bidder. Meta’s Instagram has been linked to depression, anxiety and insomnia in children.
In fact there are conversations about whether social media is the “new tobacco”.
5 reasons why I am not signing up to play in Zuckerberg’s Metaverse
The world of the metaverse is not what I want. And here are a few reasons why:
- Who wants to wear a 1 kg isolating headset? I hate wearing a hat.
- Who wants to sit in a dark room all day on your own? It’s a bit like having a permanent Covid pandemic.
- Who trusts the algorithms of Meta (formerly Facebook)? The algorithms will be amplified through sensory immersion that divides us further, and sells rage and hate faster.
- Who wants more Facebook/Metaverse ads fed to your headset that amplify the technology obsession?
- I don’t want isolation but more connection.
The metaverse promises to be a more immersive social media experiment and the ordinal social media promises to connect us. It did until the algorithms to maximize revenue were switched on. You won’t be happier, just sadder, lonelier and more depressed.
Quality human relationships don’t happen though more technology. 5 people sitting in a room with headsets on doesn’t add to our humanness or happiness. It subtracts and distracts us from what really matters. Being fully human, aware, and connected.
The trending of the Metaverse project is not looking good. Declining headset sales and the virtual Horizons World are struggling to provide an environment or community that people want to come back to or even sign up to.
The Metaverse project has so far had tens of billions in losses and counting. But Mark is playing the long game. It could end in tears. Apple has also announced their Apple Vision Pro headset and if anyone can succeed it would be Apple.
But the reality is with any startup that success is in the timing. Remember Google Glass? It folded in 2015 after being touted as the next big thing. Virtual reality is still a niche industry and is still mainly for gamers.
The thing to keep in mind is that the metaverse is already here and it sits in your pocket or bag. We can pick it up and put it down. It’s our smartphones. And we have enough trouble managing that obsession.
Humans want to be humans and being dragged into a parallel universe that isolates us and tries to replace the physical with virtual will continue to struggle. And it may take us into a future that is dystopian, dysfunctional and a disaster.
It’s time to stop scrolling, get back to listening to each other, being aware and being present.