The year is 2040. You wake up and, like a routine, slip on your VR headset, transporting you into ZuckWorld—a Metaverse universe where you can exchange endless cat videos without limits or boundaries. Okay, so that might’ve been an over-exaggeration but the scenario might not be as far-fetched as you’d once believe. This week, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook announced plans for the company to set its sights on the Metaverse, a new emerging technology that has been dubbed the “successor state” of the internet. Here’s what the mind-boggling concept could mean for a not-so-distant future.
The term ‘Metaverse’ was first coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson. In his 1992 novel, Snow Crash, the Metaverse is a massively popular virtual world experienced in first person by users equipped with Augmented Reality (AR) technology. Strangely, Stephenson’s fictional imagination has started to become reality. Was he a time traveller or a genius? Who knows.
But what exactly is a Metaverse? The complex and mind-blowing concept is difficult to put into words. As of today, the closest thing we have to a Metaverse is online games. Ever played the game Roblox? If you haven’t, you’re probably somewhat aware of the concept—or at least, you’ve seen videos of screaming children playing the game. Essentially, the online multiplayer game, which is targeted towards children and whose parent company is valued at over 44 billion dollars, is based in a digital sandbox world where its users can program as well as play games created by other users. According to CNBC, the game is often considered an example of a Metaverse. Minecraft, a vast open-world sandbox game, is also considered by some to be a Metaverse.
The Metaverse can be thought of as the “successor state” to the modern-day internet—with all the same content but fewer limitations as to where and how that content can be accessed. Technology in the year 2021 allows people to move somewhat freely within the confines of specific services, however, we’re limited by interoperability between platforms. Interoperability is essentially the way technologies function in conjunction with one another—you can make a house in Minecraft but you’re unable to transfer the house over to a Roblox world. The Metaverse comes in as the perfect way of making the internet more interoperable, as it will allow us to generate our own content and distribute it freely throughout a widely accessible digital world.
On Monday 26 July 2021, Facebook announced its plans to dip its multinational conglomerate’s fingers into the multiverse pot. The company revealed its plans to create an executive team to work on Zuckerberg’s vision of a digital universe. Taking influence from the Metaverse concept, the team will aim to create a digital world that multiple people can inhibit at the same time. The team will also be a part of Facebook’s virtual reality group, Reality Labs.
In a statement, Andrew Bosworth, an executive at Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), said: “Today Portal and Oculus can teleport you into a room with another person, regardless of physical distance, or to new virtual worlds and experiences.”
Bosworth continued, “But to achieve our full vision of the Metaverse, we also need to build the connective tissue between these spaces so you can remove the limitations of physics and move between them with the same ease as moving from one room in your home to the next.”
It’s already been noted that Facebook is heavily investing in AR and VR technologies because they offer the company the possibility of controlling its own hardware platform in the future, and not be controlled by competitors. In essence, the company is already in the midst of a VR arms race with the likes of Apple and Google. Now heads are turning towards the Metaverse.
Zuck himself confirmed that Facebook’s own Metaverse would work on virtual reality headsets, as well as mobile devices and gaming consoles. In an interview with The Verge last week he said, “And my hope, if we do this well, I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a Metaverse company.”
Is the concept of a Metaverse exciting or terrifying? I’d say both, at least for now. Could this just be another one of Zuckerberg’s many business ventures, or is this a completely different mission altogether? Only time will tell. On the surface though, the positives are persuasive. For starters, a technology that allows instantaneous communication with anyone in the world like you’re in the same room would be incredible—not only in reducing carbon emissions by decreasing the need for travel but also for people’s mental health too. That being said, I can barely stomach the bombardment of personalised ads on my newsfeed, let alone in virtual reality.
No offence to Mark Zuckerberg, but he is probably the last person I would go to if I wanted to find love. Last week, Facebook officially launched Facebook Dating in the U.S., a new product by the social media giant that would serve as a dating app and the first step the company has taken towards meddling in our love lives. The question is, do we really need Facebook to jump on the bandwagon of dating apps?
When it comes to authenticity, it is no secret that the company has a history of stealing ideas from others. Remember when Facebook tried to buy Snapchat, Snapchat refused and as a result both Facebook and Instagram (also owned by Facebook) introduced a story feature? Instagram stories are now significantly more popular than Snapchat ones, and Snapchat is losing users by the day—I don’t actually remember the last time I opened the app, yet Instagram makes over 35 percent of my weekly screen time (please don’t judge me). That said, it is no surprise that Facebook is now trying to capitalise on love and the digital hook-up culture, a market worth billions, with Tinder making $120 million in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2019 alone. But will Facebook be successful?
There are, of course, various concerns that this feature won’t really take off. Few people use Facebook the same way we did ten years ago, when the network was at its prime. Gone are the days of cringe status updates. Both Twitter and Instagram have replaced the space for us to constantly share updates of our daily lives through pictures or tweets (among gen Z and millenials at the very least. I don’t know about you, but my granddad shares his opinions on Facebook like there is no tomorrow). The social network has also been decreasing in overall popularity, as it is evident that less and less people use it, with many of us only keeping our profiles as a means of communication with family, people from high school or as a place to absorb our news intake.
In addition to this, there are already many successful and popular dating apps we already know and love, from Feeld and Hinge to Bumble and Tinder. It’s no secret, then, that Facebook is coming to this party a little late. It’s not a particularly ‘cool’ social media network, nor does it have a good reputation when it comes to data privacy. But Facebook isn’t trying to imitate the usual features of dating apps nor participate in the dating culture that these apps have created, or so it says.
Dating apps have changed dating as we know it, creating a culture of ghosting, leading on, and overall uncertainty within our relationships. The constant pursuit of something meaningful (or not) through swiping hundreds of people a day reminds us that there are more options out there, and that choosing to go on dates with strangers we virtually know nothing about is exhausting. Facebook Dating wants to change that. The company has access to information about its users’ location, jobs, education, hobbies, family members and even previous dating history, which would then make it easier to match them algorithmically according to all these factors. Essentially, making it easier to match with somebody you will have things in common with.
Users have the option to opt in or out of matching with their Facebook friend’s friends, and although it wouldn’t match them with their own Facebook friends, there is a feature titled ‘Secret Crush’. This feature allows users to select up to nine of their Facebook friends whom they have a crush on, and if it is reciprocated by them via their selection of secret crushes, Facebook notifies both parties. While it does sound sweet in its own odd and digital way, do we really want to share our crushes with Facebook? The same Facebook that sold our data to Cambridge Analytica?
While you and your secret Facebook crush might be a perfect match, data privacy and Facebook aren’t. Far from it, just last week over 419 million Facebook users’ phone numbers were leaked, as the server was not protected with a password, meaning anyone could access it. The company has been involved in so many scandals over data privacy over the past years, it would be almost gullible to trust the new dating service (after all, it does match you according to your data).
So while you might be able to find love, or whatever it is you are looking for, doing it on Facebook comes with a high cost. So be ready to hand over your personal data. Is your secret crush worth it?