While I believe Facebook’s renaming is mostly a corporate structure stunt to make their inevitable antitrust breakup less painful, their new name (Meta, for those who missed it) and the announcement reveal something important about it and Mark Zuckerberg’s view of the future.
The name comes as part of their shifting focus on an embodied idea of the internet called the metaverse: where people interact with each other and information in an entirely new environment heavily reliant on augmented and virtual reality — yada yada yada.
Yes — there is explosive and important potential in augmented reality and virtual reality tools and experiences to expand our understanding of the world, deepen our empathy, draw us closer to each other, and to make modern life (especially urban modern life) less isolating and actually more human. AND listening to Zuckerberg talk about his view of the future seems more rooted in escaping reality than improving anything. His focus on the Greek meaning of the word meta as “beyond” rather than the modern usage of it as “self-referential” is a hint to how he sees currently reality, how out of touch with it he is, how eager he is to be elsewhere in a system of his own creation. And his immediate and constant identification that this new reality also represents what amounts to entirely new economy belies his real motivation: they have made all the money they can in this one. As usual, Facebook’s decisions are rooted in a deep greed and wrapped in a disingenuous, idealized narrative mostly, but not-so-entirely-divorced from reality that it can be dismissed as mad. The underlying economic driver also reveals that Zuckerberg is in fact Sorrento in our real-world version of Ready Player One.
If we didn’t have a decade of data to suggest that this company is one that we cannot and should not trust with its awesome public responsibility as a key foundational piece of our public sphere, this announcement would be shocking and would (or should) immediately elicit a significant and coordinated response to more effectively guide the future of these technologies. Because we do have a decade of evidence (and more and more by the day thanks to Ms. Haugen), we should not be in the least surprised and should now turn to those in positions to help structure these systems, guide them, regulate them, and ensure that they are in fact designed for the public good, that we actually get the jetpacks we were promised (all of the amazing potential of greater connectivity squandered on the altar of venture-backed digital advertising engines), and ask (as kindly as we can): where are our fucking jetpacks?