Taking Down Metaverse Take Downs
They All Suffer from Limited Perspective Disease (LPD)
Of course they’d get it wrong. Of course they’d see Meta’s ill-conceived Horizon Worlds as the only way it could be and when that did not become extraordinarily popular right away, the current narrative was written.
The Metaverse sucks.
It did suck a lot in 2022. Not because it totally sucked, but because many many people were predisposed to look at anything coming out of Facebook-Meta as suckacious.
And then, despite a free ride by tech journalists for a few months, the jokes began. The no-legs jokes. The Meta staff not even using Horizon Worlds jokes. Then the sexual harassment media blow-ups that weren’t jokes.
Oddly, the social VR app, VRChat has even weirder avatars, lots more trolls and harassment — and two orders of magnitude more participants. And lots of money. This is not mentioned in the Metaverse trash talk.
Every year-end tech review anti-Metaverse story is describing a particular type of Metaverse project that never had a chance of succeeding.
For some Next Big Thing to take off in a way the Metaverse hasn’t, lots of different types of people have to be Really Fascinated by it — like millions of us were by Facebook at first. It was delightful reconnecting with old friends. I never saw it coming. I didn’t think twice. I signed up as soon as I could.
Poor Meta. We have already seen the little man behind the curtain is not a Wizard, now diminished too much to hold us in his sway again. His cheerleading is a joke. All cheerleading is a joke unless it’s for Your Team — and very few are on Team Zuck any more.
I will not say Meta has failed, but I can safely say that to date it is failing. I see how the company is drawing on all of its assets, using top Instagram Influencers supposedly to draw their massive followings into Horizon Worlds. I don’t think the plan will succeed.
I hope it doesn’t succeed. To me, an Influencer-Centered Metaverse pretty much defines everything I want No Part Of:
Created needs. FOMO. I Am Because I Consume.
I’m pretty sure this is the mind set that has allowed us to destroy our home base for years and deny we’re doing it.
Human connection is clearly what drove the sweeping, across-many-cultures adoption of mobile devices. Texting and calling to connect with someone anytime anywhere.
It is the same with all Spatial Media, AR and VR. When platforms make it easy for people to connect, people use the platforms. People are the secret sauce and social VR platforms now provide a kind of home for people who like doing some of the same things together. Playing certain kinds of games, watching 3D movies, putting on workshops, singing Karaoke, small group spiritual practice.
The metaverse is growing, is being formed right now. It’s still niche but becoming slowly less so. The idea that someone’s spatial media project will emerge and take us all by storm and become the new Facebook of the Metaverse is hard to banish from the brain because that is the kind of structure we’ve become used to.
I have been imagining something more like the direction Mastodon might be taking Messaging, a collection of separately-governed sites linked by shared open technical standards. Those who expect a grown-up, mature Metaverse to feature two or three giants dominating everything might be disappointed.
It’s that structure of dominance that sucks, not the metaverse. But the word, ‘Metaverse’ itself sounds like ‘everyone under one big umbrella.’ I think the switch to, ‘Fediverse’ is more than just a fashionable new phrase. I think it can help us think about the developing layer of spatial media around the planet differently.
I am semi-old and have seen many Next Big Things.
We didn’t have a TV set in our home until I was six. I remember going across the street and listening to “The Lone Ranger” on the radio with my best friend. We’d talk about it afterward. It was something we did together.
What you’ll never believe about virtual environments until you get into them, is that I’m doing things together with my oldest best friends in the world now even though we don’t all live near each other any more. We meet up and look at Worlds and shoot baskets and mostly just hang out and gab.
The medium of radio sent five-year-old me and my friend Chad Weller into the Way-Back Machine, to those thrilling days of yesteryear … The Lone Ranger Rides Again! The medium of VR can send four old friends into Walkabout Mini-Golf no matter where they happen to be. The real game is being present with the current life events and the feelings and everything I can pick up about people I’ve known and loved for more than fifty years.
I’m not sure how to monetize this meet-up but it doesn’t seem all that difficult. We will support the platforms that support our human connecting with both volunteer labors of love as well as dollar-denominated commitment. Plenty of people will.
The hard part will be fending off the forces for which an open source, open standards, non-monopolistic future is perceived as a threat to current status. Maybe the Fediverse will support rapacious winner-take-all neo-liberalism AND a collection of self-governing communities that take care of themselves and play nicely with their friends and neighbors.
People can just choose what tone they prefer.
The rapacious winner-take-all neo-liberals will instinctively fight this vision in every possible way, clean and dirty. Because they know what people will choose.
Many young people will choose Roblox, where they make their own games. They will choose Rec Room, where they play every game imaginable. Some older people will choose VRChat, where the games are artsy.
Fewer will choose Horizon Worlds, where the game has been exposed and the players no longer want to be bought and sold.
Tom’s work has not appeared in The New York Times, New Yorker Magazine, The New Republic, the New England Journal of Medicine, or anything New at all.
He only publishes in obscure journals and, once upon a time, PBS Program Guides. Otherwise he just gives his work a URL and sends it packing on the web at places like Medium and Sub-Stack, where he enjoys a modest following.