Zuckerberg’s Metaverse: He Wants Us To Live Life Through A Digital Avatar in a Digital World

In Brief

  • The Facts:
    • Facebook has renamed its holding company to “Meta” to match its new focus on virtual and augmented reality.

    • The "Metaverse" is what's next for Mark Zuckerberg, which encourages people to live, work, play, gather, and more - all inside a virtual realty world, instead of the real one.

  • Reflect On:

    Does social media and new initiatives like the Metaverse make us more connected as claimed, or do they have the exact opposite effect?

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has announced the launch of Meta, which brings together apps and technologies under one new brand. Meta’s focus, according to them, will be to bring the “Metaverse” to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.

It’s reminiscent of Facebook’s initial launch, only much more intense. This time, it won’t just be a social media profile that people can use, but they’ll have their own digital avatar. You will have access to designing your own home in the Metaverse, your own wardrobe, and your own office.

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You’ll be able to go out with friends in the digital world or perhaps invite them over to your house to chat or play games. Perhaps you’ll be able to order real world goods and services in the digital world as well.

You’ll be able to upload digital items of yours to the digital world, like pictures or information to put in your home. You’ll be able to upload digital objects into your world, like a drum set, and these objects will behave and respond like they would in the real world.

Zuckerberg recently posted a video explaining that people will be able to teleport to various parts of the Metaverse, and if they are having a bad day or need some alone time, they’ll be able to go to their own private space or bubble to be alone.

This is kind of weird, isn’t it? If you’re having a bad day you will be able to go to your computer and find your own private space in the digital Metaverse instead of doing this in real life?

Instead of getting together with your friends at your house, you will all be sitting in front of your computers and getting together in the digital world. Instead of spending time and getting ready in the real world, you’ll have your own digital wardrobe to dress up your avatar, online. Perhaps businesses can create a digital office, and employees can check in there.

You’ll be using virtual reality headsets to attend concerts with friends, meetings, and even to workout. Perhaps your computer will spit out a digital hologram of the person you are talking with so it’s as if they are there in the physical, in real time. While this can be cool when at a distance, should it replace all of our interactions?

Launch of the Metaverse happened in a timely manner. COVID has justified, in the minds of many, a move towards a more digital world where we spend a lot of our time inside.

The Metaverse seems to be about living your life in a digital reality, instead of actually living it in the physical reality. Many of us already do this in some sense, as we are constantly using some sort of electronic device to connect with others, whether it’s our phones or our computer. The Metaverse takes it one step further. A 2015 Common Sense survey found that teenagers may spend as much as 9 hours of each day online.

“The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together — and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world. It’s the next evolution in a long line of social technologies, and it’s ushering in a new chapter for our company. Mark shared more about this vision in a founder’s letter.”

Meta

On October 21st Mark Zuckerberg wrote the following on his FB page,

“We are at the beginning of the next chapter for the internet, and it’s the next chapter for our company too. In recent decades, technology has given people the power to connect and express ourselves more naturally. When I started Facebook, we mostly typed text on websites. When we got phones with cameras, the internet became more visual and mobile. As connections got faster, video became a richer way to share experiences. We’ve gone from desktop to web to mobile; from text to photos to video. But this isn’t the end of the line. The next platform will be even more immersive — an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the Metaverse, and it will touch every product we build.”

Meta claims to make the world more connected. This may be true in a sense, but real connection cannot be achieved digitally. It’s a physical phenomenon that has tremendous amounts of physiological and psychological benefits. Social interaction is extremely important, and it’s important to ask what the Metaverse experience will do to children who grow up using it.

How will being social in the digital world impact how they are social in the real world? Are we moving to a world where real social interaction will become extremely limited? What about our connection to nature and the environment?

Another important question to ask is, why is there such a big push from governments and big tech to make everything digital? Be it a digital health pass, or a Central Bank Digital Currency, and more. Is it really for our own benefit, or are these measures being rolled out for ulterior motives like more control and surveillance which further lead to our loss of privacy and autonomy.

While Meta claims to connect the world and the people in it, creating a digital world where people interact may do the exact opposite. Social media has already contributed to a number of problems with privacy, but it’s also been connected to a growing number of health issues.

2018 study found that high social media usage increases feelings of loneliness. This is regardless of the fact that Facebook attempts to ‘connect the world.’ It also reported that reducing social media use helps people feel less lonely and isolated and improves their well-being.

2021 study found that girls who used social media for at least 2 hours each day from the age of 13 years had a higher clinical risk of suicide as adults.

Further, heavy social media users perform worse on cognitive tests, especially those that examine their attention and ability to multitask. Beyond lowering your ability to maintain your attention on any one selected topic, social media makes you addicted to your screens. It provides immediate rewards in the form of a dopamine release (the happy hormone) every time you post or get a notification from the app. This constant barrage of shallow rewards rewires your brain to want more of what caused that dopamine release, which leads to social media addiction. Studies show that the brain scans of heavy social media users look very similar to those addicted to drugs or gambling.

The list of concerns is quite long and continues to grow year after year. Connection doesn’t happen in a digital world, it happens in real life.

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