In this article, we’ll be talking about what is the Facebook metaverse and what does it consist of.
It is likely that, in the last few days, you have heard about Facebook’s plans to create a metaverse. Many will be wondering what the hell that is, others may already be projecting what that future space could look like, and I bet more than one is pretty clear about the reason why the social network is considering a project as ambitious as it is attractive and worrying. Because yes, it has both flavors, and it is a good time to start considering both.
But the best thing to do is to start with clarifications. If you don’t know what a metaverse or meta-universe is, the first thing I do is to strongly recommend you to read Neil Stephenson, especially if you like science fiction. I always recommend Cryptonomicon but, in this case, the recommended reading is Snow Crash, a 1992 novel in which this concept that now seems to have inspired Mark Zuckerberg to see the possible future of Facebook appears for the first time.
What is metaverse?
A metaverse is, in short, a virtual space (yes, we are talking about virtual reality) and collective in which certain environments are recreated in which people can interact with each other, perform multiple activities and, in addition, circumvent the limitations imposed by the real world in every way: from the laws of physics to those that prohibit you from committing homicide. The only limits within a metaverse, besides the lack of sensory responses to what we are doing, are those set by its creator.
Remember Second Life? Well, now imagine putting on a virtual reality viewer and being able to access such a platform. Or, if you want an example of the metaverse in cinema, just watch Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. Or in USS Callister, a hilarious and very successful episode of Black Mirror (we could argue whether the world created in San Junipero is also a metaverse). What Facebook is planning to create is something similar, a virtual space in which we can interact with each other, with third parties, with businesses, attend shows, play games, and so on.
Why a Facebook metaverse?
The quickest answer to this question can be found by looking at the numbers of this social network. Although it is still a giant, it is undoubtedly an increasingly unattractive service for users, especially for younger ones. And we can accuse Mark Zuckerberg of many things, but not of being unintelligent. It is becoming increasingly clear that if it wants to survive, Facebook must reinvent itself in some way, and the project of creating a metaverse is, at least in the first instance, most striking.
And there is a key element, and that is that to some extent Facebook is already, so to speak, the basic structure for creating a metaverse: it has the users, with the relationships established between them, with the interests of each of them and with spaces dedicated to those interests. To create a metaverse, the only thing you have to do (and I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you) is to bring all these elements to a virtual space, where it is possible to meet up with old school friends, shop in an online store, or attend a concert.
Put this way it may sound simple, but in reality, the road from words to deed is, in this case, enormous. Zuckerberg knows, and says, that turning Facebook into a metaverse is a uniquely complex challenge and that it may take many years to develop something like this. However, the mere fact that he is talking about it, as he has already done, should put us on the track that Facebook has been working on it for some time now, and that they must have concluded that it is technically feasible.
Pros and cons of the metaverse
From a theoretical approach, in the absence of knowing concrete details about Facebook’s plans, the idea is interesting. In the same way that, in its origins, Facebook became a meeting point with a lot of possibilities, the creation of a metaverse that reproduces the structure of the social network can be a big step in that direction, facilitating even more social interactions of all kinds.
I know that talking to a friend over the Internet is not the same as talking in person over a coffee or a beer in between. But I also know that, on many occasions, circumstances prevent those real-world encounters from taking place, and this is what makes me contemplate a proposal like Facebook’s metaverse as an option to consider. I don’t want to celebrate New Year’s Eve dinner with my family and friends in the metaverse, but I do want to be able to meet Paloma, Anaïs, Jose, and many other people for a coffee, even if we are dozens or hundreds of kilometers away and it is not possible to see each other in the real world.
The main disadvantage? Undoubtedly it comes, to some extent, given by the advantage that I have raised above. A metaverse in which we can interact with whomever we want whenever we want, and in which we can also avoid conditions that do occur in real life can be, without a doubt, something very addictive. If in its early day’s many people spent the whole day on Facebook, posting statuses and interacting with their contacts, a platform as immersive as a metaverse can “hook” even more.
There are other factors, both for and against, so many that can give rise to a most interesting debate. At the moment, talking about it is like talking about the first manned mission to Mars: there is a good chance that it will happen, but we will still have to wait a few years for it. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to start thinking about it, because this reinvention of Facebook may force us to rethink, very seriously, our relationship with networks, with people, and with our environments. Maybe Ready Player One will cease to be science fiction in a few decades.