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El metaverso es la puerta al futuro. Imagen: EFE/EPA/META

Facebook’s Metaverse is a Window into the Future

The metaverse is much more than a corporate whim. It is a bet on the future with the capacity to build new digital communities.

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The metaverse has leapt from literature and science fiction to the front pages of today’s news. On October 28, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, announced that his company, which in addition to Facebook operates Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, is changing its name to Meta, as part of a strategic redirection to focus on building the “metaverse”, a large living space that allows people to work, live, play and relax in a virtual reality environment.

At first glance, the announcement would appear to be a mere PR strategy to change the narrative regarding Facebook and distract attention from the serious allegations that have surfaced, in recent months, about the company’s passivity in the face of the addictive qualities of its social networks and specifically the data of Instagram’s harm to teenage girls. Increasingly, Facebook looks like the “big tobacco” of the “big tech” and that’s not a good thing for any company in America.

It could also be an effort to enhance Mark Zuckerberg’s image and endow him with an aura of visionary, similar to what other moguls like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have built for themselves. If Musk and Bezos are the pioneers who will conquer outer space, Zuckerberg wants to be the pioneer who will conquer digital space.

However, I think we are dealing with more than just the ego of an entrepreneur or the face-lift of his company, even if maybe factors eventually had some influence on the decision. Facebook’s bet on the metaverse concept seems solid as an evolution of its business model and as a natural consequence of the advancement of technology.

Understanding the metaverse

Zuckerberg’s vision is a virtual world that users will access by connecting to the Internet through virtual reality glasses -which have not been presented yet, but they will surely use technology from Oculus VR, another of Mark’s companies- and if it is successful, it would allow him to almost completely control the rules of the game in a literally global empire where Meta, his new company, would control the hardware, the software and the flow of data.

Admittedly, the concept of a virtual “metaverse” where users interact via the Internet in a customized medium of their choice is not new. Secondlife has been offering an experience with similar nuances for years, Earth 2 offers to buy pieces of digital land, and Oculus itself already offers a sort of proto-metaverse called Horizon, where users can already collaborate in a virtual reality environment.

However, unlike other platforms aimed to create a new digital world, Facebook’s metaverse kicks off with support never seen before for such a project. Zuckerberg has three key advantages:

1. Almost unlimited money. Last week, Mark announced that he will allocate $200 million to get feedback on what his metaverse should look like and train new experts who can create his metaverse, including hiring 10,000 people to work specifically on this idea, plus he will invest $10 billion in Facebook Reality Labs.

The numbers are huge, but Zuckerberg can afford them, as Facebook earned $9.2 billion in the last quarter alone.

2. Human talent. Meta has a team of more than 58,000 people, including many of the best in social media, marketing and virtual reality. Metaverse’s success depends on a long-term, sustainable multidisciplinary approach. Meta has the right people, and they will hire the ones they lack.

3. A gigantic user base. The biggest difficulty in launching a project like the metaverse is getting a critical mass of users to make the concept attractive; after all, no one will want to connect to an empty digital world. For a company starting from scratch, getting those users would mean huge investments in advertising.

Meta doesn’t have this problem, as it has 2.89 billion active users on Facebook alone. Yes, 2.89 billion, almost 9 times the total population of the United States.

In other words, Meta has enough money, employees, and users to launch itself into building a metaverse with real possibilities of succeeding in the company, with the added value that this would allow them to definitely surpass the growing threat of other social networks such as TikTok, whose hyper-focus on content and dopamine “shots” has made it the first real challenge that Zuckerberg faces within social networks in more than 10 years.

The metaverse is the window to a future that is already here.

The metaverse is technological and political

A few months ago I commented that the new digital loyalties are increasingly replacing previous patriotism and calling into question the paradigm of the nation-state, which emerged in 1648 from the treaties of Westphalia. This process is especially exploited by the woke alliance to redesign society based on the rejection of “old loyalties to homeland and religion, to replace them with new loyalties to brands or consumer identities that they hope to manipulate more easily”.

Well, the metaverse would drastically accelerate this process, literally building a new world where people spend their lives in a reality that will be customizable to their liking, but always within the framework of the rules of consumption and behavior set by the new government with Zuckerberg as its barely disguised emperor.

This means the multiplication of the power of Facebook censors who could now, not only delete an account where the user shares memes, but could literally discard the user as a person, leaving him out even from the possibility of working or coexisting with others who are connected. It is the digital version of “civil death”, applied by faceless courts, with no clear criteria and no possible appeal.

It also means the inevitable confrontation between the digital government and traditional government. Nation-states were built on the imposition, by blood and fire, of a supposed national identity that allowed them to achieve the consensus of their own legitimacy. As this continues to erode, so does the social structure that sustains government and bureaucracies that will eventually react with fury.

The first to react were tyrannical regimes, such as China or Iran. However, in the coming years, even democratic governments will enter into an increasingly clear collision course or collusion with the tech giants, especially around issues such as content moderation, taxation, and ownership of user-generated data.

Depending on this clash of powers, the end result may be a global metaverse almost totally controlled by the big tech companies, such as Meta, or a hodgepodge of “national metaverses” controlled by an unstable alliance between rulers and companies. In any case, the world will no longer be as it is today, for better and for worse.

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