“Some people will say that this is not the time to focus on the future.”said Mark Zuckerberg during the opening of Live broadcast of Facebook Connect 2021. Clearly, he was referencing current and real-world controversies facing his company. But after uttering this phrase, The Zuck slipped into a world of delirium. He spent the next hour touring a virtual reality fantasy land, struggling to bring home a single point: Facebook is no longer Facebook.
I say this both literally and figuratively. While the Facebook website will retain its name, the large company known as Facebook is now called Meta. This new name is a reference to the Metaverse, “An ill-defined concept of the future in which the virtual reality and augmented reality technologies created by Facebook power commerce, social interaction, work and education in the real world.”
This simple name change will not erase Facebook’s “mistakes,” as Zuckerberg calls them, nor will it protect the company from criticism or embarrassment like its appearances before commissions of the US Congress. People will continue to call Meta by its original name, just as they say “Google” when referring to its respective parent company, Alphabet.
I know some people will say that this is not the time to focus on the future, and I want to acknowledge that there are important issues to work on in the present, there always will be. So for many people, I’m just not sure that there will ever be a good time to focus on the future. But I also know that there are many of you who feel the same way as me.
But that’s where the change of figurative identity comes into play. Facebook spent its hour-long livestream making promises about the future, and these promises could affect how we view the company today. Once the Metaverse is in full swing, Facebook says, we’ll be playing AR basketball games with strangers from all over the world. We will spend our work day on a desert island wearing fantastic virtual reality glasses and of course we will buy NFT band merchandise for our Metaverse avatars.
To be clear, the “future” of Metaverse shown during the conference it’s kind of delusional. It’s a mess of half-done product launches and impossible nonsense. But when you see a bunch of pre-rendered avatars interpreting these concepts at a mile per minute, you forget that Facebook is Facebook. This feels infinitely far from the social media empire of Facebook, which promotes divisive content and actively disparages children’s mental health. It is quite a utopia.
Facebook’s keynote was a fever dream through and through, but there was a groan of clarity before its conclusion. That’s right; Facebook announced its powerful Oculus Cambria. This was a moment where Zuckerberg was able to tie it all together, bring his Metaverse fantasies to dry land, and proudly accept Facebook’s place in the world. But like the current “bugs” Zuckerberg briefly mentioned, the Oculus headset was overlooked in favor of something that may be impossible: a harmonious world of tomorrow powered by Facebook.