Everything about metaverse looked awful from the onset, and its ad campaign has done nothing but hint at the inevitability of some sort of bleak, sexless dystopia in which human beings, desperate for real interaction, walk around with plastic boxes strapped to their faces seemingly unaware that what they seek requires them only to break free of the machine, but somehow they can not.
“Where are you?” / “I’m right here in front of you” / “No, I mean like in the metaverse – log on so we can talk!”
I can’t help but think that this is exactly the plot of some 20th century sci-fi short about to be rediscovered for its surprising prescience. The protagonist is probably named Adam and when he walks out of his house, where the whole family is ‘tuned into the Brainwork, he meets a similarly disaffected shy willow of a woman named eve, and they climb atop a hill and gaze at the sunset together.
Or I’m just thinking of Brett Gelman’s iBrain.
Increasingly I feel about social media the way I feel about the tourist traps you used to see dotting the landscape near American highways: “World’s Biggest Ball of Rubber Cement, 5 Miles This Way!” or “Bigfoot’s Girlfriend – Exit 78!” – we dropped in, we stayed for a while, bought some tchotchkes, and now we (or at least I) am ready to get back on the road to wherever the hell I was going.
Add to that the proliferation of bots, spam, branded content, targeted ads, and hate speech, and the cute little watering hole with the fiberglass dinosaurs isn’t even worth visiting now at all. It’s like all the awfulness just helps us understand how much time we were wasting, and how ultimately it would all come to nothing.
I have at times adored social media. It / they have given me ways to stay in touch with people I otherwise might not have, but here’s a thing: I’m staying in touch with a glossy, candy-coated, photoshopped version of the person. Many people are still in my life, warts and all, and I’ve come to understand that this is what real closeness is.
It doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it can be an awful, ugly thing to be close to someone – but it’s actual closeness. That feeling we get, you get, I get (I am trying to speak only to my own experience while still sharing something accessible, but I don’t want to speak for you if I can’t) – that warm tingly excitement, that vaguely erotic feeling of suddenly reconnecting with someone we used to know…despite its intensity, it’s a lie.
And metaverse was, so far as I understand it, about bringing you more of that lie, strapped to your head, so that you couldn’t look away. I think in our guts we all sort of knew this.
Recent and extremely depressing ads for the metaverse have tried to brand it as a productivity tool, and every iteration is awkward – not even the actors in the ads seem on board, and they’re paid to pretend.
In one commercial, six or seven people sit around a table trying to design a new shoe insert in VR while talking to the guy at the factory, unintentionally parodying the ridiculous bloat of late-stage capitalism wherein snazzy “entrepreneurs” struggle to meet the ends of need and product and ultimately reinvent a reinvented wheel. “I know, let’s put a squishy thing in shoes I … that’s new, right? I mean, don’t feet hurt I guess? And yes this definitely requires this sort of manpower…”
In another, a band stands around in a claustrophobic circle while the band leader adjusts virtual pots and sliders on a virtual mixing board. The setup is preposterous, of course – everyone is so close together it’s a wonder that the trumpeter isn’t wearing the guitarist’s g-string. Either the band leader is mixing mere feet from amplifiers and blaring horns, meaning she can’t hear what is being mixed, or the band is playing their instruments into a virtual sound setup, meaning most of them can’t hear what they’re playing.
And perhaps this is all meant to be metaphorical, but this just asks a bigger question: what was this ever for? What was the point of it? Who needs this? Who asked for it?
Nothing, none, nobody, and no one ever.
Off we go.