Facebook’s name change to Meta has been derided and pilloried worldwide, with the Iceland Tourist Board even producing a video parody talking about the “real“ things or people to be experienced and enjoyed in their rocky, frozen, beautiful “Icelandverse.”
The tech community has been “meh” about the change, and the consensus seems to be that it is a diversionary tactic. New Yorker contributor Charles Duhigg called it “a desperation play,” and kicked off an interview with CNBC last week by saying it was like Philip Morris telling the Surgeon General that instead of changing cigarettes, they were going to create a theme park called, “Tobacco Adventure Land,” and “hope everyone stops remembering that these cigarettes are actually unhealthy for you.”
He went on to point out that we don’t know what Metaverse promises, because it doesn’t exist yet. “There is no Metaverse product you can go and buy right now,” he said, adding that trying to predict what will be available in ten years is “a fool’s game”, and “only being done to try to change the conversation.”
Duhigg’s theme-park analogy is reflected in one of the first Metaverse commercials out of the chute in a new campaign, depicting Henri Rousseau’s famous painting “The Fight of a Tiger and a Buffalo” (1909). As the action begins, instead of ripping through the hapless buffalo’s neck as it is doing in Rousseau’s realistic painting, the tiger starts petting him, its fearsome claws unsheathed. At the end of the commercial, they are rocking out companionably to a catchy beat. The tiger is smiling, or at least baring its teeth in a kind of smiling, menacing way.
Is this what Metaverse promises? Distortion of reality, alteration of the created and built world so that nothing is frightening, or unpleasant, or offensive? That predators don’t kill for food, or that Kim Jong Un is just an ambitious young man and those DPRK missiles are actually carrying daisies?
Or, are we the buffalo and Zuckerberg the tiger?
Is Zuckerberg just trying to con us, convince us that he and his Facebook Frankenstein are morphing into an exciting new creation that is no less than the future of computing? Only time will tell, but don’t expect to order any Metaverse products for Christmas anytime soon.
Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications and the author of Carbon Man (Kindle, 2010).