“Some people will say that this isn’t a time to focus on the future,” Mark Zuckerberg said during the opening to Facebook’s 2021 Connect livestream. Clearly, he was referencing the real-world, present-day controversies facing his company. But after uttering this sentence, The Zuck slipped into a world of delusion. He spent the next hour touring through a VR fantasy land, fighting to drive home a single point—Facebook isn’t Facebook anymore.
I mean that both literally and figuratively. While the Facebook website will retain its name, the big company known as Facebook is now called Meta. This new name is a reference to the “Metaverse,” a poorly-defined concept of the future where Facebook-made VR and AR technologies drive real-world commerce, social interaction, work, and education.
This simple name change will not erase Facebook’s “mistakes,” as Zuckerberg calls them, nor will it shield the company from criticism or embarrassing congressional hearings. 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 that some people will say that this isn’t a 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 a lot of you who feel the same way that I do.
But that’s where the figurative identity change comes into play. Facebook spent its hour-long livestream making promises about the future, and these promises could affect the way we see the company today. Once the Metaverse is in full swing, Facebook says, we’ll play AR basketball games with strangers from around the world. We’ll spend our workday at a deserted island using cool VR goggles, and of course, we’ll buy NFT band merch for our Metaverse avatars.
Just to be clear, the Metaverse “future” shown during today’s keynote is delusional. It’s a mess of half-baked product pitches and impossible nonsense. But when you watch a bunch of pre-rendered avatars playing out these concepts at a mile a minute, you forget that Facebook is Facebook. This stuff feels infinitely far away from the Facebook social media empire, which promotes divisive content and actively disregards children’s mental health. It’s quite the utopia.
Facebook’s keynote was a fever dream from start to finish, but there was a whimper of clarity before its conclusion. That’s right; Facebook announced its powerful Oculus Cambria headset. This was a moment where Zuckerberg could tie everything together, bring his Metaverse fantasies back to solid ground, and proudly accept Facebook’s place in the world. But like the present-day “mistakes” that Zuckerberg briefly mentioned, the Oculus headset was glossed over in favor of something that may be impossible—a harmonious Facebook-powered world of tomorrow.