If you're Facebook, and the grand vision for your company is that people will spend hours a day wearing headsets, living and working in virtual reality, you're going to need some headsets to sell to them. Arguably the best headset--for consumers, at least--is the Oculus Quest 2, made by Facebook.
Well, technically it's made by Meta, but it's still Facebook--despite the company's effort to make you think otherwise. That's actually an important point, but we'll come back to that in a minute.
If you want people to buy headsets, and Facebook definitely does, you do what companies do and you make an ad. That's exactly what Facebook did, designed to highlight the Oculus Quest 2.
In it, two men are playing video games in virtual reality using their Oculus Quest headsets. The two men are apparently neighbors, but have no idea. In fact, they don't even like each other in real life, demonstrated by the closing scene where they yell at each other for making too much noise through the wall.
In the game, however, they are both teammates and friends. They even complain about their bad neighbors, again not realizing they are referring to each other. The ad is meant to be humorous, of course. It's not, but that's not even the biggest problem.
The real problem is that Facebook--which now calls itself Meta but is still the same company, with all the same issues--thinks this is a good representation of why you'd want to put on a VR headset and jump in the metaverse. If that's the case, it's a brilliant example of everything wrong with the company.
Look, there's been much made about the metaverse lately. Much of it comes after Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg explained the company's vision a few weeks ago in a video that featured him interacting in a virtual reality world full of avatars and computer-generated scenes.
But in this ad, the people who are friends don't even realize they can't actually stand in each other in real life. They live next door to each other, never interact in real life other than to ignore each other's small talk in the elevator, or to yell at each other through the wall.
Except, that's everything that's wrong with the way people connect online. And Facebook is largely the reason. Over the last decade, Facebook has worked hard to make us think that scrolling through a feed of images and posts from people we are loosely connected to is a substitute for actually engaging with real people.
Not all connections are equal. Following someone on Twitter, or sending a friend request on Facebook doesn't mean you have a relationship. It doesn't even mean you know the person in real life. The problem is that we think that we know people because we scroll through an endless feed of carefully curated photos and moments they share.
Part of the problem of eliminating the friction in making those connections online is that it makes it easier to connect with people you don't actually know. Real relationships--the kind that add actual value to our lives--require proximity, conversations, and physical interaction.
If the metaverse is going to be an amplified version of the kind of relationships people have been building online for years, I'm not sure we're better off.
To be fair, the ad is selling a product. It doesn't claim to be an authoritative narrative on the future world Facebook, er, Meta, is building. For that matter, it's also supposed to be an attempt at humor, presumably to change the narrative surrounding the company and its myriad of controversies. But if this ad represents what Facebook believes about the metaverse, it's a problem.
Presumably, someone thought this ad was a good idea. Someone came up with the idea, gave it a green light, came up with a budget, wrote the script, hired actors, filmed the scenes, edited the footage together, and paid for expensive spots to show it on television. That's quite a commitment.
You'd think someone might have asked whether it actually portrayed the type of image the company wants to be associated with. I have no doubt that it's an accurate picture of what Facebook is building--it's entirely consistent with everything the company has built so far.
By the way, it's not that I'm necessarily pessimistic about the metaverse, I'm just pessimistic about the idea of Facebook building it. If this ad is any indication, we all should be.