Just When We’re Starting to See the Light…

Like most of the world that cares about these things, I haven’t thought much of Mark Zuckerberg’s multibillion dollar effort to build a Metaverse. It’s a potentially infinite universe (and thus a potentially infinite ad space) most have shown no interest in visiting. Its most striking design feature seems to lurk in Zuckerberg’s blind spot, for in a vain attempt to bring us together the Metaverse is a platform that inherently divides people. Taken together, it is a waste from both a shareholder and a moral standpoint.

Zuckerberg is not the first tech mogul to commit to such a blunder. Nor is he the first to see beautiful creation arise from a bigheaded trainwreck of a product. This is a tech feature, in a way. The industry has a long-held mantra to build it—the platform, the software, the chip, etc.—and let the users create wonders. The approach has held up well enough, for amidst the failures are diamonds like spreadsheets, the iPhone, and the Internet itself which have launched countless products, businesses, and life-enhancing (and draining) improvements.

Zuckerberg didn’t seem too keen on Meta as a platform, to be honest. Nonetheless, his focus on building a high-quality, (relatively) low-cost virtual reality (VR) device for entering and living in the Metaverse has yielded at least one spectacular bi-product. Via VR, Space Explorers the Infinite allows the Earth-bound to (relatively freely) roam around the International Space Station. The UI design is top notch, enabling visitors to quickly learn how to manoeuvre in and interact with the VR environment.

It’s a stunning experience. All credit to Meta for creating the platform, and all credit to PHI Studio and Felix & Paul Studios for making the most of it. The presentation is a tangible example of the power of cooperation among smart and trained and inspired people: those who made the VR and those who created Space Explorers, and those who made this wonder that orbits the earth, the International Space Station—which itself is an achievement of cooperation across and above borders.

Space Explorers provides a not-so-obvious hint about why it works: it allows you to go somewhere most of us couldn’t easily go, and to experience in a way a world not accessible to us. Through the Meta VR, we all have the option to vicariously visit the lower reaches of space.

Zuck, meanwhile, aimed his company’s efforts at recreating the everyday in the digital world. Rendering people as boring Mii-like knock-offs and plonking them down in a pseudo-familiar environment. One mistake among a few in this approach is that he made us the object.

Though he has pledged otherwise, he appears ready to give up on the Metaverse and throw all his efforts into AI. All the better to serve up ads. As a side benefit, those in the Meta AI world will be able to play around and see what they can create. That’s a bit like letting a kid play with a handgun.

But it’s a cruel world right now. We take our victories, and our trips beyond the Metaverse, when we can.