The social networking giant has, obviously, been inspired by the idea of the metaverse, a futuristic version of the internet in which users can immerse themselves by taking on digital avatars, aided by virtual and augmented reality hardware, and advanced body sensors, that allows them to do everything they do in the real world, hang out with friends, or strangers, attend musical concerts, and even dance, albeit within cyberspace now.
While many technology evangelists are excited by this notion that takes them a step closer to The Matrix, or rather Westworld, for the millennials, the question of privacy and data security is only amplified when mentioned in the context of Facebook.
The company has been having a spate of bad press for close to a year now. The rebranding exercise is happening in the aftermath of the explosive revelations of a former data engineer-turned whistleblower Frances Haugen who had gone on record to testify that Facebook had prioritised profits over public safety particularly when it came to its algorithms pushing forth incendiary content.
Last week, Haugen spoke to the French Parliament during a European tour and expressed her apprehensions regarding Facebook’s plans to go meta, drawing attention to the aspects of separating official and personal spaces within the metaverse, a problem that office-goers are already dealing with in the real world, where work from home has erased the boundaries between professional and personal lives.
There are other lifestyle-related and healthcare-centric concerns that a dive into the metaverse must gradually address.
For starters, the notion of screen time, which is a pain point, not just for employees, but even for school and college goers must be considered in the backdrop of a perpetually ‘on’ metaverse scenario.
At a time when both technology companies and behavioural experts have spoken about the need for reducing time spent before digital devices, the notion of a metaverse knocks the ball out of the park.
With just a 2-D screen on a smartphone, people are struggling to wind up for the day. Now multiply that sensation with an immersive 3-D world, that not just lets you pick an outfit from a shelf, but lets you wear it in a digital self, and keeps piling on the options.
If the critics had been complaining about doomscrolling, and our tendency to constantly seek out our fix via the information overload superhighway, they have another coming, with the metaverse.
The challenges of hitting critical mass to power such an expansive, data and bandwidth-intensive internet infrastructure is yet another concern. We are witnessing the backlash heaped upon cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin for their energy-intensive mining processes that engage thousands of server farms and cost millions in electricity bills. Every Bitcoin transaction consumes nothing short of $100 in electricity charges, whether you’re buying a decaf latte or a collector’s edition vinyl LP. Make no mistake, cryptocurrencies are being touted as potentially the most in-demand of use cases within the metaverse, thanks to their border-less payment mechanisms.
Facebook, like other cash-rich tech giants, has every opportunity to turn around the narrative of internet access globally and empower millions of individuals with affordably-priced access to cyberspace.
They also have a responsibility to make the internet a safer, accountable, and equitable domain. That they choose to wish away their existing, gaping holes in the production and consumption of social media content and information while peddling aggrandised visions of a Utopian tomorrow that promises safe cyberspace for netizens, says more about us as a society, than them as technology pioneers.