If there was one spectacular factor from Mark Zuckerberg’s 90-minute spiel about Fb’s rebranding as Meta, it was his misunderstanding of what meta truly means — and the way that misunderstanding is symbolic of his profound incapacity for self-reflection.
The day after Meta launched — that includes Zuckerberg’s utopian guarantees in regards to the metaverse — I subjected my first-year English class to a rant about how this second has been predicted by a library’s price of science fiction. Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash even includes a digital setting known as … anticipate it … the metaverse.
To anybody even vaguely acquainted with cyberpunk science fiction, what was comically tone-deaf about Zuckerberg’s enthusiastic predictions is that fictional depictions of futures that includes digital actuality are nearly universally dystopian.
Zuckerberg’s fanfare evoked in me a sense all too acquainted amongst lecturers — he hasn’t performed (or hasn’t understood) the studying.
Supply of the metaverse
My considerably off-the-cuff rant discovered way more compelling expression in Brian Service provider’s Vice article “The Metaverse Has At all times Been A Dystopian Thought.” As Service provider observes, Zuckerberg shouldn’t be alone in his willpower to make the metaverse the subsequent massive factor.
Quite a few tech firms, together with giants like Microsoft, are equally eager to increase into the subsequent stage of on-line interplay that may nearly actually be price trillions. These firms accomplish that, nonetheless, with out apparently pausing “to fastidiously take into account the precise supply of the metaverse,” says Service provider referring to Snow Crash, “a deeply dystopian novel a couple of collapsed America that’s overrun by violence and poverty.”
This oversight can be one factor if Snow Crash was distinctive, however the tropes animating Stephenson’s novel have been well-established within the style by cyberpunk authors previous him, most notably William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
Stephenson’s conception of the metaverse was a refinement of Gibson’s our on-line world, which was anticipated by Vernor Vinge’s Different Airplane in True Names and the digital afterlife afforded to the not-quite-dead in Philip Ok. Dick’s Ubik.
Dick and Vinge should not preoccupied with the broader socio-economic problems with the societies through which their digital worlds are embedded. However cyberpunk has largely adopted Gibson’s lead, predicting a way forward for huge wealth inequality, highly effective transnational firms and a inhabitants distracted and calmed by a gentle eating regimen of digitized misinformation and leisure.
It’s nearly as if Gibson and Stephenson knew what they have been speaking about.
All of which is among the the explanation why Zuckerberg’s shiny, relentlessly upbeat utopianism about our digital future feels so disconnected. This doesn’t even take note of his blatant disregard for that indisputable fact that persons are lastly rising from a yr and a half of Zoom — so it won’t be the very best time to attempt to promote a brand new digital house.
Zuckerberg’s apparently persistent incapability to pause and mirror (by no means thoughts truly admit error) makes Fb’s new identify sadly ironic.
What does “meta” imply
In his video and letter posted to Fb saying the rebranding, Zuckerberg cites his background in classics and says that “meta” is from the Greek and means “past.”
Strictly talking, he isn’t improper: the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “past, above, at a better stage.” However Zuckerberg goes on to say that meta “symbolizes that there’s at all times extra to construct, and there may be at all times a subsequent chapter to the story” — solely lacking the way in which through which “past” is being employed right here. One thing clarified within the very subsequent line of the dictionary entry.
“Meta-,” says the dictionary, is often “prefixed to the identify of a topic or self-discipline to indicate one other which offers with ulterior points in the identical discipline, or which raises questions in regards to the nature of the unique self-discipline and its strategies, procedures, and assumptions.”
Or to phrase it extra plainly, meta’s “past” shouldn’t be a lot about questioning the long run as it’s about transferring past our tacit understanding of one thing to realize a important and self-reflexive perspective.
Somebody like me, an instructional who teaches and writes about up to date literature, is intimately acquainted with “meta” as a theoretical idea. However it’s not as if a grasp of meta’s fundamental introspective which means is proscribed to the halls of academia. It has lengthy since wormed its means into dialog, which makes the careless obliviousness of somebody seemingly as good as Zuckerberg all of the extra baffling.
When somebody asks “can we get meta about this?” the query precipitates not a dialogue of the problem at hand, however somewhat issues surrounding, informing, framing or giving rise to the problem.
Whenever you hear somebody leaving a film theatre saying, “That was so meta!” you may be moderately sure that the movie simply seen was one thing alongside the strains of Scream or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Whereas the observe of being sarcastically self-referential can generally be tiring, my level is extra that meta is, actually by definition, introspective, one thing Zuckerberg shouldn’t be.
To be meta about Meta wouldn’t contain plunging ahead with a 90-minute video promising to double down on Fb’s supposed mission of “bringing folks collectively,” however somewhat reflecting upon the truth that Fb is an organization that designs expertise round folks.
It may additionally contain questioning if all the inner research stating that Instagram is poisonous to physique picture and Fb facilitates atrocities and props up dictatorships are possibly extra indicative of expertise shaping folks’s behaviour.
Ought to that unlikely state of affairs ever come about, there are some novels Zuckerberg would possibly need to learn.