Metaverse Spectacles Skeptical

A recent piece from Vox by Shirin Ghaffary on the challenge Meta endures as it races towards the so-called metaverse:

“Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks the metaverse will be the next iteration of the internet, a technological shift akin to the mobile phone.”

Nope. I really don’t think so. I remain skeptical. And wary of Zuckerberg productions. Sure AR/VR has cool applications, for example gaming. But even in that genre it’s niche.

I don’t think the metaverse, as described or defined by a virtual space you interact with via sensory-enveloping headgear, will ever become mainstream. Why? Because people won’t wear goggles to text others when a smartphone is enough. And Microsoft Office on your laptop won’t be more fun in virtual reality. Maybe AR/VR will open up new experiences, but that remains to be seen, and if it does, I doubt they’ll be as revolutionary as the smartphone.

The Vox piece also raises a topic I’ve previously encountered and still disagree with as well, the notion that society now needs another tech breakthrough, a revolutionary device:

“Bosworth’s comments come at a time when Silicon Valley is long overdue for a major breakthrough invention. It’s been years since any of the reigning tech giants — Apple, Google, or Meta — have put out a technology as transformative as their earlier products like the mobile phone, the online search engine, the personal computer, or a social media platform like Facebook. For the past year and half, Meta has been positioning itself as a could-be leader on this front.”

In general, I reject the idea that tech revolutions are somehow on a schedule as though due at certain points on the timeline. Otherwise, we’d be long overdue for a Nikola Tesla advancement of wireless electricity. Or we’d be past due for hydrogen fuel cell cars or even just electrical generation via commonplace nuclear reactors; fossil fuels remain king in the age of the atom.

I really don’t think AR/VR, even if marketed via an Apple device, is going to be a new revolution. In ten years maybe? No, I still don’t think so. Why? Two reasons.

One, the tablet, once thought to be the “post-PC” device and next revolution after the iPhone turned out to be something adjacent to, not a replacement of, the smartphone. Likewise, wearables like Apple Watch are smartphone adjacent. Everybody isn’t doing “ambient computing” via voice assistants either. Even smart-home tech remains a mess after several years of trying to become the next big tech thing. All that’s to say just because a company or segment of people fancy a breakthrough device paradigm doesn’t mean it will inevitably materialize.

Two, the industrial revolution and things like interchangeable parts, though eventually followed by new revolutions, were paradigm shifts that spanned decades, not years. Even with Ford’s assembly line, over a century later and after the advent of computers, cars are still made basically the same way and people still travel via automobile. Flying cars, once thought to be the future of personal transportation, remain on the elusive horizon, the first version of vaporware.

In any case, I don’t think Zuckerberg is right on this one. And if the metaverse does become the next big thing, I doubt Meta will be at the forefront due to negative Facebook inertia. And even if Zuckerberg’s determination is matched by prescience, will it matter if investors remain skeptical and refuse to fund metaverse ambitions? Maybe via a non-Meta company.

But Microsoft seems to have given up on Hololens, its AR/VR headset. And Google killed Google Glass long ago. And Apple would likely price a headset beyond the reach of most consumers, such that Apple Glasses would be as unpopular as Homepod or AirPods Max.

The odds are stacked against AR/VR. Besides, progress in AI might distract or hinder metaverse progress. And what about the true “next big thing,” Quantum Computing? Maybe Nintendo’s Virtual Boy flop in the 90s soured me. Either way, I remain skeptical of the metaverse and am averse to Zuckerberg productions.

What do you think the potential of AR/VR is?