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Do People Even Want the Metaverse? - 3 10 2022 8 44 34 AM

Fully 52% of American adults worry that the metaverse will lead them to neglect reality. In a new survey, most respondents showed a clear preference for technology that is at least somewhat connected to the real world. (Advertising Age)

NH: Mark Zuckerberg may soon regret renaming Facebook as Meta (FB). A series of new surveys from The Harris Poll show consumers are largely apprehensive toward the metaverse. 

Fully 52% of Americans ages 18+ feel “overwhelmed” by the idea. And among 18- to 54-year-olds who are familiar with the metaverse, just over half (52%) fear that it will “lead to the neglect of their physical surroundings.”

This group worries explicitly about losing friendships and not making new ones. It may help to know that many social scientists believe America is already suffering from an epidemic of loneliness, especially among young adults. (See "All the Lonely People" and "Where Have All Our Friends Gone?")

The polls also found that Americans are most interested in extended-reality offerings that work with the physical world rather than virtual environments that entirely replace it.

For example, consumers are significantly more interested in using AR/VR technology to shop for physical clothing than to buy digital accessories for metaverse avatars. (See “Are VR and AR the Future?”)

Or, if you are skeptical of polls, take a look at the underwhelming viewer response to the much-ballyhooed ad that FB ran during the recent Super Bowl. It was supposed to excite America's interest in Meta and its newest product, Meta Quest 2.

Instead, it ended up at best mystifying viewers and--at worst--persuading them that Meta represents the dystopian end of humankind. If you haven't seen it, you can decide for yourself.

Despite the lukewarm public response, FB is increasingly focused on developing virtual metaverse products. The company now offers two major applications for its VR headsets: Horizon Workrooms and Horizon Venues.

In Workrooms, users operate digital avatars to have virtual meetings with coworkers. In Venues, users operate the same avatars to attend events like concerts and NBA games. A revealing fact: Even on Horizon Venues' own website, users don't give the experience a warm response. 55% of reviews are one star out of five. 

So why is Zuckerberg so gung-ho on taking this path? He knows that FB's core social media business is decelerating in the face of resistance among youth and increasing tech-lash among all age groups. (See "Americans Don't Trust Big Tech.") And he believes his brand means nothing if it's not transformative. He wants to change the nature of social communication more than Gutenberg ever did.

Here's one of his humble aspirations: "One day, I believe, we'll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You'll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too if you'd like. This would be the ultimate communication technology."

But again, let's ask: Does anyone actually want to live in this world? Would society become a mere pulsating mass of unthinking humanity--ripe perhaps for an authoritarian takeover?

Here's another Zuckerberg aspiration that may offer insight into this question: "Our success isn't just based on whether we can capture videos and share them with friends. It's about whether we're building a community that helps keep us safe."

BTW, for an excellent book on how communication tech is changing our post-Marshall McLuhan world, I recommend Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason, by William Davies (2019).

Tiring of running a mere social media site, Zuckerberg launched Libra (now renamed Diem) in 2019, an interesting attempt to refashion the global economy's system. That didn't go as well as he had hoped. So more recently he has been pushing his chips onto "Meta."

IMO, FB's CEO and controlling shareholder will continue to reach for the Next Big Thing until he succeeds--or until he walks into a wall, perhaps with his Quest 2 headset on. 

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.