What does the future of 'community' look like in Zuckerberg's Meta world?
In the last month, I have written about Facebook, Zuckerberg, and changing the future of our social media platforms through taking personal responsibility for how we enable them. In my earlier missive about Meta, I discussed facing Zuckerberg’s future vision for the place his reality development will have in our lives — that perhaps, it is the part we should fear most. I am now putting forth the following as a vision for what I see could be the philosophical issue, as well as the magnified concern, about monitoring who will own the platforms that might make up our future communities. Jessica, a good friend of mine who lives in the hinterlands of Kansas (we went to college together), is married to a good man named Jim. Jim is overweight. He has responsibly punched a time card at a factory for many years. He loves his wife and family, though one would not say he is engaged as much as present. Their distribution of responsibilities has Jessica taking care of the household expenses and investments (she has developed numerous revenue streams that have supported a strong savings plan and a good life) and Jim taking care of the insurance and other monthly payments. Their home and most of their assets are in joint names. One day Jessica was trying to figure out why a bill hadn’t been paid, and she went into one of Jim’s accounts. Imagine her surprise when she discovered the account had been depleted of more than $50,000. The money had been dispersed in $100 increments, several times a day, to some strange company. Jessica is nothing if not thorough and efficient, and she soon realized the money had been paid to the company that owns the war game Jim had been playing for hours each day on his phone. He was so addicted to it that they’d argued about the importance of his putting down the phone during and after dinner. She confronted him. He explained that in that world, he was somebody; in fact, he’d worked himself up to commander, or some similar position. He said that in his gaming community, they were real people, living exciting lives, and he loved that life. I pointed out to my friend that at home, she was the mover and shaker, the kids were the primary focus, and Jim was a bit player. I told her I can understand why the virtual world he’d created was more attractive to him than his actual life. Kansas is not exactly a hopping place, and there is no day in which one can save lives, strategize a plan to conquer territory, or win the hand of a fair maiden. I have empathy for Jim. I can understand how this happened. Jessica can too. Back to Zuckerberg. Reality for Zuckerberg was never all that great. He wasn’t cool in high school and was rejected by a girl at Harvard. That rejection served as the impetus for him to create Facebook, where he could control who was granted membership. This made him a power broker online, something he couldn’t achieve in real life but desperately wanted. So when Zuckerberg talks about the future of virtual reality and community, and that we will live our lives online as avatars that look the way we want to look rather than the way we do, be afraid. Be very afraid. Or don’t. If we can’t leave our homes because of climate dangers, and we can live in worlds that we choose rather than worlds in which we were born, then is that a better life for some? This is the philosophical question. Are decisions for how and where we live our lives ours to make? Would some be better off in an online world than one of bricks and mortar, which for some is difficult to maneuver — and for some, next to impossible? And is it the government’s responsibility to monitor those creating the virtual communities where people spend many of their waking hours? Imagine if you had committed to a virtual community (you may want to watch some of the recent films and television shows on this subject) and you’ve “lived” there for … let’s say five years. Then suddenly, the Zuckerberg avatar that created the world can decide you need to pay a boatload of money to stay there. How will people support themselves in this new world that is dragging them in more and more each day? In the early nineties, CompuServe and AOL had forums, and participating in these forums cost $X per hour (I believe it was around $10). I was active in a women’s issues forum, but there were many other forums, including ones of a sexual nature. The one that comes to mind is HSX, which was filled with BDSM enthusiasts from all over the world. They had finally found a place to call their own. A friend of mine was one of the forum managers, and I can assure you, her world was there, not in Westchester, where she lived. She was online pretty much 24/7, and she was really somebody in that forum. I was somebody in the women’s issues forum, but I had a young daughter and responsibilities that didn’t allow me to journey down that rabbit hole for more than a few hours a day. These forums died as the internet took over. And of course, one hundred years ago, in real space and time, groups like The Klu Klux Klan gave community to those that needed something to escape from their reality. So all of this is not new, but it's evolving. Mr. Z is very good at creating this type of virtual place, and his resources are unlimited. If he does it untethered from any rules and regulations, the world will not be better for it, in my opinion. If we do not address this potential new world, then we will not be prepared to manage what the Zuckerberg-type innovators are creating. Take a moment to ask yourself this: If you could live your life as anyone you want to be, would you? And do you understand that there are some people with lives perhaps not as fabulous as your own, who would do it in a heartbeat? --Christine Merser, Managing Partner, Blue Shoe