Personally, I wouldn’t open my 9-minute ad for the unproven technology I’d just lost $2.8 billion on (opens in new tab) with a reference to the Titanic, but I’m not Mark Zuckerberg. Meta’s latest ad does just that, though, as part of a long segment where hosts Keke Palmer and Vishal Shah (Meta’s ‘VP of the metaverse’) try to sell you on the metaverse’s endless potential for creativity.
“Could I reconstruct the Titanic, sail it past an iceberg, and scream ‘Not this time, sucker’?” Palmer asks, reading a list of quirky scenarios from a note card. “You can do a version of that now,” replies Shah, enigmatically. That’s pretty much the tone of the whole video, which bills itself as the first episode of ‘Metaverse 101’ series, but doesn’t explain much of anything at all.
The whole episode is aesthetically confounding. Shah and Palmer sit in a fake car and make forced banter as it winds its way through places that look like Second Life but populated exclusively by Apple Memojis. To be fair to them, both of the hosts seem fairly likeable, but there’s only so much charisma you can exude when you have to act like a giant flamingo and some phantom table tennis rackets are presented as the vanguard of the next industrial revolution.
Shah does an admirable enough job of reciting his prepared answers to Palmer’s prepared questions, but I still don’t understand what makes this whole endeavour worth dropping billions of dollars on. When you dig into the details—such as they are—of what Shah is saying as he describes the metaverse (“We’re gonna be able to see things around us, we’re gonna be able to touch things”), all he really seems to be describing is a VR interface for the internet we already have. Do we want that? Does that sound like it improves the parts of the internet that need improving? At no point in this video do I get the impression that anyone involved has ever asked themselves if they’re actually solving a real problem.
The watchword of the entire show is ‘experience’. What is the metaverse? “It’s experiential”. What makes it special? “People can create their own experiences”. This is what leads into Palmer firing a list of scenarios at Shah to ask whether they’re possible now, in the future, or impossible. She asks if the metaverse will let her take her grandma bungee jumping, visit human colonies on Mars, or meet her favourite band. These experiences, Shah beams, are all possible right this second. Apart from the fact that this is by far the cringiest, most rehearsed part of the entire video, at no point does anyone point out that these things are also all possible without the metaverse.
The whole video is honestly worth watching just for the bizarre, dream-like quality it evokes. It’s like everyone in it is operating on a different plane of reality than the one I’m accustomed to; they have access to hidden logics my fragile mind can’t fathom. Who knows? Maybe 10 years from now, this article will be a metaverse meme, passed around and giggled at in the same way we now laugh at the people who said the iPhone was doomed (opens in new tab). But somehow I doubt it.