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The Curse of the Metaverse


In the hours between when the “60 Minutes” segment aired featuring Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and the start of when Facebook’s all-day outage drummed up constant snark and speculation, I couldn’t sleep.

Maybe there was too much on my mind at 4:30am.

Maybe it was the change of seasons throwing me off, as I can’t get the temperature in my room just right yet. Do you use the heavy blanket with the window open? What’s the protocol?

Or maybe it was going wild downing two pints of Franziskaner at Ulysses downtown on Stone Street, one of those almost-hidden alleyways where you can feel like a Manhattan local and tourist all at once.

I think it was the beer.

But when I woke up a few hours after crashing, incoherently mumbling something about a conversation I was having with the friend I met downtown, I couldn’t stop thinking about Facebook. And the metaverse. And a half-decent book with a mediocre sequel that I couldn’t get out of my head. And regret. There were lots of thoughts about regret.

It felt rather French. Even if it was triggered by Munich beer.

Well, I did what any perfectly normal person would do when waking up like that:

I wrote down all those thoughts as a Gmail draft and figured I’d share it as a tweetstorm in the morning.

What I didn’t expect is that Facebook would temporarily shut down, adding another aura of mystery to the day.

What follows is a more polished version of the tweetstorm, edited for clarity and to reflect a few thoughts that didn’t make it in.

The storm commences thus:

In light of everything going on with Facebook, I can’t help but wonder about how much of this is fact and fiction blurring thanks in large part to the similarities between Facebook and the world described in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Recall that Ready Player One has been required reading at Oculus (owned by Facebook) since 2016. And whenever Zuckerberg wants to distract people from everything at Facebook now, he keeps talking about the Metaverse — which is where most of RP1 takes place.

Ready Player Two, the sequel, is mostly a slog — even more laborious 80s pop culture references. The quest scenes feel like they go on for longer than those Facts of Life + Diff’rent Strokes crossover episodes. But the heart of the book includes some ethical questions that seem far too nuanced for Facebook’s team to care about.

One is a classic literary and cinematic trope: once you fight the power and become the power, how do you use it responsibly? This is like 50% of fiction? 90%? Whatever. It’s at the core of Ready Player 2 though. And it’s a gray area throughout the book. No right answers.

Even more pertinent today is that Ready Player 2 adds a twist (this is, at worst, a very minor spoiler) in that there’s a secret delete button that only the hero-turned-CEO Parzival has access to. The whole book is a question on whether he does or he doesn’t use it (I will not spoil that part, as the dilemma might be a cliché, but it’s one of the best clichés in the book).

Throughout RP1 and RP2, one dilemma is whether the rulers of the Oasis metaverse should make the metaverse as engaging as possible or if they should improve the real world instead, which is crumbling all around them.

Doesn’t that sound like the whistleblower’s lament? Facebook pursued increasing engagement at any cost. It’s Greek tragedy dressed in a hoodie and sneakers.

Zuckerberg seems to have no concern at all about the real-world effects of his behavior. There’s no concern for whether rioters storm the Capitol or whether millions of people don’t get vaccinated because of what they access on Facebook. Not his problem.

This is where Zuckerberg comes off as sociopathic. I’ll leave it to psychologists to diagnose that. But the real world not mattering while he migrates his platform from a social network to a metaverse is a fundamental flaw in everything Facebook is designing. There’s no empathy or accountability.

In the literary version of the Zuckerberg story, what everyone would wonder at the end of a book, even if there are sequels coming, is, “Does the hero have regret?” Ready Player‘s Parzival (shocker, but not a spoiler) has tons. There’s lots of second-guessing. The stretch where Parzival lacks empathy is when the reader’s not sure if he’s the hero or villain. Zuckerberg seems to miss that trope. It doesn’t matter to him.

There are lots of meaningful ways to debate whether the world is better thanks to Facebook or worse for it. Clearly, billions of us (myself included) use its products and give them a pass on A LOT (yup, that’s me too). But for users like me, there’s a lot of concern and fear.

There are two kinds of regret: regretting actions you took, and regretting opportunities you didn’t seize.

I regret not studying abroad in college, but that didn’t hurt anyone. It only hurt me. And the women of Paris who didn’t get to meet me. (Spoiler alert: they don’t regret it.)

I regret lots of things I’ve done too that hurt others or that didn’t help others enough. That’s for another column, or therapy, or Yom Kippur.

With the Facebook ethos, it seems like the only kind of regret is not going fast enough, not breaking enough things, not going from a metaverse to a multimetaverse. And if they just read Ready Player 1 & 2 more carefully, it’s all in there.

I’m not sure where this leaves us. If there’s any moral of RP1 and RP2 though, it’s that you can’t just build a new digital world; you have to work on fixing the real one too, or it means nothing. Zuck, it’s all there. Read your bible a little more closely.

(This final entry in the storm was retweeted by Second Life founder and metaverse legend Phiip Rosedale, who said, “I could not agree more.” Yes, you can smell the sweat of fanboy glee that far away.)

What I couldn’t fit in with that thread was another thought that came up, thanks in part to drinking so heavily (two whole pints) with a fellow single parent: when you have offspring, it’s especially hard to have regrets.

More importantly, when you create something meaningful, it’s hard to have regrets. That could be finding your true calling. It could be building a company, writing a book, or composing a symphony. It could be the love you devote to your parents or grandparents or nieces or nephews. It could be a manifestation of your religion. If you can’t imagine what the world would be like without it, and you know the world is a better place for it, then it’s hard to regret whatever got you there.

Yet most of us can’t get there without making mistakes that short-change ourselves and others. And most of us who created something undeniably positive and beautiful had to get through all kinds of ugly to get there.

However we got to this point, there is so much that the vast majority of us would choose to never do again and would do everything in our power to prevent or resolve.

Zuckerberg has that power. But if you have no regrets, you can’t use your power effectively. You can only move fast and break things. Even things that are already broken.


If you’re tired of the metaverse, come join some of us at First Wednesday tonight in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park right by Shake Shack. RSVP on Meetup, or just show up between 5 and 7. We can talk about all of this in person, and if it’s too deep for you, you can talk to my daughter about BTS and Pokemon; she also baked cookies for everyone.

If you can’t make that but also have trouble sleeping, email me what’s on your mind. I may be up and around to respond.

If you’re a billionaire reading this, let’s talk about how to fix the world we’re in rather than blasting off into space or creating a virtual universe.

If you’re game, the Franziskaner’s on you. And I might go for a third pint.



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Remote US within the Pacific time zone
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Director of Growth Marketing
New York, NY
Via Chris Gorges in the community
“We are seeking a Director of Growth Marketing to lead our acquisition strategy across online and offline growth channels. This role will be responsible for allocating and deploying a large media budget and managing a growth marketing team that plans, executes, and analyzes acquisition tactics that drive sustainable and efficient CAC at scale.”

Find more jobs on the Serial Marketers job board.

Other job resources:

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