Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse: Zuck’s Decade-old Obsession with Virtual Reality

5 Mar 2023

Before 2021, Zuck was running a large social media company that had long lost its secret sauce. In 2021, the company was re-purposed to be “a metaverse company,” whatever that means. Reflecting this bold change in strategy, the company was renamed to Meta.

Fast-forward to 2023, the company is now selling Virtual Reality hardware starting at $399.99 a piece with the entry-level Meta Quest 2 (128GB). It comes with free social apps like Horizon Worlds, which is “a virtual universe” in which you can always find something new to do with your friend.

Looking back, we can say that this new branding has been cooking for a long time. And for Zuck, it all started with virtual reality.

Zuck Wants us to Live and Breathe in Virtual Reality

In one of the historical emails Zuck sent to his fellow, now-Meta, then-Facebook co-workers in June 2015, he sheds light on the main aspirations that built up to his obsession with Virtual Reality. He starts the email with words on his vision for VR as the next major computing platform:

Our vision is that VR / AR will be the next major computing platform after mobile in about 10 years. It can be even more ubiquitous than mobile – especially once we reach AR – since you can always have it on. It’s more natural than mobile since it uses our normal human visual and gestural systems. It can even be more economical, because once you have a good VR / AR system, you no longer need to buy phones or TV’s or many other physical objects – they can just become apps in a digital store.

First off, “our human visual and gestural systems”? 100% something a robot in disguise would say.

Zuck is not happy with most tech consumers still living a considerably big part of their lives beyond computer screens. Fewer eyeballs on the screen means fewer brands spending ad budget on Facebook. Their business relies on people buying things online or leaving profitable personal data here and there. Zuck isn’t happy that his company can’t capture the whole world, as people experience it on a daily basis.

But here comes the twist: What if consumers could always have a technology product on, all the time? If Zuck and team built systems great enough that could persuade the public to never leave bits for atoms, building virtualized renditions of all the things people experience beyond their computer screens? Zuck is crazy about how much money he could make if he had developed the technology for this. The ultimate metaverse, a centralized service provider with everything you need and more. Marketed as sheer value for humanity.

Mail TL:DR: Zuck is All In, and He Doesn’t Even Want to Think of Failing

Mark wants Facebook to build both the platform and the key apps for ubiquitous Virtual and Augmented Reality. He imagines the key apps to be on social communication and media consumption. He’s not insisting on developing the key games as it’s a “hits-driven” genre; it’s alright as long as the key games in VR / AR are available on their platforms.

In a large portion  of the mail, he goes on to explain the intricacies of their ideal strategy, touching upon his view of the existing market and which parts to architect primarily. It’s weird, though, that there is absolutely not a word on Google Glass, which had come out as early as  2013. It seems like common sense to assure readers of what Facebook will do differently to make sure their product is not mocked like Google Glass.

Image created via Stable Diffusion Web, via the prompt "live and breathe and do shopping in virtual reality".

Zuck fails to give an in-depth analysis of whether we really need VR / AR for social communication and media consumption. He fails to make a case for how VR / AR tech goes beyond being “the rich white kid of technology.” He is not convincing because it doesn’t seem like he understands why year after year, VR / AR tech seems on the verge of success but never truly makes it.

For some unknown reason, he seems determined that VR is the next wave of computing. Zuck’s all in. He’s also open to spending a few billion bucks more on acquiring Unity, the leading 2D and 3D game development platform. With that, he wants to make sure Facebook is off to a great start and de-risks the space so that money-sniffing VCs can find another bucket to continue pouring their money into.

With Unity going public in 2020, five years after Zuck’s email, the Facebook team was probably not off to a good start. And Meta’s Reality Labs team has been reporting losses consecutively for four quarters. Still, the management remains hopeful that the Metaverse train they hopped in as early as the 2010s will be fruitful. Probably because they need to hold on to VR as a last glimmer of hope.

Mark Zuckerberg was Probably Bored of Facebook, Too

In the mail, Zuck provides elaborations of how VR technology aligns with the company’s strategic, brand-related, and financial goals. He goes on and on, until the mail reaches unhealthy lengths, until it resembles the mumblings of a madman who claims to just have received some holy message from above. Because just like everyone else, Zuck’s really bored of Facebook and what it has become. He needs to find a way to keep the brilliant engineers on his  team with incentives other than money. Perhaps even himself?

Image via New York Magazine, by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Facebook has become a misinformation-spreading, society intoxicating drudgery. Zuck has spent too long of a time surrounded by whistleblowers, reports, hearings and the Facebook Papers. What was once a fun website the quirky college kid coded out of his dorm room became a huge, political, twisted mess that was just too big to get rid of at once. It’s not hard to imagine how unbelievably tough this might have been for the human leading all this.

Zuck’s Probably a Robot (But Don’t Take My Word for It)

Is Mark Zuckerberg a Robot? Nobody can say for sure. He is still leading this mega enterprise that eats billions for breakfast on a daily basis. Attends hearings every now and then. He wants people to wear virtual reality headsets to talk with friends and shop all the time.

We know that he’s a family man. Could robots have children? I’m not sure, but I think so. He runs a tech giant. Can robots do that? If we count ChatGPT as a robot, I think it could probably  run a country (probably as a dictator, but let’s not go into that).

Illustration via the Guardian, by Raj Dhunna

While it may not be healthy to complete our analysis of whether Mark Zuckerberg is a robot from a single, albeit lengthy, letter he sent to colleagues, something tells me he’s probably better off as a robot in the boring mess of a technology platform he helped create. If he’s better off that way, then he probably made it happen. After all, he’s Zuck, one of the richest, brightest humans to ever exist. So yeah, Zuck’s probably a robot looking to find better ways to come together with fellow robots with AR / VR technologies, the Metaverse, and the like.

The lead image for this article was generated by HackerNoon's AI Image Generatorvia the prompt "Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse fantasies".