What the hell is Meta?by First Descent AR • 2 December 2021
I’ve had a long career with the word. Lately, it’s become quite “buzzy”, and I thought I would weigh in and try to explain where I think this is all going. My first encounter with the word meta was of course its dictionary meaning “beyond”. Later in life, as I entered the design world, Meta became known as the font.
Fast forward twenty years and Meta became a phrase that people use for the meaning best described by the formula “meta-X equals X about X.”
So, if we take the word “data” for our X, and add the prefix meta- to it, we get metadata, or “data about data.” A meta-text is a text about texts. Metacognition is thinking about thinking. And so on and so forth.
The other day as I was completing my workout, I was struck by the idea that someone must spray disinfectant on the disinfectant spray bottles. Hey, wait a sec… isn't that … meta?
The self-reflective sense of meta has also given rise to the use of the word as a standalone adjective; where meta is used to describe something that’s self-reflective or self-referencing.
And now it’s the new name for Facebook, or rather, Facebook’s parent.
Up until recently, Facebook was the parent company of Facebook (the product), Instagram, Oculus, Messenger, and WhatsApp.
Now Facebook has followed Google's lead and created a new parent brand. Do you remember when Google became Alphabet?
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Now Facebook (the parent) is Meta. You might be thinking, cool... but what does it all mean?
Great question. First, with anti-trust sentiments and governments around the world talking about breaking up big tech, it could be Meta's way of getting out in front of this possibility. With the shift to Meta (or Alphabet), the tech giants are creating a moat around the parent company. In this case, the moat serves to protect the parent brand, Meta. If, for instance. it was forced to carve off the Instagram business. Carve off Instagram and Meta survives to fight another day.
As someone who is practiced in brand architecture and building, it seems to me that the goal is to seize the essence of the sub-brands into the parent and to capture the culture, IP, and processes into a more defendable, long-living master brand.
When thinking of the move to Meta, Proctor and Gamble comes to mind. P&G is a house of brands. Any of the products (Brands in their own rights) can come and go, but P&G remains.
Looking To The Future
I think, however, the more interesting reason Facebook is now Meta has more to do with the next decade. We’ve come full circle to the original definition of the word. Meta (Facebook) is all about what’s beyond.
Many people don’t realize that there are areas for growth at Meta that are very ambitious, including Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality (AR/VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and even satellite internet (Skynet anyone?).
I started to read the Three-Body Problem Trilogy by Cixin Liu. The timing of reading is uncanny, as I was scheduled to write this post on the Metaverse. The story centres around the use of full haptic bodysuits, a Virtual Reality world and a cult-like group of users.
Whether it’s Ready Player One or The Matrix, science fiction is slowly becoming our reality.
I’m old enough to be familiar with the rise and fall of Second Life and how it was “the next big thing”. Many of you may be unaware that Second Life still exists - and still has hundreds of thousands of devoted users ...and that the platform continues to evolve today.
Now, things start to get interesting.
You have two tech behemoths, Meta (Facebook) and Microsoft who are spending billions on technology like the Oculus and HoloLens. Each represents and is a result of the confluence of hardware and software. One, Oculus is consumer-oriented and VR, and the other, HoloLens, is aimed at business and is AR/XR.
Regardless, each solution has the goal of transportation. One transports us into virtual worlds (Oculus) …and the latter, transports others into our own world (HoloLens).
We are at a nexus, where Hardware and Software are catching up to each other. The power of graphics processing, increasing hardware miniaturization, wireless broadband and high-resolution screens/optics are coalescing into deliverable, affordable solutions for consumers and businesses.
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That Brings Us To The Metaverse And What's In It For You...…
In the VR Metaverse, we can experience fantastical places like a Cantina in Mos Eisley on Tatooine. Or we can train real firefighters and police officers in safer and more effective ways. Today, software developers can create hyper-realistic environments of all sorts, real and imagined (Cough, cough Avatar*?). The hardware developers and the resulting gear can put you in those environments.
The Metaverse, of course, will be monetized. Whether it’s your virtual home, car, clothes or even your 3D avatar, you can be sure that the model of micro-transactions that are seen in the most popular “free” games today will be prevalent.
If by chance, the system is open source, you will need to be very handy with 3D modelling tools to make things yourself.
The good news is that a whole economy will spring up around the creation of your virtual possessions AND you can be sure that your “belongings” will be able to be owned and/or sold as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on some future blockchain.
While it’s not VR in the true sense, the wildly popular Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG); Fortnite is a great example of frontrunning where VR is headed.
Not that long ago, millions of users attended a virtual concert held in-game by popular DJ Marshmello.
In the near future, you will be able to don your headset and fully immerse yourself in a virtual event such as this (see image above). You, by way of your avatar, will be able to travel to any virtual environment, on-demand.
Imagine seeing Coldplay from a virtual front-row seat on a virtual planet like the ones symbolized on their most recent album, Music of the Spheres. Now we can all feel like Chris Martin is playing right to us.
In the AR Metaverse, virtual elements are overlayed into the real world. By looking through a lens you wear, you could do something like following a cute fox to find your way to a restaurant in an unfamiliar city.
Or, you could be a service technician in Winnipeg working for Boeing who is stumped on how to fix the hydraulics on a wing flap. Instead of waiting for the head technician to fly in from Seattle, you don your HoloLens and, boom, they can see exactly what you are seeing (in real-time) and offer verbal suggestions for the fix through the built-in headphones.
A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE... REALITY BITES?
There will, no doubt, be those who choose to check out of reality through this use of technology. However, I believe that this technology will help us solve big problems quicker by connecting widely dispersed experts faster and in a more interactive way.
Today, the possibilities are possible. (Whoa, is that Meta?)
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