Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse takeover presents a paradox: In capitalizing off Western culture’s ‘Main Character Syndrome,’ is he exhibiting it himself?
By combining social media and virtual reality, the billionaire technocrat is pushing for a future in which users live within the bounds of personally tailored realities. Meta’s launch follows years of digital advertising that has manipulated individuals’ self perceptions with messaging where they are main characters.
In a video demonstrating the company’s vision of the Metaverse, Zuckerberg sits at a table with a robot and watches a piece of artwork jump from a canvas, contorting and twisting into different 3-D shapes. From robot friends to rock shows, the Metaverse plans to offer unlimited experiences via customizable and interchangeable realities based on an individual’s preferences.
The concept of the Metaverse is not new. The term was first coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book ‘Snow Crash’ to describe a virtual world in which humans interacted with one another as avatars. In the 1980s, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard popularized the concept of “hyperreality,” an abstract terrain produced by humanity’s web of social relations which reproduced simulations of reality. The Wachowskis’ based the ideology of ‘The Matrix’ from Baudrillard’s ‘Simulations,’ creating a series which some cultural theorists have described as social realism.
Whether Zuckerberg was inspired to launch Meta after watching the Matrix is a possibility. It’s also possible that after failing to evict indigenous landowners in his attempted takeover of the Hawaiian island Kawaii, the billionaire figured he’d have better luck owning the territory in VR.
Like Zuckerberg’s cynical marketing ploy with Facebook’s disbursement of free internet in Africa, the greater forces of capital lurk beneath Meta’s mission. Although Meta promotes the Metaverse experience as escapist fantasy, user experiences within the terrain will likely be the final product. With fleeting virtual fantasies of Pixar-esque robot friends and more emotionally charged encounters, our data, our attention, and our identities will undergo market exploitation to fulfill our own narratives resulting from Main Character Syndrome. Allowing Zuckerberg access to personal Metaverse data means handing over direct cognitive abilities, correlations between what a user’s activities could mean for purchasing habits, replaced with the underlining motivation itself.
By luring in users with the prospect of being a main character in a secondary reality, Meta will examine their experiences and psyches, revealing their autonomy never belonged to them in the first place. Main characters in secondary realities are not main characters, but gears powering a world in which Mark Zuckerberg has been the main character all along.