Luxury brands, investment bankers, and even the goddamn military might be buying big into the idea of a metaverse, but thankfully, there’s one prominent CEO who’s finally calling it out for being as wishy-washy and we all know it to be.
In an interview with The Guardian on Thursday, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said that his company refused to use the word in the company’s offices, because it’s “ambiguous and hypothetical,” as opposed to the real world, which is, well, real.
“Just ask a room of people how to define it, and everyone’s definition is totally different,” Spiegel said about the term. In that respect, he’s totally right. Though it was first coined by sci-fi author Neal Stephenson way back in 1992, Mark Zuckerberg has since fully co-opted the phrase when he rebranded Facebook to “Meta” back in October of last year.
For Facebook, the phrase “metaverse” seems to be pretty synonymous with the virtual worlds provided by its oculus headsets, but for everyone else... the word doesn’t seem to mean much at all. We’ve seen pundits like Jim Cramer go on television and try to sputter out some coherent definition (“It’s a holodeck. It’s like Star Trek,” he said soon after Zuckerberg’s announcement of the name change), but everyone’s flimsy metaphors are going to be different. Brands and retailers claim it’s going to be a virtual shopping plaza, while real estate tycoons see it as literal plots of land ready to be bought and sold. Really, the metaverse is whatever you want it to be—at least for now—which is what Spiegel touched on here.
“One of the big overarching concepts people have is that a lot of those tools are designed to replace reality,” he went on. “Our fundamental bet is that people actually love the real world: they want to be together in person with their friends.”
Unfortunately for Spiegel, the real world kinda sucks, but that didn’t dissuade him from betting hard on another kind of tech-centric escapism: augmented reality, instead of fully virtual worlds. The company debuted a pair of augmented reality specs last summer, and has ramped up in acquiring several AR startups in order to make augmented reality socializing and shopping a (somewhat) reality.