Over the past few months, I’ve watched the business press come full circle on the Metaverse. First, there was the hype about how virtual reality and augmented reality were the future of everything. Now, it’s a ballad of disappointment about how lackluster Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the Metaverse is turning out to be so far.
It’s important to note, however, these articles aren’t saying that workers don’t want to work remotely and don’t need a virtual environment — just that Meta’s version of the Metaverse isn’t the virtual workspace anyone’s looking for. So let’s take a look at the most shared and commented-on articles to gain insight into what people actually want in a virtual workspace.
As with the rest of Pew’s research portfolio, this research provides a balanced view of the Metaverse and its pros and cons. The 624 technology experts they interviewed expect to see ‘extended’ reality become part of our daily lives by 2040. But they also foresee augmented-reality and mixed-reality tools gaining traction, vs. the more-fully-immersive virtual reality worlds currently synonymous for many with the Metaverse.
This article also has some pretty on-the-nose criticisms, including this one, which delves into the motivations behind some of our biggest ad-tech companies being the pioneers of the Metaverse:
“The term metaverse was coined to describe a corporate, dystopian hellscape where a completely financialized world is stripped of any culture and value. Advocates of the metaverse are currently trying to bring that vision into reality in the hopes of creating new digital surfaces that can be covered in new advertising and made as addictive as possible. As the physical world encounters saturation of existing advertising surfaces and data collection, augmented reality is the new frontier of surveillance capitalism. If it does come to fruition, it will be as terrible as social media is today.”
— Justin Reich, associate professor of digital media at MIT and director of the Teaching Systems Lab.
Reich has a good point, even if you aren’t a social media naysayer. We’ve seen the unintended negative consequences of how platforms like Facebook have monetized their users’ data for the benefit of advertisers. Imagine what could happen if those companies who couldn’t handle your personal data already had access to your workplace’s intellectual property and private information.
While Google Cardboard is an affordable way of accessing the Metaverse’s VR worlds, no one wants to strap cardboard against their face for hours of meetings. It’s designed for occasional use for a leisure activity—not for wearing all day in a work environment.
While Facebook already had a $400 headset in the market, it wasn’t meant for prolonged use at the office. So they introduced a $1,500 virtual reality headset that’s more comfortable, has improved controls, and can track your eye and facial movements and sync them with your Metaverse avatar. Presumably, the buyers of this state-of-the-art headset are, as the WSJ surmises, architects, engineers, and designers, plus tech early adopters.
Unfortunately, the article notes, the new headset’s charge only lasts for 1-2 hours, depending on what you’re doing while wearing it. It then needs to recharge for two hours before you’re ready for your next meeting. I guess that could work for those who have chosen the 4-hour workday. But for busy professionals who can have days of back-to-back meetings and collaboration sessions, it’s problematic on many levels.
As the author quips in closing, “I just think we’re going to need something a little cooler than avatars gathered around three-dimensional Excel sheets for this whole metaverse thing to take off.”
The Metaverse Doesn’t have a Leg to Stand on (Literally)
While there were dozens—if not hundreds—of articles making fun of the floating bottomless avatars populating the Metaverse, these two stood out for their approach to covering the announcement from the Meta team that legs were in the works for their floating avatars.
Presumably, the developers who are surprised by the general public’s lack of enthusiasm for this news may also be unaware that MMORPGs like the World of Warcraft have had 3-D avatars with legs for almost two decades. And to be fair—we’re not controlling those avatars with our body movements. But the fact is—no one cares if it’s going to be hard to do. The current offering just doesn’t meet modern consumers’ expectations.
“The fact that now Zuckerberg is prioritizing legs in the metaverse shows how much public perception of the metaverse matters, and that the toughest challenge to Meta succeeding may be solving the technology’s seemingly simple (although technically complex) visual problems. Meta needs to show that it’s in touch with reality, even as it builds an alternate universe.”(Vox)
This Mashable article rounds up Tweeted reactions to the addition of legs to the Metaverse, including these:
I don't think "no legs" was the barrier to the immersive experience that will keep people interested in a metaverse. https://t.co/bYQRPm1cA0— Jake Williams (@MalwareJake) October 12, 2022
the metaverse rules because eight years of development and $10 billion of investment has led to:— Fred Delicious (@Fred_Delicious) October 12, 2022
'are you excited for legs' https://t.co/CPviBCGte4
“Unsurprisingly, people are underwhelmed by the update, just as they seem to be about the metaverse. The same can be said for Meta’s employees, apparently.”(Mashable)
So What Do People Want From a Virtual Office?
One recurring theme across these pieces, and other metaverse coverage, is people want a reason to log in to these virtual spaces to work. Not a mandate from the C-suite that they have to use these tools. They want these spaces to have unique persistent tools, resources, and frameworks that help them work better together. Novelty is not enough!
While remote work has freed many people from the office, it hasn’t changed their desire or need to collaborate and have face-to-face time with their colleagues and managers—even if it is virtual. It’s our job to do our best work, and that means working together in many cases. As one of the companies committed to making these virtual worlds of work inclusive and accessible to all, we know that in the end, the work is only as good as the people who can and do put their shoulders into it. VR headsets should not be required.