Principles for the Metaverse

"The Metaverse," everybody's new favorite tech vision after "the Singularity," has recently had its inflection moment when Zuck decided to rename his shitty website from Facebook to "Meta".

First of all, thanks, Mark, for ruining another word - but secondly: Can we stop talking about it? The Metaverse is bullshit, it's called the internet. Also, it's already here and called "Minecraft."

And while I think that we should anyways move on from the term "Metaverse" to something more positively co-notated (no, I haven't read Snowcrash) and original; to help further the rationale that "the Metaverse is bullshit" - I'd like to highlight another aspect of that story today: I think a corporation like Facebook isn't able to create a parallel universe anyway.

See, I think that Zuck et al. already done goofed when they confidently proclaimed to be the Metaverse's creators in their recent keynote announcement. What it shows is that they have a false sense of confidence about knowing what people want and their capabilities.

Can Facebook create a parallel universe everyone is comfortable in? Is the Metaverse's scope not too big for a single company to create?

As a software developer, I stare at screens for many hours of my day. And I've come to realize that actively limiting my on-screen time is good. I've concluded that staring at screens isn't serving me too well over a longer period of time.

It has to do with lots of physical constraints - namely, that my body slowly adjusts to sitting in a chair all day and all that jazz. For example, I get back and shoulder pain. But also: What happens on my screens contributes to my mental health status too.

When I feel constrained, belittled, or misunderstood by the computer; I get angry, anxious and generally, my mood worsens.

I've come to realize that those emotions are evoked particularly at certain times and only with certain software. Sure, having the agency to perceive the world as I want, I've still come to appreciate the principles of pioneers like the Free Software Foundation. I quote from the gnu website:

Free software means users have the four essential freedoms: (0) to run the program, (1) to study and change the program in source code form, (2) to redistribute exact copies, and (3) to distribute modified versions.

People, dogmatic about the principles of the FSF are often belittled in the software development community. Like, for example, recently, when on a panel asked about open-sourcing the Teslabot's software, Elon Musk snarkily remarked that (I'm paraphrasing): "Yeah, but we can't make it open-source as people should pay for it [the Teslabot]."

It's the classical dilemma. Either you are open-source, or you're making stacks of cash.

But what's also important to highlight is that I think generally speaking, a user's happiness is so much higher when they can afford to use a well-maintained program that is "free as in libre."

The freedom of expression that a piece of open-source software gives me over a SaaS or a tightly-controlled binary is so much greater. I can file bug reports, I can influence the program's roadmap - I can even implement features.

There's no limit to the customizability of the program. I can make it do what I want. I can inspect it. But most importantly, if I want to, I can be in control.

For free software, mostly, there's no gatekeeping about the future either: "Everything goes" as long as contributors agree on "how things are done." And the question of "what to do?" is often subject to spontaneous and rough consensus between contributors.

On the other hand, commerical or proprietary software always follows deontic ideals. Its existence is informed by the motive to extract rent. Here, we code because we need to make a living. That isn't reprehensible; but logically, as rent extraction is the sole purpose for existence and future perspective; a proprietary software's development concentrates on the conservation of that attribute.

So a process as Facebook has it, geared towards generating proprietary software, I believe, cannot achieve creating an all-encompassing parallel and digital universe because it simply won't achieve reflection of all users' desires. Simply put, it won't be able to create the actual Metaverse as its corporate communication structure won't be capable of do so. Conway's law, everybody.

Probably, with the help of the likes of McKinsey & Company, Facebook will be able to create something that people want: But long-term, that won't be what we're longing for.

What we're longing for can only be created through a principled, democratic, free and open approach many sometimes call "chaotic." The free software and open source community.

In a way, the Metaverse is long here, and we've all been consumed by it. It's everything that we do on our computers already. It's the internet, it's programs, it's Minecraft and it's the memes and stories we tell each other.

Sorry Zuck, we don't need you for that.

published 2021-11-03 by timdaub