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Dispatches From the Center of Alt-Reality With Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW

By Tom Cheredar, March 18, 2022, 12:45pm, SXSW

While the world watches in horror as Russian forces continue to pummel the unyielding Ukrainian people, billionaire Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to grace SXSW with his presence (well virtually anyway) to discuss what the future holds for the metaverse.

“Before we jump into everything today, this is probably the first time I’ve spoken publicly since the terrible war has broken out in Ukraine and the invasion over there. So I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what’s going on,” Zuckerberg said at the top of the session. “Obviously it's tough to find the right words that really mean anything, in a situation like this, or make anything better. But I just want to, kind of, acknowledge and express how much I’ve been thinking about those who have been affected by this invasion. Whether your family or friends over there, or you're just worried about this place. It's just a massively destabilizing world event…

“I know it’s a bit weird and tough to have a conversation about the future, metaverse, Web3, and all these exciting things with all that’s going on, but I’m optimistic that if we and the community do a good job, then we can help contribute to building a world where there’s more opportunity around the world,” Zuckerberg concluded. And he’s right. It is an extremely weird feeling to cast everything aside and just start talking about the possibilities of the metaverse.

But yeah that’s exactly what he proceeded to do – without mentioning Russia or Vladimir Putin once by name.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that interviewer and Shark Tank star Daymond John – fresh dressed in an “Equality” hoodie sweater – would naturally be spending some time asking Zuck for insight on what Facebook is seeing over the last few months, like what impact the lack of Russian bots are having on the engagement levels of well-known conservative antagonists. You’d also be forgiven for thinking he’d ask about some of those “meta” opportunities, and how they might help prevent foreign governments from manipulating public discourse.

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But nah, instead the conversation focused on building a new world, the Metaverse, which we’re going to need once we burn this one to the ground.

“Sometimes I think that people look at us as CEOs, and they don’t believe we’re human,” John, a human person, responded. “We all are very concerned and we'd like to know that [for] people in your position, it is on top of mind.”

It is concerning, but also wasn’t the only major issue on the minds of attendees over the weekend.

Unlike pop star and woman of the people Lizzo, who spoke out against the Texas order targeting the parents of trans children during her SXSW keynote, Zuckerberg and John stuck to the important meta future and some of its vast potential: Becoming a dragon, when you just don’t feel like a multimillionaire leader of a fashion brand.

“Fundamentally, I think you're right, you're not just gonna want to represent yourself in one way all the time,” Zuckerberg said. Imagine what such technology would mean for children growing up in the south with a less open-minded community, being able to try on different genders in the metaverse seems particularly game-changing for children in particular.

But yeah, instead the pair worked out their excitement for what it would be like to fire – or hire – the dragon in a business setting, and when the world might get its first glimpse of gold Fubu jackets (that are apparently highly sought after).

“You care about the clothing that you wear when you're on video conference. And I think similarly, you're going to care about how you express yourself, in both the avatar and the clothing that you're wearing with that avatar,” Zuckerberg said.

In a more practical sense, the metaverse and adjacent technologies (AR, VR, etc.), can bring forth a new layer of value across various industries and use cases, like fitness, for instance.

“Instead of buying an expensive Peloton bike and having a subscription to that, use your Quest headset [for biking], or subscriptions to supernatural boxing classes,” Zuckerberg explained. He expects “a lot of the creative stuff that we talked about, whether it's around people building up a following, telling their story, selling apparel…” to find a perfect fit with the new tech being built.

Zuckerberg highlighted that the Metaverse’s benefits also extend to networking and professional opportunities, which are currently limited by a person’s location, he said. And there is a lot of merit in this notion, which hinges on making the hardware affordable as well as getting enough people actually using these new immersive virtual environments. It’s going to be a challenge to push forward the metaverse into reality, and a big way to get buy-in could come by introducing NFTs, which would make virtual goods, like digitally rendered golden Fubu jackets, unique and limited – thus able to be sold alongside real jackets. It’s something Zuckerberg hinted at coming to Instagram soon.

That’s the future, one where we can apparently program anything into the metaverse, but that must still fit within the same boundaries as the physical world – at least eventually. But why this future will come to fruition has less to do with real-world factors – like building a social network capable of disinformation the masses to buy sweaters or divide nations politically to give yourself cover when invading a neighboring country. No, it really just comes down to the people pushing it forward. People like Mark Zuckerberg.

"I think at some level the future sort of belongs to people who believe in it more than others,” Zuckerberg said on the projector screen. “I just think we care more, you know. Yeah I think we're the company that cares about helping people connect.”

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