#1467 No One Asked For The Next Big Thing (Metaverse) (Transcript)

Air Date 1/31/2022

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[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to the award-winning Best of the Left podcast. I have a full new episode for you today, but first, a quick production note.

I've had two recent problems... Well, I've had two recent production problems-- more problems than that, generally. The first is that, an episode, 1465, after three days of being live, and normal, and everything working, the audio file got swapped out for a wrong file. So you may not have been able to hear that episode, depending on when you tried to listen to, or download, it. All is good now, so check out 1465, if you haven't already, it's there.

Number two, 1466, the second segment in the show, sounded completely fine when I was editing it. And then, at some point during the processing of the audio, before publication, it got warped and, sort of ..Ended up sounding like it was coming from the depths of hell. That has also been fixed in, episode 1466. If you missed that. .

And these two problems were extremely rare technical issues, totally unrelated to one another. And, although I, basically, know what happened, I was able to figure it out, I had to, sort of, metaphorically pull out dusty old binders from the shelf, to look up the problems I was having, to understand what was going on.

All of which is entirely indicative of the past two weeks, since Amanda and I learned that her uncle passed away in Portugal, and it became clear that the two of us would be the ones flying there to sort out all of the logistics.

So, in short, the past two weeks have been relentless, barely managed chaos.

And so, to have two extremely rare technical problems happen back to back, it seemed perfectly right for the moment, for me.

And for all those reasons, I sincerely appreciate all of your patients understanding and kind words, or just thoughts, during this time.

And now, onto today's episode, which I'm actually going to kick off with that clip that went bad, because I very much intended for you to have heard it, before diving into today's episode, in which we shall take a look at the new buzz around the Metaverse, and why it's not only fairly dystopian in and of itself, but also seems to require that the real world be a dystopia itself, in order for the concept to fully succeed.

So clips today are from C-SPAN Book TV, interviewing Neil Postman back in the early nineties;

Today in focus;

The Zero Hour, with RJ Eskow;

Tech Won't Save Us;


and Vox Conversations;

With an additional members-only clip from Vice News.

Oh, and just one more note: for those of you who are fans of the chapter markers I usually put in the show, don't worry, they will be coming back, but are not here today, because the program that adds the chapter markers is the same one that makes Neil Postman sound like the devil. So I can't use it.

Here's hoping that normalcy awaits somewhere in the very near future.

Neil Postman Technopoly - C-Span Book TV - Air Date 7-10-92

[00:03:21] BRIAN LAMB -HOST, BOOK TV: Neil Postman, author of "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology". What's your book all about?

[00:03:34] NEIL POSTMAN: The tendency in American culture to turn over to technology sovereignty, command, control over all of our social institutions. In other words, the book is about how America has developed a new religion, as it were, and the religion is its faith in that human progress and technological innovation are the same thing and that paradise can be achieved through greater and greater commitment to technology.

[00:04:16] BRIAN LAMB -HOST, BOOK TV: What is technology?

[00:04:18] NEIL POSTMAN: I had to define it in the book rather broadly because not only do I include machinery like television and computers and all of that, but also techniques. I call them invisible technologies because most people don't think of them as a sort of machinery -- things like statistics and polling and bureaucratic forms -- any systematic and repeatable technique that tends to cause people to constrain their thinking about the world.

[00:05:05] BRIAN LAMB -HOST, BOOK TV: We talked a number of years ago about television. What impact is technology having on television, and what's the impact on the country?

[00:05:17] NEIL POSTMAN: One of the reasons, Brian, that I felt I did this book is that the last time we talked, as you suggest, it was about a book that was almost wholly devoted to television. When I started to think about that issue, I realized that you couldn't get an accurate handle on what we Americans were all about by focusing on one medium, that you had to see television as part of a kind of a system of techniques and technologies that are giving the shape to our culture. For instance, if one wants to think about what has happened to public life in America, one has to think, of course, first about television, but also about CDs and also about faxes and telephones and all of the machinery that takes people out of public arenas and keeps them fixed in their homes so that we have a kind of privatization of American life.

One hears people say with some considerable enthusiasm that in the future, putting television, computers and the telephone together, people will be able to shop at home, vote at home, express political preferences in many ways at home so that they never have to go out in the street at all and never have to meet their fellow citizens in any context because we'd have this ensemble of technologies that keep us private, away from citizens. In fact, I think Ross Perot's idea of a town meeting is a new kind of definition of town meeting because it doesn't imply co-presence of people. He wants to do it via electronic media, so that television as well as other technologies redefine all sorts of things.

I mean, television has redefined -- as, I think, we talked about last time -- what we mean by a public debate. We used to use the Lincoln-Douglas debates as an example, as a kind of model or metaphor of what we mean by political debate. These debates would go on for hours. Television has redefined it, so now the two or possibly three candidates stand in front of the television camera and each one is given two minutes to respond to a very difficult question, and the opponent is given 60 seconds to reply. Now, we still call this a debate, but it's a redefinition of that term. Ross Perot's suggestion that we use television as a form of a town meeting is another redefinition of what we once meant by town meeting. So one of the most interesting things about technology is that it redefines our language. It gives us different meanings of older words, and very often we're not quite as aware as we should be of how that process is working.

[00:09:09] BRIAN LAMB -HOST, BOOK TV: Good or bad?

[00:09:11] NEIL POSTMAN: Well, in this book I mostly emphasize the bad part. I've done that in most of my books. But I admit happily at the beginning of the book that anyone who looks at technology as an either-or development -- that is, either all good or all bad -- is making a mistake. All technological change is what I call a Faustian bargain. It gives you something, but it also taketh away something.

Now, in America -- and this is one of the reasons I thought I should write this book -- we tend to be extremely enthusiastic about technology, about what it is going to bring us, so that almost every American, in considering anything from lasers to computers to television, can tell you for a half hour or more what this new technology will do for us. But there are very few people who have ever considered what a new technology will undo. So I wrote my book from the point of view of what it will undo; how it will change and has changed for the worse some of our social institutions and psychic habits. But this doesn't mean that I'm unaware of the positive possibilities of some of the new technologies.

[00:11:00] BRIAN LAMB -HOST, BOOK TV: You talk a lot about religion. What does the new technology do to religion?

[00:11:05] NEIL POSTMAN: I fear that our faith in technology has weakened a more traditional sense of spirituality. Technology implies a kind of rational -- or I should say, an emphasis on the rational because technologies work. See, that's the wonderful thing about them. Airplanes do fly and penicillin, I think, tends to make people better, and television does show you someone in some far-off place. So technology works in an unambiguous way -- in the way that prayer, for instance, or even faith in God doesn't always work.

I don't think all this began yesterday. In fact, in the book I try to show how beginning really in the 17th century, the faith that people had in a benign design in the world has weakened, and in our own century seems to have been replaced almost in a religious sense by a faith in progress and progress through technology: we will reach heaven if we can produce bigger and better machinery and techniques. In fact, there are some people who even believe we can solve the problem of death through technology -- I think it's called cryogenics.

Enter the metaverse! - Today in Focus - Air Date 11-3-21

[00:13:15] NOSHEEN IQBAL - HOST, TODAY IN FOCUS: Alex, your job on the technology beat means you have to make sense of, perhaps, the least-sense-making industry there is.

So, naturally, you've been following the many incarnations that Mark Zuckerberg has taken Facebook through since he founded the company 15 years ago. The Metaverse is just the latest of those, And we will explain to people what on earth that is I promise but first this presentation last week it was billed as a groundbreaking moment for facebook What were you expecting when you sat down to watch it

[00:13:46] ALEX HERN: I think I was expecting a pivot of Facebook's corporate focus from what it is now which is a social networking app with the Facebook app itself at the front and center and a plethora of other smartphone apps and websites Instagram WhatsApp messenger backing up the pivot that we were expecting to see was that Mark Zuckerberg would drop what his vision of the metaverse means for Facebook

[00:14:14] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: All about mark Zuckerberg taking a step back and saying instead of working on our traditional social media apps I want to focus on the future the next wave of computing and that's this metaverse thing we've been hearing him talk about

[00:14:26] ALEX HERN: I think what I was expecting to see was something which was a bit more focused on things that Facebook could deliver now and a bit less focused on The vision for the future In fact it was almost the other way Round the bulk of the presentation was focused on a acknowledged piece of fiction Facebook's vision for what the world it wants to create in a decade or so's time looks like

[00:14:54] MARK ZUCKERBERG: I am proud to announce that starting today our company is now Meta

[00:14:59] ALEX HERN: We also got of course the name change for Facebook itself after this rebrand Facebook the app will still be Facebook Instagram The app will still be Instagram WhatsApp The app will still be WhatsApp Oculus Facebook's virtual reality company acquired for $2 billion in 2014 It's kind of sat on the back burner for the last seven years Oculus will now be Meta and Meta will also be the name of the umbrella company that owns and creates all of these products and services

[00:15:27] STEPHEN COLBERT: Facebook is changing its name to Meta That's right Meta As in your aunt Gloria saying I met-a guy on Facebook who says the vaccine makes his balls magnetic Now

[00:15:41] NOSHEEN IQBAL - HOST, TODAY IN FOCUS: if you could summarize your reaction in one word what would it be

[00:15:45] ALEX HERN: Uh really I think my first reaction was to tweet just LOL with a little bit of space.... I will give them credit., Calling the whole company "Meta" is audacious. It is pegging, you know, your entire corporate project on this non-existent product. In terms of signaling to investors, to users, what you care about now, that's bold.

[00:16:14] NOSHEEN IQBAL - HOST, TODAY IN FOCUS: Alex, I have so many questions. But, first of all, can you explain as we go back a bit, what exactly is a Metaverse?

[00:16:21] ALEX HERN: There's two answers to that There's the answer that is kind of what has historically been described by this term And historically what a metaverse has been is it's been this science fiction concept every virtual reality world that you've seen in a movie from ready player one To the matrix the metaverse is that pitch What if there was a shared virtual space that was alike or better than the real world that everyone could connect to all the time and do all of the lovely things they do on the internet but in an all encompassing realistic world But it's also, over the last year in particular, become a widely used generic term of art A metaverse is a thing that a lot of companies are seeking to build I can only give you my opinion here That it's kind of A retroactive attempt to justify a bundle of technologies by pointing to things that don't really exist What a metaverse is in this modern use is it is a shared virtual area that you can bring Virtual things into and use them there And that sounds very very vague And that's because it is because nothing that really qualifies for the term metaverse actually exists today

[00:17:40] MARK ZUCKERBERG: All right So that's a glimpse of a few ways that we're gonna be able to get together and socialize in the metaverse it's a ways off but you can start to see some of the fundamental building blocks take shape First the feeling of presence This is the defining quality of the Metaverse You're going to really feel like you're there with other people You'll see their facial expressions you'll see their body language Maybe figure out if they're actually holding a winning hand all the subtle ways that we communicate that today's technology can't quite deliver

[00:18:10] NOSHEEN IQBAL - HOST, TODAY IN FOCUS: What is the Mark Zuckerberg imagined Metaverse promising what would it feasibly look like

[00:18:14] ALEX HERN: Mark Zuckerberg's very bland version of this is it's Facebook on virtual reality Facebook's corporate imagination is not strong And mark Zuckerberg has one thing and one thing that he gets really well which is the value of a network effect and the value of getting every single person on the same platform And for Zuckerberg the metaverse is Facebook It is a place where you speak to your friends It is a place where you share experiences share content sort of living inside Facebook rather than viewing it through an app

[00:18:46] MARK ZUCKERBERG: Next there are avatars and that's how we're going to represent ourselves in the metaverse Avatars will be as common as profile pictures today but instead of a static image they're going to be living 3d representation of you

[00:19:01] ALEX HERN: What we saw when mark Zuckerberg gave us a vision of the metaverse in a decade's time is effectively the same sort of virtual space that we've seen in games Like second life a virtual world where you can pick your avatar create or acquire products to decorate a space and where you can hang out with friends who have done the same thing and perform simple social activities Like in Zuckerberg's world playing poker And that it's all done through virtual reality So strapping a headset to your face and all through augmented reality So Google glass style glasses that let you see a virtual and a real world at the same time.

[00:19:43] NOSHEEN IQBAL - HOST, TODAY IN FOCUS: I'm from Facebook 1.0, the original generation, I guess, Zuckerberg's own generation, that made the platform so successful.

I realize I was clearly not the key target audience here, because I find it dystopian and bleak. Can you explain why people would want to engage with the Metaverse?

[00:20:00] ALEX HERN: With the promises that Facebook has made, and in the world where they solve these incredible technological hurdles, the vision is of a world where it is better than reality.

It is a vision of a world where, sure, you could have a Zoom meeting with people dotted around the continents, you could have a in-person meeting, but only with the people who are prepared to do a long punishing commute and sit in a useless office for eight hours a day.; Or, you could jump into this virtual space where everyone gets to be as creative as they can with how they're represented into the world; where your charts could be 3D?

I always stumble over marrying the potential of this technology, even if we do allow for the fact that it's science fiction, with Facebook's banal vision.

[00:20:49] MARK ZUCKERBERG: You'll probably have a photorealistic avatar for work; a stylized one for hanging out, and maybe even a fantasy one for gaming.

You're going to have a wardrobe of virtual clothes for different occasions, designed by different creators, and from different apps and experiences.

Importantly, you should be able to bring your avatar and digital items across different apps and experiences in the Metaverse.

[00:21:12] ALEX HERN: Companies that have more exciting visions; you know, Epic Games with what they've done with fortnight a Recording artists can create a virtual concert. 60 story high Ariana Grande can stomp around a virtual island with, literally, the seasons changing in time to her music, everyone having the ability to follow her, fly around after her, interact with each other, be a part of this space, created purely for the music.

The Fortnite experiences are magical. And a world where virtual reality was as smooth and flawless as Facebook's fiction, married with the artistic creativity that we already see at play in some of the experiences that Fortnight sells, that would be a fascinating world.

[00:21:58] NOSHEEN IQBAL - HOST, TODAY IN FOCUS: Alex, what is it worth to Zuckerberg? What is the best business case for why he would want to allocate $10 billion a year to building it?

[00:22:07] ALEX HERN: There's a ton.

as a business Pitch If you overlook the impossibility of it this is fantastic One is that Facebook is losing with young people Instagram is doing okay with young people, but Facebook is, just, never going to have as many young users as it does people from Facebook Generation One, like yourself, and certainly people from Facebook Generation 50 plus, which is what the app is dominating.

Meta is a pitch for young people who are at home in virtual spaces.

[00:22:36] PROMOTION FROM META: And if you're all living under a rock, you know that means Metaverse. I truly believe that, in the next five years, the Metaverse will be the most technological socializing platform in the world...

Whoa, whoa! Wassup? Wassup Wassup So look I'm inside the Facebook metaverse this is inside my home Metaverses NFTs and cryptocurrency are the future If you want to learn how to get started in this link in my bio I have a free course.

[00:23:01] ALEX HERN: It's also... it's the answer to a problem that has been plaguing Zuckerberg for at least a decade now, which is, the fear of the fact that Facebook relies on other people's platforms.

When Facebook was just a website, it relied on Chrome, and Internet Explorer, and Safari, and Firefox, on products made by other people's companies, to allow it to do what it wants to do.

Then, the shift to mobile came, and brought Facebook an even tighter prison. Facebook the app can only do what Apple says it can do,. And Apple retains unilaterally, the ability to remove Facebook from the phone of every single person who has ever installed it with the flick of a switch, overnight.

This has terrified Zuckerburg for a decade. He's tried to bring out Facebook phones twice. They flopped. They were complete failures. This, to Zuckerberg, is the potential to have Facebook, running on Facebook hardware, and-- -- the name change-- -- to have Meta running on Meta hardware, that no company can come in and tell it what to do.

Prof. Wolff: New Metaverse, Same Old Capitalist BS - The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow - Air Date 12-3-21

[00:24:04] RJ ESKOW - HOST, THE ZERO HOUR: Friends of mine who know some of these major figures and have had private dinners with them and so on, say it's a matter of kind of common discussion and agreement among these tech titans, for lack of a better word that, in the words of the economist Tyler Cowen that 85% of the population will become in effect superfluous in their new economy. And 15% of the people, through their above average cleverness and inventiveness and ability to quote unquote brand themselves and so on, will make a living. But basically whatever you think of universal basic income as a policy, one of the reasons that they support it is because they think 85% of the population will be warehoused, we'll need to warehouse them somehow so they don't rise up and cut everybody's throats in the Silicon Valley.

So getting back to the metaverse, it seems to me this is another attempt to say, how do we hypnotize, placate, distract the increasing number of people we intend to make superfluous to meaningful economic and social life in this country and worldwide.

Does that, does that make sense to you?

[00:25:23] RICHARD WOLFF: Absolutely. Look, I heard the same conversations all my life about television. I mean, television was understood by the proponents, RCA, all of that back then that were the pioneers in bringing television to the mass of Americans, that beside being very profitable, beside the advantage of doing it early and so on, what it would do is it would use up that dangerous time when working class people, having finished their stint at the library -- excuse me, at the factory or at the office or at the store -- were sitting home with family and friends thinking about and being angry about what they were suffering on the job, and getting together to talk about, oh, how much better if they weren't together. If each of them graduated from the kitchen table to the living room couch and lost themselves in the endless repetition of the same stale jokes of the sitcom until they were exhausted and had to go to sleep. This was the way of pacifying, mollifing.There were all those kinds of -- they understood that.

And what the metaverse is literally, you put on a pair of glasses and you're in television la-la land all the time. You don't even have to wait till you get home. You can put it on as you put on your jacket to leave your workplace, you put on your goggles and off you are, living whatever adventure, make believe, distraction can keep you from your thoughts.

But, you know, I'm not really too worried. Television helped them, gave them a few more years. And maybe metaverse will too. But the underlying reality, which is that this is a capitalist system in very deep doo-doo, that is not escaping the mass of people.

That's why we have the record quit rate, people leaving their jobs. That's why we have an invigoration of the unionization movement. That's why we have strikes. And that's why the audience for what I do and what you do is growing. All of those things, those are not going to -- they may be slowed, I don't want to be naive here, but you know, these are different orders of magnitude.

Escapism is always there. You can always go in and get drunk. You can always go to the amusement park. You can watch TV, or you can put on your metaverse goggles. In the end, it's just exactly what it was set out to be. It's a distraction. And our job is to make the intuition that that's what it is, which the mass of people already get, into an angry rejection. That's our job.

[00:28:31] RJ ESKOW - HOST, THE ZERO HOUR: Well I agree. I do worry that these tech companies, social media companies have the power to silence voices like us. And I worry that they're increasing calls, especially from the liberal side of the house, to silence voices on the left, as well as the right. And so I do worry about their ability to slow that process down. Hopefully though, you're right. And while they can slow it down, they can't stop it. To me, I think the best place to talk about this stuff is in the street in people's houses, where people gather, or in person. I think there's no substitute for human, physical solidarity.

Why the Metaverse Must Be Stopped w/ Brian Merchant Part 1 - Tech Won't Save Us - Air Date 11-4-21

[00:29:12] PARIS MARX - HOST, TECH WON'T SAVE US: Facebook, not only is it, like, old, and... and increasingly feeling dated, but, um, with the changes that recently came from Apple, in particular, the Financial Times reported the other day that some of these major advertising based platforms lost $10 billion, just as a result of that change to iOS.

Um, and, you know, Facebook was obviously the major one there. Obviously it's not going to kill their business, but there's a reorientation that has to happen, to take that into account.

And I think, you know, for anyone who's listening, who saw videos of the Facebook, kind of, announcement that happened last week; you know, none of the things that they showed-- or... or very few of them, there was a few near the end that was, kind of, showing what they're actually doing right now-- but all of these kinds of videos and demonstrations that they were showing off are not, uh, an actual reflection of anything that's actually working. Right? It's all just a demo that's put together for people to look at.

And as you say, like a lot of it looked not-that-great anyway. Like, and as you note, one of the things that stood out to me was how there are some times when, like, it shows people wearing the headsets in these demonstrations, but then there are others where, like, they're playing chess in the park, and playing, like, ping pong, or tennis, or something, in the park, and nobody's wearing these goggles, but they're playing against someone virtual.

And it's, like, so, how... how does this actually work? Like, it doesn't make any sense. Because the idea is that sometimes you're in virtual environments, but other times, um, like, the real world becomes a virtual environment as well, through augmented reality. And, like, so you're constantly, kind of, surrounded by this digital environment, whether you're in the virtual world or the real world, you know, if we really draw the distinction there.

So yeah, I thought it was really interesting, seeing what was going on with those things.

[00:30:53] BRIAN MERCHANT: Right. And that's been the nut to crack, forever. Is that, both of those are, kind of, different poles of the same sort of tendency of tech industry imagination, which is: VR, you, kind of, have to put on these huge goggles, you're at home, or some other sort of isolated environment, where you can sit down and do this, and that really limits how it can scale, or its applicability to wider use.

So it's... VR is basically for gaming. Um, and there's some niche uses for industrial design or whatever. Um, and same with augmented reality, which has been even less of a thing. You know, Google famously took it swing with Google Glass some 10 years ago. And it was A) not very useful to folks. Um, and B) sort of, was so awkward in the physical environment that it, sort of, got laughed down. Um, and you know, "glassholes" was the common pejorative that took root. And it, kind of, banished that... that technology from the public sphere.

[00:31:52] PARIS MARX - HOST, TECH WON'T SAVE US: A good example of, like, how these tech billionaires have a very, like, bad idea of something that's actually going to resonate with the wider public, that they actually thought something like Google Glass was going to catch on.

[00:32:03] BRIAN MERCHANT: Yeah. And it's funny you say that, because I think that applies to the Metaverse in general. You know, I write in both my Atlantic piece and the... and the Vice piece, that the Metaverse is, kind of, like the product, at least one of the major ingredients is, just, Zuckerberg-and-his-ilk's ego, kind of, just to say, like, "I want to make the Metaverse real, cause I thought it was cool when I was a teenager or a young man. And, like, this was... this is my opportunity to do some, like, heroic capitalism, you know, to do, like, Bezos is making his rocket ships, and Musk is doing Space X, and saving the world with electric cars. Like, I have this lame, you know, social media network that is curdling in the eyes of the public. Like, here's my thing."

And time and again... and it's not just Zuckerberg. It's the guys from RoBlox, and Fortnight. I mean, Epic Games; they're always talking about the metaverse, and how it's going to be the future. And it really just keys into this same, sort of, toxic dynamic of, sort of, you know, male founder ego, sort of, this heroic thing that makes it very appealing.

Um, and they're not often asking whether the broader public wants this. They're operating under the assumption that it does, that everybody is like them, and that they're, sort of, making the world in its image.

And another interesting story that I... that I saw arise over the weekend was-- I think it was CNBC-- and they found that this communications between an Oculus executive, uh, Jason Rubin and Mark Andreessen with a subject line, "The Metaverse." So this is three years ago in 2018.

And I quote, he wrote, "We believe the right way to break through consumer indifference to VR is to deliver what they expect and want from the medium: The Metaverse."

So, they're assuming-- it's, like, the first slide of this 50 page document-- that everybody wants the Metaverse; not just people like them, who, sort of, grew up in these fantasy worlds, thinking cyber punk was cool, playing SIM City, playing Sims, or Second Life, or whatever.

It's a very, sort of, specific, sort of, cultural form to want to export, to... to bank so much money on.

And it's not a new thing that they've been trying to do it, either. You know, David Carp has a great piece, uh, about VR, uh, technology being, you know, the "rich white kid of technology," where it's given chance, after chance, after chance, and it fails over, and over, but it seems to fail upwardly, uh, because they never tire of advancing this specific vision.

And I think the sense is now, it's... it's treated as common knowledge in... in Silicon Valley, or common wisdom, that technologies take a long time to gestate. And then, once they've been around for a couple of decades, they become ripe, and they're ready to go out in the world. Just like, you know, it took a long time with the iPhone, and smartphones, and it took a long time with various software platforms.

And they, kind of, assume that, since it's been a while, VR is time is here. And David's point in that piece, is that, like, "Well, is it?" Like, have the conditions really changed? Maybe people just don't want it, or maybe beyond it's niche use, which people really can enjoy.

And that's another truism of Silicon Valley's, you know, modern mindset, is that, it's not enough for just, like, a few million people, or tens of million people, to just enjoy something, and make something for them, and, like, make a healthy... it has to be blown up into this epic scale. It has to... it has to scale globally. Otherwise it's not a worthy idea.

You know, I see this time and again, and whether it's a publishing platform, or a VR experience, or whatever, it's... it... it can't just be functional, and provide utility to a small group of people, or provide immense enjoyment to... to, you know, just even millions. It has to be able to be squeezed for maximum profit.

And we're watching that in action with... right now, we're watching this process. All of Silicon Valley seems to be, kind of, coming around to... it'll be interesting to see if, after a little bit of backlash, if there are holdouts... because, so far, it's Microsoft and Facebook, and they're, kind of, saying, "Yes, we're all in on the Metaverse," and those are, incidentally, the two, sort of, most culturally reviled-- maybe reviled is harsh for Microsoft; I don't know if anybody has strong feelings about Microsoft anymore, it's just, kind of, the enterprise tech company-- um, I don't know what's going to happen.

 I think to see it really take root, you would need a Google, or an Apple, or an Amazon, to, sort of, stake out its... its claim. Otherwise, the Metaverse may be a huge diversion that makes some waves now, and provide some use for Facebook right now, but ultimately, just, kind of, stumbles. I dunno.

Why Metaverse Real Estate Is Selling For Millions - Cheddar Explains - Air Date 10-29-21

[00:36:51] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: To truly understand, I knew I had to visit Decentraland myself. But first, I needed some guidance. Lastraum is a developer at Decentraland and he's going to keep his face concealed for privacy reasons. Hey Lastraum.

[00:37:01] LASTRAUM: Hey, how are ya?

[00:37:03] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: So Lastraum, what is Decentraland?

[00:37:06] LASTRAUM: Decentraland is a metaverse. Metaverses have existed before. We play Grand Theft Auto V online; that is sort of a metaverse.

[00:37:15] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: It was made public in 2020 by Argentinians Ari Meilich and Esteban Ordano, who wanted to build a virtual reality experience owned by its inhabitants. No big corporation pulling the strings. The world's inhabitants are contributing to the content and experience and in turn, helping drive up the value of Decentraland cryptocurrency.

[00:37:35] LASTRAUM: So cryptocurrency is both a digital asset that can be used to trade for value, but also be held to increase its own value. So it's a mix between a currency and a stock, let's say.

[00:37:48] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: Cryptocurrency uses a decentralized system to verify transactions and keep records. Think Bitcoin or Ethereum or yes, Dogecoin.

[00:37:59] LASTRAUM: And so for instance, with Decentraland, they have their own currency called MANA. And I can hold that MANA like a stock and they can appreciate in value significantly. Or I can use that currency in-world to purchase unique items.

[00:38:17] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: So how are people making money in Decentraland?

[00:38:20] LASTRAUM: So it's called non-fungible token, meaning there's only one of them, it's unique and it's digital.

[00:38:27] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: Right, because each NFT is unique, they're not interchangeable. Unlike a dollar bill, for example.

[00:38:33] LASTRAUM: With these digital assets, these digital ownerships, people are providing utility, being able to utilize that ownership for certain things.

[00:38:42] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: In Decentraland, people are buying and selling NFTs in the form of art, music, digital apparel called wearables, and yes, land. People are using real money through MANA to buy, sell, and rent digital land.

Land is separated into 90,256 square meter parcels. Each parcel is its own verified NFT, meaning it's completely unique and can't be duplicated, just like land in the real world.

[00:39:15] LASTRAUM: You own the land. That's an actual NFT, and that gives you rights to build whatever you want on your land or to provide access or denial to anybody on your land. I don't have to go through the title office or the normal ways of selling land. I just put it on the marketplace and digitally swap it. It's very simple.

You know, today this is blank. And in one hour, this could be a skyscraper. The person doesn't need to go through all of the city planning, the physical limitations in the real world, their imagination can control what they can put on here.

[00:39:51] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: On this land, owners can build businesses to offer something to buy or rent or just store the NFTs they've purchased. For example, I buy a parcel of land for say 3000 MANA, just over $2,000. Let's say I build a gallery to showcase an NFT art. Artists could promote their work and curious visitors, make my land more popular, which in Decentraland makes it more profitable, kind of like living in a trendy, desirable neighborhood in the physical world.

Decentraland really does feel like a typical virtual role-playing game. You can tell the developers were inspired by games like Second Life and Minecraft. Developers encourage active participation in Decentraland, and that translates directly to higher land value.

And it's not just individuals that are investing in the community. Playboy hosted a Miami Beach-themed art exhibit. Atari partnered with Decentraland to open a virtual casino. And the digital real estate investment firm Republic Realm made news earlier this year for making the largest-ever purchase of NFT land: nearly $1 million for the equivalent of 16 acres of land for a virtual mall.

This is why virtual land here is valued so high -- or at all for that matter. As long as there are people using this world as a domain for the creation, purchase and sale of NFTs, the land will hold value. At the beginning of 2021, Decentraland's daily active user average was around 1500. By March, it was at 10,000.

And this is just one of many metaverses attracting the attention of big tech companies. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that Facebook will become a metaverse company calling it "the successor to the mobile internet."

[00:41:29] MARK ZUCKERBERG: It's quickly expanding beyond games into a bunch of other use cases. And we think that this is eventually going to be a big part of the next major computing platform after phones and after PCs. Is it's not like computers are going away or phones are going away, but I think that this has the potential to be something at that scale of importance in the world.

[00:41:49] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: Lastraum believes each metaverse can coexist, as if they were different countries, where users will be able to visit each metaverse to experience their unique benefits.

[00:41:58] LASTRAUM: I truly, truly hope and have a desire to push this platform to be the Oasis from Ready Player One, hopefully not the real-world replication, where it's all gone south, and we're all living on top of each other in stacks, but at least the immersion and experience that an online space can provide.

[00:42:18] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: As Ready Player One's protagonist Parzival puts it:

[00:42:21] CLIP FROM READY PLAYER ONE: People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay because of all the things they can be.

[00:42:29] LASTRAUM: It's a really cool flip of the script where the users own everything, and the users created everything, and the users decide where this goes. Decentraland has a capability to be what the internet should be.

[00:42:41] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: Thanks for the tour, Lastraum.

And now for the million Dogecoin question, what's the catch?

Well, for starters, let's look at energy consumption. At the moment, just one Ethereum transaction uses just the same amount of electricity that the average US household uses over five days. Thankfully, it's something Ethereum's team is working on solving.

 Then there are some familiar problems that plague our real world economy. People will look for ways to hack and game the system, launder money or fill it with microtransactions.

[00:43:13] KAVYA PEARLMAN: In the cyberspace now becoming the metaverse, we are bringing very similar risks along, but they are getting more amplified because of this unknown, uncharted territory.

[00:43:26] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: This is Kavya Pearlman, founder of the nonprofit XR Safety Initiative, which sets privacy, security and ethical standards for immersive technology. She's got some concerns about all this.

[00:43:37] KAVYA PEARLMAN: There is no framework, no security, safety, or privacy framework that addresses these things. There are no laws, even. If we don't proactively understand this, then we are really just experimenting.

[00:43:50] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: Then there's privacy.

[00:43:52] KAVYA PEARLMAN: Every time you are connecting, creating, or doing commerce, we need to be sure of what is going on with all of this data.

Every time the data exchanges hands -- let's say it's goes from the headset to another server or another third party, another developer who has a third party app -- they're giving all this sophisticated data to these folks.

[00:44:15] JOSEPH RUDDLESTON - HOST, CHEDDAR EXPLAINS: If you were to buy some land in Decentraland, only to have a big tech company CEO peeking over the fence to keep an eye on your activity, the corporate-free paradise may need to revise some of its privacy rules and regulations.

At the moment, metaverses are largely community-run, with decisions made through a DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization. You just vote on policies that shape their virtual world, from what kinds of wearable items are allowed, to upgrades to land and estate features, right down to the date of future land auctions.

In the face of serious digital crimes, a DAO can only do so much.

[00:44:50] KAVYA PEARLMAN: If somebody replicates what you made into a different record, where are you going to go to fight that? And that is the huge issue. And those are rights that we need to establish.

Ultimately with great power, as they say, comes great responsibility. Whoever is going to pull this power, we remain committed to holding them accountable and keeping ourselves accountable. And that's the crux of it all.

Why Chris Hayes thinks we're all famous now - Vox Conversations - Air Date 11-15-21

[00:45:16] CHRIS HAYES: What's the constitutive human desire? The constitutive human desire, the thing that makes us human, is a desire for recognition.

And his specificity on this, is that recognition is to be seen as a human, by a human. That, he [Alexandre Kojeve] says, man can only, therefore, be social. That, basically, the reciprocity of the acknowledgement, the gaze, the investment, of another human, who looks at us, and sees us as human, is the thing that we crave above all else. That is actually what forms us as humans. And I think there's a lot to that. I mean, I think that's a very profound observation that is clarifying for me.

And he then goes on to... to, sort of, talk about the "Master and the Slave paradox" of Hegel. And one of the things that he says about Hegel's Master and Slave-- which, again, this is one of those readings where it's unclear, like, where the author begins and where the interpretation begins-- Hegel's Master and Slave is, actually, quite short in... like, there's not a ton on it in "Phenomenology of Spirit," even though it then becomes this huge part of... if you know five things that Hegel did, Master and Slave is probably up there...

But Kojève's take on this is, it has to do with the fact that, like, there's this paradox in the Master and the Slave, in that, you know, the Slave, because he's, sort of, brought low by the Master. He's forced to submit. And there's this whole weird thing about, like, this fight to the death that I couldn't quite crack intellectually...

But basically, the takeaway I have is, that, the Slave submits, and recognizes the Master, but fundamentally, the paradox, and the, kind of, tragedy of the Master, is that, that recognition is meaningless, because the Master doesn't recognize the Slave as human. The Master's on the receiving end of recognition from a person he himself does not recognize as human, ergo, that recognition itself can't matter for him. It can't fill the desire he has to be seen as human by, essentially, an equal. By another human.

And, I think, what ends up happening in the internet, is that our profound desire for recognition, to be seen as human by other humans, is the lure that we chase. Like the cartoon donkey with the carrot in front of us. To go out into the world and say, "Look at me. Here. I am human. I am... this is my humanity. Recognize me."

And what we get, in a somewhat similar situation to the Master and the Slave, is, we get these inputs and likes from people that, because they aren't real to us as humans, can't actually sate that desire for recognition, because we don't see them as humans, because they're strangers, they're just people out there in the ether.

So, we're, sort of, compulsively chasing this desire of recognition, and instead getting attention. And attention is a broader category than recognition. Recognition is a specific and rarefied form of attention. Actually, I tend to think of it as, like, as I've been constructing this in my head, there's, like, attention is the lowest level, then there's recognition, and there's love, as, like, the three ascending forms of... of human engagement.

Attention is, just, someone notices you; recognition is someone sees you, recognizes you as a person; and love is that someone, like, feels for you. And we want to be recognized. We want to be loved. And we're on the internet getting nothing but attention all the time, because that's, kind of, all the medium can produce.

[00:48:36] SEAN ILLING - HOST, VOX CONVERSATIONS: Yeah. And the language of Master and Slave is, obviously, loaded, and weird, and anachronistic, but the analogy you're drawing is, you know, it's the same fundamental relationship as that, between the Star and the Fan, or the blue-check-mark-person and the follower. Right? It's the same fundamental dynamic. Right?

[00:48:55] CHRIS HAYES: Right. I write in the essay that, like, there's a, sort of, "Star and Fan" dynamic, which is, to be a Star or to have Fans, to have a stranger that notices you, is, sort of, thrilling, and getting at some part of your recognition-seeking self, which is, again, at the deepest core of what it is to be human, but not, ultimately, satisfying, in the same way that, in the Master/Slave dynamic, the Slave's recognition is not satisfying.

[00:49:20] SEAN ILLING - HOST, VOX CONVERSATIONS: Yeah. And, you know, you talk about how we've built this technology that creates a synthetic version of this most fundamental desire, but really, it almost seems like the web creates a synthetic version of human life, as such. Which is why most of what we do on there feels like this, kind of, "pantomime," but a pantomime that mimics real life just enough to keep us coming back for more, and more, and, kind of, so it goes.

[00:49:46] CHRIS HAYES: Even more than just enough though. I mean that... I think that's part of what is so tricky about it. Because, you know, there are people that I've interacted with online for, literally, decades. They're not like... here, here's an example: Jamelle Bouie. Jamelle Bouie, and I, New York Times columnist, jamelle Bouie and I have met in real life, you know, maybe a dozen times. Ran into him once on Martha's Vineyard, I remember, once. He, uh, he did a book event with me. I used to see him around DC.

But like... but Jamelle is someone that I've read for over a decade, who I've interacted with, who I've corresponded with about the things that he's writing, or the things I'm writing, or working on. He's someone that I... I feel quite close to in a certain way, because of the internet.

I mean, I imagine some earlier iteration, maybe like, you know, back when we have all these letters, maybe it would have been that we.. I wrote letters to him, he wrote letters to me, or something like that. And, I don't want to, like, overstate our closeness. Like, we're... we're not. Like, I know him, and respect him, and feel quite warmly and fondly towards him.

But what I'm saying is, that there's a kind of relationship there that I have with a bunch of people, that, again, is in that good space, that does feel both human, but also, mostly, enabled by the medium, but that's us, and that's a narrow slice in there.

And so... but my point is that the genuineness of that, the genuineness that you can feel...

Or, sometimes, this will happen, someone will announce some... a child is born to them, or some tragedy. And, again, you'll... you will feel a genuine feeling of "human tug" about a person who's, fundamentally, IRL, a stranger that you nonetheless feel proximate to, close to, invested in.

And, again, there's something so profound about that. It's more than, to me, a facsimile it's... it's actually like playing the same strings that are, like, the deepest chords of our soul, basically.

[00:51:41] SEAN ILLING - HOST, VOX CONVERSATIONS: I think you're right. We want to be seen by other people with whom we're interacting online. We want to be recognized. We demand it. But we can't really get it, because it's, by and large, an unequal relationship. We can only recognize the other, we can't be fully recognized by them.

And so, it's almost like you have this, kind of, virtual wall between people online. It collapses everyone on the other side into almost an abstraction, a non-person, or some kind of avatar, onto which we project whatever we want.

And that's enough to satisfy, or engage, our attention. It's not enough to satisfy our soul. And I love that you're... you're teasing that out, uh, here.

[00:52:21] CHRIS HAYES: Correct. And... and... And that point about attention to me-- and here's where I've been trying to give a lot of sustained thought to attention, because the writing project I'm working on now really focuses on this-- is that, there's also something really profound about how attention works. And this is, again, this is an area that very well trod. Tim Wu's book called "The Attention Merchants" gets into some of this.

But, what I think makes attention so powerful, right? So, there's a very powerful market for our attention. But the thing that's really interesting about attention is that, A, it's... our ability to control it is essentially constituent of... of our consciousness as humans. So, like, the thing that actually makes us human beings is that we can, like, at-will shine the flashlight of mental focus on what we want to.

Like, if I say to you right now, to the listener, I say, you know, "Right now conjure the image and the sound of, like, a sprinkler on a lawn on a warm summer day," you can do that.

Well, as far as we know, we're the only species that can do that. It's possible, again, this is a long philosophical literature that, maybe, dogs are running around doing this, or dolphins, or whatever. But, as best we can tell, this ability to at-will, right? take the flashlight of thought, shine it on the thing, conjure things, bring them forward; this is, essentially, constitutive of what it means to be conscious.

And yet, there's another part of our attention, what psychologists called "preconscious attention" that we can't control. So, when a siren comes wailing down the street, the siren takes your attention against your will. Involuntarily. It's designed to do so.

Our lives online are this, like, existential battle, you know-- like Odysseus tied to the mast as he passes the sirens-- to rest control back of the very thing that defines us as humans, which is the volitional control over our own mental focus, as it is constantly being battled for by enormously powerful supercomputers in corporations, attempting to involuntarily extract it.

Why the Metaverse Must Be Stopped w/ Brian Merchant Part 2 - Tech Won't Save Us - Air Date 11-4-21

[00:54:39] PARIS MARX - HOST, TECH WON'T SAVE US: Apple is, supposedly, working on AR glasses. You know, we'll see if anything ever comes of it, but that could potentially contribute to it in a significant way.

But, you know, what you're saying about VR constantly, seeming to have its moment, and then it never arrives, reminds me, you know, very recently of how we were all expected to have 3D TVs. And then that just, kind of, disappeared, because, you know, the companies finally realized people just didn't want a 3D TV. Like it wasn't a workable thing.

Yeah. But I th... I think, like, the broader point of what you're making there, I think, you know, there are a few things that I want to dig into further.

I want to come back to, you know, the other companies that are working on this, and, kind of, the broader idea that exists around it, and return to the science-fiction point that you made there for just a minute, because, you know, you wrote about this in your Vice piece.

But I'm interested in, kind of, the impact on science fiction on the thinking about what this Metaverse should look like. You know, after the Facebook event, a ton of people, you know, were posting on Twitter, and really wanted you to know that the term "metaverse" came from, um, Neil Stephenson's 1992 book, "Snow Crash." But comparisons have also been made to "The Matrix," to episodes of "Black Mirror," to "Ready Player One."

[And, you know, "Ready Player One," the book, was, actually, something that Mark Zuckerberg gave out to, um, Oculus employees, to, kind of, give them an idea of: This is something that he was interested in; this was the vision that he, kind of, liked.]

So, what does the focus on these science fictional, kind of, representations of what a metaverse could be inform us about how Mark Zuckerberg and these tech companies are thinking about, you know, what it should actually be and what it should look like?

[00:56:12] BRIAN MERCHANT: Yeah, well, there's a... there's a couple things that are really important to underline there. And that is... So, unlike, you know, a space opera, or something where there's, sort of, this inherent danger that is supplied to the plot, in space travel or other world travel; in science fiction, it quickly became then the metaverse, or an online landscape that you're embodied in, or whatever, has to be a dangerous place, right?

So all of these worlds, it's really important to note, are, just, almost cartoonishly dystopian. Like, I flagged the part of "Snowcrash," in the scene setting, before we get to the metaverse, we understand that the world... that our protagonist, who is, sort of, cheekily named "Hiro Protagonist," who is, by the way, a gig worker, he is a pizza delivery man, but in this, again, world where, like, the dystopian elements are supercharged. So, it's like Stevenson is, kind of, playing with it, he's cranking up cyberpunk to 11, this is still considered, like, peak cyber punk, but he's obviously, kind of, pushing at the boundaries of, what's, kind of, silly about it, and winking a little bit at it, while also, sort of, clearly enjoying some of the elements, too, or they clearly resonate with him.

Uh, but so, yeah, he's a... he's a gig worker who delivers pizza, and, you know, if you fail to deliver your pizza, your punishment can be death, uh, because it's such an extreme portrayal of... of this hyper-capitalist future world. And they live in this world where there's massive inequality.

And, let me just read a little piece of it here, of, like, early, early on in "Snowcrash."

So: "Hiro Protagonist and Vitaly Chernobyl--", which is another of his goofy names-- "roommates are chilling out at their home, a spacious 20 by 30, in a You-Store-It, in Inglewood, California. The room has a concrete slab floor, corrugated steel walls separating it from the neighboring units, and -- this is a mark of distinction and luxury-- a roll-up steel door that faces Northwest, giving them a few rays at times like this, when the sun is setting over LAX." Uh, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. "So there are worst places to live. There are much worse places to live, right here in this You-Store-It."

 So they live in a storage facility because the world is so shitty that they, literally, can only afford to live-- with a roommate-- in a 20 by 30 You-Store-It. And they have it lucky, it's implied. "These are slum housing, five by tens, and ten by tens, where tribes persons cook beans and parboil fistfuls of cocoa leaves over heaps of burning lottery tickets."

So, like, real dystopian stuff. And we can... we can fast forward to the bit, where, what... what do they do in this corrugated steel walled living? They plug into the Metaverse. Um, and when they're there, you know, they are, again, transported to this digital world. Um, so Hiro's not actually here at all. He's in a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones. "In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse; it beats the shit out of the You-Store-It."

So, it's very clearly an escape. It necessitates a lot of plot elements. You know, that the real world is absolutely miserable, and it gives you this... this built-in, sort of, wild westy sense.

But it is also, like, you can imagine it without too much... If... if all the current trajectory is, again, this is, sort of, on the heels of... of the Reagan-Thatcherite eighties, where all of these trends of, sort of, inequality; sci-fi writers looked at them... they looked at them, projected into the future, and people wonder why so many of them, kind of, got it right?

And it's like, "Well, it was pretty clear to see that the engines of inequality and disaster were already being primed, if not in full swing." So you're getting this vision, uh, that's... that's really dystopian disastrous.

And that is a crucial part of why the Metaverse works. And it's really interesting to see all these founders, just, embrace that formulation and say, like, "This is great. Everybody's going to want to be in the Metaverse. Uh, everybody's going to want to hang out there. We want this embodied internet."

And, it's like, in the book, the reason why you want to spend time in a shittier version of reality is that, reality is even worse. It's hell.

And none of them have grasped the... the irony inherent in saying like, "We're going to build this for you, like, so you can enjoy it. You need this right now. And by the way, like, income inequality is higher than it ever has been; the world is on fire because of climate change; and all of these other disasters that we are continuing to help precipitate by running the servers that make this all possible; by the way, if we were to make a metaverse, it would be this huge load in... in terms of energy expenditure, and, you know, all the same trends, they're just fine putting the pedal down, basically.

And I've seen some interesting pushback, like, "Well, of course, like, this will, you know, resonate with... with founder people."

But the fact that they don't recognize the full body, or the full context, when they're putting it into... into play, and they're just embracing this one element of it, which is the cool part that gives them the capacity to be the hero in the world of their own design, is very telling to me.

And the second part, I'll just touch on really quickly, is that, the Metaverse, in itself, sucks! It's a haven of crime and decrepitude. And, like, what do people do in the Metaverse? They have virtual sex. There's erotica. There's, like, weird psychedelic experiences that do sound, kind of, fun. They elevate you beyond space and time. Sure. Great.

But then there's, like, real estate plays. People are just like building property. There is corruption. There's the mass murder rooms. Honestly, like, people have to watch their backs in the Metaverse, otherwise they get robbed, or that... you know, it's not... it's not a great place.

It's maybe exciting to be the one hero of, if you're an expert digital swords fighter, like Hiro Protagonist is, and you're a hacker, then yeah, maybe it's fun, for you!

But it sounds like, for most people, it's not. There are people that get addicted to the Metaverse and they, in the real world, they're reduced to these like cowering, sort of, sickly shells of people who shake back and forth. And it seems like a pretty prescient predictor of people addicted to screen time, and what would happen if we actually got this Metaverse. People would literally be, sort of, shell-shocked by using it too much.

So again, the Metaverse itself, not a great model for building your tech product to emulate.

Why You Should Be Worried About Facebook's Metaverse - Vice News - Air 12-7-21

[01:02:45] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: Facebook's rebranded, maybe a cynical attempt to shift focus from its numerous failures.

[01:02:50] MARK ZUCKERBERG: It sounds like we made a mistake there. I apologize for that. In retrospect, it was a mistake. We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company. It was my mistake and I'm sorry.

[01:02:59] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: But the metaverse, at least on the surface, promises a new era.

[01:03:03] MARK ZUCKERBERG: Today we are seen as a social media company. But in our DNA, we are a computer company that builds technology to connect people. And the metaverse is the next frontier.

[01:03:15] IMRAN AHMED: So this was an inevitable sort of next step in the evolution of social media, allowing the virtual, physical presence of the people that you're connected to from around the world to you.

[01:03:28] ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: Hey Mark. Hey, what's going on? What's up Mark? Whoa. We're floating in space. Who made this place? It's awesome.

[01:03:35] IMRAN AHMED: What Mark Zuckerberg is doing is he's trying to advance his pocketbook. Zuckerberg was the future once. Now it's VR and he's trying to get into it.

[01:03:47] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: More data makes good business sense.

[01:03:50] LAWRENCE LESSIG: Facebook has a very clear business model that's driven by the need to gather as much data about their consumers or users as possible.

[01:03:59] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: But there are fears that the new data we create in the metaverse could lead to a privacy nightmare.

[01:04:04] LAWRENCE LESSIG: Facebook has made a big deal about the fact that it's not going to be doing facial recognition on photos that you upload to Facebook any more.

But it hasn't said it's not going to do facial recognitions in the metaverse. And so the point is, they're building an AI-driven engine that will be manipulating even more effectively behavior in the metaverse than it's been able to manipulate in real space.

[01:04:27] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: And although generating more data is not necessarily harmful, it could give companies like Facebook and unprecedented amount of control.

[01:04:35] JESSICA FJELD: Mark Zuckerberg holds as much or more power over the connection and communications that people have than anyone ever has before.

[01:04:47] LAWRENCE LESSIG: So long as that business model doesn't change, Meta is a much more terrifying version of what Facebook is in the real world right now.

[01:04:58] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: Just weeks before Facebook's rebranding, former employee Francis Haagen released thousands of internal documents. The papers showed the potential harm of its products, harm that could be amplified in the metaverse.

[01:05:10] FRANCIS HAUGEN: I believe Facebook's products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy.

[01:05:15] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: The leak suggests Facebook knew how damaging its products could be and ignored employees who had concerns.

[01:05:22] IMRAN AHMED: It is proven that every time they denied these things before, they were not just unfair in their denials and attacks on independent researchers, but they knew that those people were right. And that takes it from, you know, just being defensive to being deceptive.

[01:05:42] ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: According to Facebook's own research reported by the Wall Street Journal, that platforms make body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.

[01:05:50] IMRAN AHMED: None of it came as a massive surprise. You know, Instagram harms kids. I remember telling a 13 year old about it. She was like, yeah, everyone knows that.

[01:06:01] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: Facebook may be having this big tobacco moment. In the nineties,

CEOs of big tobacco firms stood up in Congress and attempted to play down the dangers of cigarettes.

[01:06:10] ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: Yes or no: Do you believe nicotine is not addictive? I believe nicotine is not addictive, yes.

[01:06:16] SOPHIE ZHANG: Imagine a world in which cigarettes gave people cancer, but only the tobacco companies knew that. Only the tobacco companies had any chance of finding out. In that world, I think it would be extremely important for someone within the companies to come forward and tell the world what they know.

[01:06:31] IMRAN AHMED: These companies have played a very, very clever game in trying to protect their reputations, despite the amount of harm they produce. And that's why now, Facebook and Google spend more than Phillip Morris and Exxon on lobbying in the U S.

[01:06:50] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: These deceptions can have dangerous consequences.

In January Trump's supporters stormed the US Capitol building. The leak suggests Facebook failed to take steps to mitigate the spread of misinformation and polarizing content on its platform.

[01:07:11] ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: Extremists use many platforms, but Facebook is a recurring theme.

[01:07:16] YAEL EISENSTAT: For years this platform was allowing itself to be used to sow distrust in elections and to build more and more anger in these communities.

[01:07:27] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: Some safeguards put in place for the 2020 election were rolled back in the lead up to the attack.

[01:07:32] LAWRENCE LESSIG: They had a whole series of "circuit breakers" as they would call them, to kind of slow down the craziness that was obviously developing. But late into the afternoon of January 6th, they hadn't even pulled the trigger on more than half of them.

[01:07:45] DONALD TRUMP: You'll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

[01:07:52] LAWRENCE LESSIG: Look, nobody should think that they caused January 6th, but certainly if it weren't for Facebook, it would've been harder to develop extraordinary organization and capacity that January 6th revealed.

[01:08:08] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: Weeks after Francis Haugens revelations, Facebook and its other products, Instagram and WhatsApp were hit by a major power outage.

[01:08:16] STEPHEN COLBERT: It was so bad that the only way Facebook could let the world know what was going on -- and this is true -- was by posting a message on Twitter. Ow.

[01:08:27] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: The outage showed how much the world relies on Facebook for better and for worse.

For over a year Ethiopia has been locked in a brutal civil war.

[01:08:38] ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: In August, 28 bodies, some with hands tied and bullet holes, washed up on the shores of a river on the Sudanese border. Witnesses believed they came from Tigray. The Ethiopian government called the discovery a fake propaganda campaign.

[01:08:54] BERHAN TAYE: We don't know how many have died, because we don't have the real body count so far, but it's one of the bloodiest war we've seen so far.

[01:08:59] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: Facebook knew it was being used to incite ethnic violence in the country, but did little.

[01:09:11] BERHAN TAYE: We've seen state and non-state actors using the platform to spread misinformation and disinformation, to an extent where you'd have content that's, you know, calling for ethnic extermination of certain ethnic groups. We know that in different militia groups who are organizing using the platform to raise money for arms getting many other things that would be against many international laws.

[01:09:33] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: A deadly conflict fueled by Facebook, and not for the first time.

The company is also accused of playing a role in the brutal crackdown for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar in 2017.

[01:09:45] LAWRENCE LESSIG: What the papers demonstrate is that the government in Myanmar used the Facebook platform to exacerbate ethnic division, which led to genocide in Myanmar.

[01:09:56] JESSICA FJELD: They're not to blame for the existence of folks who are pursuing a genocidal campaign, but they did deliberately become the engine.

[01:10:09] UNNAMED VICE NEWS REPORTER: This is a global problem. In Vietnam, Facebook bowed to pressure from the government to censor content. And in India, Facebook's platforms have been inundated with a torrent of anti-Muslim hate speech.

Part of the problem is the lack of investment Facebook places outside the US.

[01:10:31] LAWRENCE LESSIG: 90% of Facebook's audience is outside the United States, but 90% of Facebook's safety budget is inside the United States.

[01:10:40] IMRAN AHMED: So they are literally incapable of any moderation at all, in many, many countries around the world. And what that means is that hate and misinformation are flowing even more rapidly in other countries.

Summary 1-31-22

[01:10:55] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with C-SPAN Book TV, featuring Neil Postman, explaining the near-religious faith we put into the goodness of the progress of technology;

Today In Focus explained Facebook's idea of a Metaverse;

The Zero Hour featured RJ Eskow speaking with professor Richard Wolff about the capitalist incentive to distract people;

Tech Won't Save Us described how the Metaverse is being created in the founder's image, not society's;

Cheddar looked at the energy consumption and data privacy downsides of a Metaverse;

Vox conversations spoke with Chris Hayes about the fundamental human desire to connect, and how social media actually fails spectacularly at that goal;

and Tech Won't Save Us discussed the fictional inspirations for the Metaverse that always include a real-life dystopia that drives people into the Metaverse.

That's what everyone heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from Vice News, drawing the line from the misinformation, and fostering of hate, and radicalism, that currently happens on Facebook, and extends it to their vision of the Metaverse.

To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your new members-only podcast feed that you will receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked.

And now we'll hear from you.

I don't want to tier people but I think I do - Nick From California

[01:12:33] VOICEMAILER: NICK FROM CALIFORNIA: Hi, this is Nick from California.

I really wanted to call in and thank Kwai for his clarification. Yes, when I first thought about it, I was like, well, if one group categorizes people and the other one doesn't, well, then you're still categorizing people. But he called in and I know you explained this as well, but he did so by deliberately pointing out his use of the word "tier." So he's saying that one category of humans has a tiered system, one better than the other. And the other does not. And I agree that I think that whatever problem I thought there was, that it completely over, that completely does. And I think you were saying the same thing, but I think him pointing out the word tier from his first message, I mean, even more clears that up. I just think it completely gets us out of that problem. Maybe someone else will disagree, but I think that solves that.

Secondly, I'm wanting to say the only problem I have left is an emotional problem, which is I think myself and others like me -- not all, I can't speak for everyone -- but Kwai talked about struggling with something I struggle with, which is we don't want it here, people. You know, we want to disagree with them. We want to think their opinions are not very good and based on facts and evidence and critical thinking. We want to combat their ideas and still respect them as people.

But he talked about struggling with that. And to me, I think my initial voicemail even VoicedMails were based on the fact that I struggled with it emotionally. Because I do tier humans. I don't want to. So I mean, to me, I want to be in the category of humans that doesn't tier people as better or worse, who finds the inherent worth and dignity of all people, whether I vehemently disagree with certain positions. And I don't want to be in a group of people that tiers people and thinks they're better based on some standard that tiers people in that way. However, I have to be honest, I struggle with this really hard because to be honest, if you're a fascist or a climate change denier or a COVID denier or a variety of other things that are demonstrably hurting the world, making it a worse place and may lead to extinction at some point, it's really hard for me after years of saying, "No, don't do that. No, don't do that. No, don't do that. We need to fix this. We need to fix this." And then they do it. And then the outcomes we said would happen will happen. It's hard for me not to have "I told you so" anger and look down at people for it. I mean, it's not even so much at the outset I said, oh, we should do it this way. And they said, no, we should do it this way. And then, we're just seeing how it plays out. No, it's been time after time, again of no, if we do X, Y will happen; they do X, Y happens, and it continues and it continues and it continues. And I have a lot of anger over this. And I see people who advocate for these bad world-destroying policies as lesser. Intellectually, I don't want to. I want to be with what Kwai is. I want to be in the struggle to not do that. But I certainly do emotionally to some extent. And I think that's part of the reason I was calling in and so engaged with it. And I don't think I was ready to admit that until Kwai submitted that he was struggling with it. And I'm struggling with it too. But I think that I'm doing more poorly at the struggle than, say, Kwai is.

And you know, you've talked about, Jay!, letting go of your anger. I haven't. I want to. I do. I understand why you were able to. I want to be able to look at people the same way that you have, and come to the sort of conclusion to let go of your anger. But I'm not there emotionally. I'm just not. I'm raw and I'm angry. And that leads to saying that those people that you're angry at are -- or at least temporarily, at least while we're in the throws of it -- lesser.

So that's something I'm still working through.

And I'll talk to you again soon I'm sure. Take care, Jay! Bye-bye..

Final comments on the humanizing impact of examining people structurally

[01:16:34] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all of those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at 202-999-3991, or write me a message to [email protected].

And now before the show was so rudely interrupted by all of the chaos that I briefly described at the top of the show, there was a voicemail conversation happening over the course of several episodes, of which you just heard the last submission. For full context, there are VoicedMails in episodes 1461, 1463, 1464 and 1465, all sort of on this topic.

And Nick and Kwai most recently have been discussing their struggles with anger and seeing racists, fascists, climate deniers, all as sort of less-worthy humans than those of us actively trying to make the world a better place. And it is somewhat hard to argue against that, but I'm going to try anyway. So I'm going to do that with a little bit of a story for context.

I had a discussion with a couple of libertarians recently, people who had been in contact with me, or, you know, with the Best of the Left account on Twitter. And, as we just heard Chris Hayes describe on the show today, we went from the level of attention, super unfulfilling at best, toxic at worst, the attention you get on social media, up to recognition, in which we spoke verbally to each other and saw each other as humans, and tensions immediately calmed -- as expected. So I had an audio conversation with these people who I had been chatting with on Twitter. And one of the libertarians I chatted with claimed that I sort of consistently de-humanize people. The example he gave was Kyle Rittenhouse. He says that I dehumanize them by discussing them in such a structural way, by seeing them as members of groups or indicative of group dynamics, it dehumanizes them. And he and I sort of disagreed on the actual definition of dehumanization, but it got us on the topic of structural thinking and whether it's good or bad or what it does, or how necessary is it to understand individuals as members of groups; or -- and, you know, as you might expect a libertarian to think -- the importance of seeing people as an individual. Right?

So I definitely come down on the side of arguing that it is very important to understand group dynamics, structural thinking, understanding individual people as members of several groups, and understanding the dynamics of those groups can help you understand a person's actions, where they're coming from, their whole context. Right?

And an extreme example of this, touching on the types of people that Nick and Kwai are referring to, there was a civil rights leader interviewed, and I'm sure he said this a million times, but I saw it in a particular documentary -- which I wish I had looked up so I could tell you what it is right now, but I can't -- so there was a civil rights leader talking about white supremacists from the sixties, from the civil rights era, when they were marching and having things thrown at them and being punched or yelled at and all of those sorts of things. And he explained how he could remain calm in a situation like that, or at least not angry and lash out.

And he explained, he said, racism like that is an illness. They're so wrong. And so in their toxic mindset, that it is basically a sickness to think the way they do. And you just don't get mad at people for being sick.

And with that reframing, it became really clear how a person in his position could experience what he did without being extremely angry at the people who are extremely angry at him, to say the least.

I am willing to say that those kinds of cases of acute white supremacy -- not the systemic, broad, society-wide white supremacy --the acute white supremacy is a sickness because it is so extreme. Right? But that is not the kind of label that you would want to put on everyone for their beliefs.

In fact, "liberalism is a disease" and "conservatism is a disease" are already toxic talking points that come from the left and the right, but that's the kind of talk that really does lead to dehumanization and is not something I would endorse.

Seeing people as members of groups, including the human species, has helped me understand their otherwise peculiar behavior. Humans are deeply emotional, frequently irrational. They're going to have blind spots. They're going to knowingly make self-destructive or socially-destructive decisions for complicated reasons of emotional self-defense or whatever. Like, I mean, honestly, you can boil so much down to that. Amanda said the other day, man, you know, so many of the world's problems that we're experiencing right now, and particularly in the political realm and in America, it pretty much just stems from Donald Trump being sad. Like he's a sad person. And now millions and millions of people are dealing with the repercussions of this one person being a sad person.

So anyway, humans are deeply emotional and we have to deal with those consequences. For instance, when I first heard the phrase, "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression," I thought of it as kind of a dig at people, like something you would say with a tinge of disdain for these people who are putting their privilege on display by trying to defend it against those seeking equality.

But you can also decide to take it super literally, strip all the snark out of it, and to hear it as an explanation, just a dry cold explanation for why groups of people act the way they do. If you're a person who experiences structural oppression or who, like me, are mostly limited to understanding it in an academic way, then you will understand how predictably people react to oppression. They fight back, to the extent that they can. So even if that oppression is an illusion, felt by people who are accustomed to privilege, there should be no surprise whatsoever about how they're reacting. They're going to fight back.

Whereas individuals can be very hard to predict, it is relatively easy to predict the behavior of sufficiently large groups of people. And those behaviors will play out on a basic bell curve. There will always be edge cases, and there will always be the majority in the middle.

And so just for a second, let's use that libertarian on Twitter as a case study for all this. I think the first time I responded to him was when he was accusing me of promoting a form of white supremacy in which black people are described as being hopelessly self-destructive. And he ultimately said that the only difference between people like me, Richard Spencer, and David Duke, is that I feel bad about my racism. And I understood what he was getting at. Unsurprisingly I disagreed with his interpretation. But I wasn't even really bothered or upset by his comments, because I could see super clearly how badly he was misunderstanding the scenario in question. And for members, you can hear us discuss this case in Bonus Episode 236.

Fast forwarding ahead, the next time I responded to him was about six months later when he suggested that I consider anyone who disagrees with me to be subhuman. Again, a premise I disagree with. And then when I explained to this person how I felt, he called me a liar. So if I had taken him as a pure individual, it would have been easy to label him as an asshole and be mad at him for deciding to be such an asshole on the internet.

But I didn't do that. I saw him from the very beginning as a member of several groups: number one, libertarian, because I could just tell from his profile. And libertarianism is a philosophy that sees the world from a very different angle than I do. So that's part of it. Number two: deeply misinformed on racism, with clear influence from toxic forms of conservatism, which make the claim that liberals are the real racists while using profoundly silly arguments that sound sort of halfway reasonable only if you come at the topic totally ignorant. And I'm familiar with that. So he said those sorts of things. And I was like, oh yeah, okay, I know where that comes from. And number three: he's a Twitter user, and Twitter is a platform that structurally encourages toxic, snarky communication.

So for just those three reasons, and others I could start to take an educated guess at, I didn't need to feel angry at this person. You know, my first exchange with them on Twitter didn't go well. And there was no real reason to think it would have. But my second exchange was elevated to a verbal conversation, and it went much better. And members can hear that as Bonus Episode 245.5.

So that's the kind of example I would give of someone who I wouldn't want to say the way he thinks is an illness and you just don't get mad at people for being sick. That would just exacerbate the toxicity. I wouldn't say something like that. But to see his thoughts and where he's coming from structurally helped me understand him in a way that allowed for communication, rather than seeing him as a pure individual, which could have only led to ratcheting up the tensions.

So moving away from the individual, David the libertarian, to the group "libertarians," I was talking with producer Deon about this a couple of weeks ago now. And he reminded me that to libertarians, individualism is pretty much fundamental to their philosophy.

And so coming to terms with ideas that require collective action: climate change, COVID, et cetera, it requires them to do a lot more than just gain some information and come to a logical conclusion. It requires them to essentially sacrifice part of their identity to come to terms with the reality of the necessity for collective action and the legitimacy of governments working for the health and benefit of the people, while having to impose some restrictions for the greater good.

For progressives, who already think in terms of the collective good, we don't have to sacrifice anything to incorporate new ideas like mask mandates into our thinking of good public policy. So of course, the ways in which we react to these issues as progressives is going to be dramatically different than the way a libertarian would. And it would be literally irrational of us to think that anything different is possible. And if you love humanity, you want good things for humanity. You are better off recognizing that all of this messiness is part of the package deal. You don't have to like the way everyone thinks, but to see it as practically inevitable that many abhorrent opinions will be represented somewhere on the bell curve of humanity helps me to see all of those people with those terrible opinions -- like white supremacists and Nazis, or even just well-meaning people who fear a one-world government will come and take their guns away after we try to solve climate change or whatever -- to see all of them as simply occupying their space in our species. As individuals, they can be monstrous or just advocate for policies that have monstrous results. But as members of a group, they're doing exactly what anyone could have predicted they would do. And to me, seeing them that way is much more humanizing than any other way I've tried.

 As always, keep the comments coming in at 202-999-3991,or by emailing me [email protected].

That's going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Scott, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at BestoftheLeft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player.

So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcasts coming to twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from BestoftheLeft.com.

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  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page in Transcripts 2022-01-31 15:19:20 -0500
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