Mark Zuckerberg is Burning Meta to the Ground
Paris Marx is joined by Dave Karpf to discuss Meta’s misguided attempt to turn Facebook into a metaverse company, how Wired Magazine has evolved, and why the tech billionaires are destroying the world.
Dave Karpf is an Associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University. He’s also the author of The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy and Analytic Activism: Digital Listening and the New Political Strategy. Follow Dave on Twitter at @davekarpf.
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Paris Marx: Dave, welcome to Tech Won’t Save Us.
Dave Karpf: Longtime listener — thanks for having me.
PM: Awesome. Thanks for listening to the show! Happy to have you on the show. You have written a bunch about VR, the history of VR, Wired magazine itself — a lot for us to dig into in this conversation. And I think it’s a good time to talk about it because, I think it’s fair to say, the metaverse is kind of imploding. People aren’t really buying into what Mark Zuckerberg is trying to sell us with this vision of the future he’s bet the whole Meta or Facebook company on. And I think it’s time for us to dig into that and to really see how there’s some historical parallels to this that we might want to pick up on. And so I want to start with that history. You’ve written about the history of VR and comparing this to the metaverse; when you looked at the history VR, what did you see there? What happened the last time that VR was supposed to be a big thing? And why, ultimately, didn’t that happen?
DK: So my introduction to the history of VR came through a project that I started in 2018. I’m a political scientist by training, my job is actually studying political organizations on the Internet. But mid-Trump administration, I needed a little break from that, politics was little too everywhere. So I decided that summer that I was going to read all of Wired Magazine chronologically, to trace the history of the digital future and get a sense of what are these images of how the technology is going to change the world in five to 10 years, always for the better, always a future of abundance. What parts have actually happened? What hasn’t happened? And what’s sort of the digital horizon that’s always often the distance, promised a few years away? And why don’t we get it wrong? So I did that project, I wrote about it for Wired in their 25th anniversary issue in 2018. I’ve been following up on that on Substack, recently; it’s eventually going to be a book. That introduced me to history of VR, because Wired starts in 1993, which is kind of the tail end of the VR Future. Virtual reality in the late 80s and early 1990s is the technology that everyone in Silicon Valley and tech related Hollywood thought was coming. Jaron Lanier was this dreadlocked guy who developed the first rigs. He also, if any of your listeners are old enough to remember the power glove for the Nintendo, he helped come up with that. There’s the movie “The Lawnmower Man.” So there was this sense of: We’re going to have an embodied internet; that is where the world is going. And in 93, they’re starting to figure out that it’s just not ready yet. And so I’m reading Wired magazine in those early years, and the web isn’t the thing yet. They’re talking about VR a bunch, and they’re talking about interactive TV, which also completely fizzles.
I took notes on it at the time, and one of the things that stood out is as it doesn’t catch on with consumers, they pivot. Howard Rheingold writes this great book in, I think, 91 maybe about virtual reality and how these technologists are inventing it, and just you wait, the future is about to arrive. And they’re talking about how architects are using this, and scientists are using this, and the military’s using this. So there’s all these tactical applications and just you wait, the consumer ones are going to come; it’s going to change everything. And it doesn’t though. The military still uses it — they still set up rigs to train pilots and train people using tanks. Medicine and science, anything with a really big research budget, throws a little money at it. And then it kind of disappears for a while. And as I’m reading the magazine, VR has kind of gone during the Web 1.0 era in Web 2.0, we’ve got that moment with Second Life, which isn’t VR, but is pretty Metaverse-y. I remember meeting a second life person at a party in like 2005. And being like, Yeah, so like, where are the samurai swords. And they immediately got the job because, obviously, they read Snow Crash and said: Let’s go do that. In the magazine, you can sort of see the rise and fall of Second Life, where Second Life is the future, and MTV, and Nike are setting up stores. So the money’s flowing in. And then that future never arrives. Second Life doesn’t disappear. Butt it stops being the future, which means we stopped paying attention to it, and the money goes away. And so instead, there a community that loves Second Life and still uses it. But it’s off to the side with no funding, so it doesn’t get any bigger. It’s just off doing its own community thing.
Then you have Palmer Luckey in 2012, 2014, as this traditional model of the young, precocious male genius who’s figured it all out, and he happens to be a radical conservative, but we’re going to ignore that. And also, it looks like probably he’s a homeschooler with I think pretty rich parents, but we’ll ignore the social class elements too. They ignore all that. But he’s the precocious, young genius who’s figured it all out. And just wait, in five years it will be here. And then I see them covering Facebook buying it and Oculus is coming, it’s going to change everything — that’s a cover story. There’s this piece in Wired by Kevin Kelly, who’s the original executive editor. In 2016, he wrote about Magic Leap, which was AR augmented reality, and then in 2019, he writes this piece “Mirror World” about how we’re about to have a digital twin of the physical realm. And that’s going to be the AR-VR Futurel; it’s coming. Sure there will be ads, surely privacy issues, but who cares, it’s going to change everything, just get ready. This is very old school Wired, because Kevin Kelly hasn’t really changed at all in 30 years; his writing in 2019 is exactly like it was in 1995. I was reading all that and just thinking if history doesn’t repeat itself, it definitely rhymes. And my God does this rhyme with the VR hype cycle of the late 80s, early 90s.
Then it was late in the pandemic, so it was last summer 2021, I had just read an online Wired piece by one of their reporters who covers VR, talking about how it’s five years later, we said that Oculus was going to conquer the world, how’s it doing? And the piece basically said they sold a lot of headsets, sure, nobody’s really using it yet. But it’s so early, and just any minute now it’s going to happen. And I just got annoyed. So I did a Twitter thread about how VR is the rich, white kid of tech, that it will always be judged on its potential rather than its actual results. And that got a lot of traction on social media. So some editors reached out and they asked: Do you wanna write that as an article? And I was like: Do I want to be snarky in print about VR? Yes, I definitely do. So I wrote this piece, basically saying: This will never work, because even though technologists read Neal Stephenson, and read “Ready Player One” and said: That’s the future, let’s go build it and own it. It turns out, we don’t live in adventures, and this thing is boring. Nobody actually wants to use it in our daily lives. It’s got a demand problem that’s not getting fixed. And that got weirdly timely because that piece came out just as Zuckerberg was announcing that in the next five years, Facebook was going to transition from being a social media company to being a metaverse company. And so it was kind of this like gut check of like: I just published a broadside insult saying VR is never going to happen. It’s fetch; stop trying to make fetch a thing. And then he was like: I’m going to spend 10 or $15 billion a year making fetch a thing.
So I had like a deep breath of: I guess we’ll really find out now, and here we are a year into that, they’ve spent over $10 billion. Their finances are in the pits, and nobody wants the fucking thing. They are going to burn Facebook or Meta to the ground, trying to make everybody like a thing that just isn’t very good. So that’s the history in a nutshell. It rose and fell in the 80s and 90s. The tech arguably wasn’t ready there, but also nobody really wanted it, and then in the 2010s, the tech got better. And the promise was like: Now everyone will flood to this thing, because it’s so great. Throughout the pandemic, people were buying but then not using their Oculus headsets. Because after you’ve used it three times, you realize that this just isn’t actually very fun. All the better games are not in VR; it’s not good gaming; it’s not good anything really. There are still small communities — I hear VR chat is a lovely place that people go and build their community the same way that people have on Second Life. But those communities can be great without it being the future. And I think we’re right back where we were all those years ago — Zuckerberg a couple weeks ago, saying that the future of the metaverse is going to be a partnership with Microsoft so that you can have your meetings in virtual space. I’m sure that companies are goning to like that. I’m sure the military will buy a bunch of headsets. But that doesn’t make it the future. That’s just exactly what happened in the early 90s.
PM: I think you’ve put it really well. And I think that you’ve outlined that history and the project that you embarked on in reading Wired really well. Before we get into discussing the metaverse and this whole project a little bit more, I did want to dig into that a little bit, because you’ve read 25 years of Wired Magazines, and I’m sure you’ve continued reading them since, and you talked about how Wired was very, or is very techno optimistic, is very much looking for these futures, that tech can give us how it’s going to make the world a better place. This was very much what it was selling the public, especially through this period where we wanted all this tech optimism, where this was kind of what the industry wanted to sell us wanted us to buy into, their business models, their view of the world. And Wired was very much helping to do that. When you were reading through this, and you were seeing kind of these futures rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall, never arriving in many cases, did you find that they were mea culpas in the magazine like: We really thought this was going to happen, and then it didn’t work out? Or was it kind of like: Okay, this future didn’t work out; we’re just not covering it so much anymore, and now we’re just going to move on to the next thing that we’re gonna sell you as how tech is going to make the world such an amazing and better place?
DK: Sort of. I kind of need to periodize it. So there’s early Wired in the 90s, probably the first five years under the founding editor, Louis Rosetto, who is a deeply ideological libertarian techno optimist, and I’m doing a slow reread of Wired now to turn it into a book. I’m in 1994 right now. And the Rosetto era Wired is the California ideology on steroids. And it was brash and proud; they know the future; everybody else is an idiot who doesn’t get it. And there’s no room really in Rosetto is wired for admitting that they got it wrong. There’s little snarky moments where every once in a while one of their reporters or writers will note that this all might be bullshit; it might fall apart. There’s little moments, particularly 96 or so after the Netscape rocket takes off on Wall Street. You get these little moments where every once awhile people will point out that this past six months have been wild, and six months from now this all might go away. And like suck.com, which was like the original proto like snarky proto blog gets started by a few Hotwired staffers that’s Wired online magazine in the 90s. And then brought within wired for like they, when they realized that their staffers started it, they like bought it and hosted at, like, suck.com was also snarky as hell, in a very bloggie, almost sort of pre-Gawker style. So you have those moments where they’ll, at least, look askance and say: Yeah, do we really need to believe our own bullshit? But the ideology of their founders, inventors, and investors, and they are the engine of the of the bright and just future, and then there are regulators and old institutions, and they are the ones who stand in the way. There’s a hero, there’s a villain, and we are the beneficiaries of these heroes, so long as we pay attention to them and clap for them. That ideology, which we still see today from Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen and Elon Musk, that is classic 90s Wired. And they never apologize for that.
They have a little moment in 2001, because in 1999 and 2000, they actually started their own index fund called the Wired Index. And they spent months and months bragging about how it was doing even better than the NASDAQ. And then with the Dot-com crash, and all of that gets wiped out, they did have one month where they were like: Okay, we got that wrong, sorry for losing everyone all their money. That’s like post-Rosetto, but still in Kevin Kelly’s era, he’s still kind of driving the ship. And like 2001, 2002 are kind of dark times, because between the Dot-com crash and September 11, tech just doesn’t really feel like the future anymore. And the big things we’re talking about are Napster, which is radical and cool, but also like, oh shit, how are artists gonna get paid for anything? So it’s kind of gloomier then. But then you can see in the 2000s, Chris Anderson takes over and Wired becomes one of the big drivers of Web 2.0 boosterism both pointing out the legit and like stuff like Wikipedia and Craigslist, legit new things that are happening. But also, they just have a series of business style articles. He wrote “Free,” he wrote the “Longtail” both for the magazine and turned them into book. And each one of them is just sort of like: Okay, well, Web 1.0 happened; it’s dead and gone. But everybody took the technology and is doing something new. We’re about to enter this new era of abundance where everything is different. Everyone is going to be happier and rich and part of civil society. Forget that false start from the 90s; it’s going to be great. And they never really apologize for that. I’ve often said that Web 1.0 died with a bang, Web 2.0 died with a whimper. I think Web 2.0 died in 2011, 2012 which means that all the Web3 people like Chris Dixon, who insist that Web3 is up until 2020 are, frankly, fucking idiots who just get their history wrong so they can try to get rich. Have me on some other time to just yell about how Chris Dixon is wrong about history, because I need at least half an hour to yell about that. Like his history is bonkers wrong!
PM: Them all being wrong, just to try to make money? Shocking!
DK: Shocking, right? You got rich in Web 2.0. The platform era displaces Web 2.0 around 2011, 2012; a shift actually happens. You got rich off of that, too. You can’t just pretend that didn’t happen. You can remember the past 10 years that you were there for and still make money, right? Come on, dude. But so they don’t acknowledge getting that wrong. But then around 2015 really, before Trump takes over, you start to see a change in the magazine where they decide tech is big enough, Silicon Valley and digital is big enough now that, rather than just being the builders of the future, we’re kind of responsible for the present. And they start to take social issues kind of seriously. And then in 2017, starting with the Techlash, it becomes a legitimately critical magazine. I think throughout Nick Thompson’s years as editor-in-chief, it’s some of the better well grounded tech criticism — long, bruising articles about fiascos at Facebook and Google are cover stories in Wired, just because the actual news has gotten dark enough, and the ideology has now receded far enough into the past that they’ve decided we’re going to go cover what’s actually going on and it ain’t good. It’s noteworthy that for the 25th anniversary, they were like: Dave, you’re a snarky asshole; why don’t you write our history for us and we’ll publish it in the magazine?
They published Louis Rosetto in that same issue, and he was like: What we need now is radical optimism. He tells a story where he’s complaining about this one dinner party he went to where people were saying: Wow, Trump is bad, and he’s throwing kids in cages and taking them away from their parents; the world is bad right now. And he got really mad both because I’m pretty sure he really likes Trump, but also because he’s like: Why aren’t we all excited about the future anymore? It’s the news’ fault; it’s politics’ fault; technology will save us. So like they’re publishing him as, I think, a courtesy since he’s the founder, and it’s the 25th anniversary issue. But they’re also saying: Hey, snarky asshole Dave, write a feature for us about our history; tell us what we got right and wrong. That’s not a thing that would have happened in the 90s, early 2000s. Well, actually there was like a two-year stint where they did do missed predictions. I think that was in the 20 tweens, but I have to double check. But there weren’t moments where they were like: Yeah, we got this arc of the future wrong. I’m sitting next to a bunch of my Wired’s now, and one of the covers is from 2012, and it says, “Your next car will drive itself.”
PM: That happened!
DK: They never say: Oh, yeah, it’s been 10 years of us insisting that driverless cars are about to arrive. Why hasn’t it? They never quite do that. But the coverage does change in a way that I think is noteworthy, because it used to be just this font of, frankly, ideological “tech will save us” garbage. And now they’re not full Luddites, but they’re certainly willing to be more critical, because tech now runs enough of the world to be treated responsible for the things that it gets wrong.
PM: It’s an interesting shift. I feel like they still try to do a bit of both. There’s some of the boosterism stuff there, then there’s the critical stuff that comes in as well. As you’re saying, you and Rosetto in the same issue, and having both of these perspectives there. I want to pick up on another piece, as well. You talked a lot, and this is something I’ve talked to other people on the show about as well, about how science fiction really plays into these ideas about what the future should look like, and how a lot of these tech founders have read a lot of science fiction, internalized that, and then believe that part of their goal or their mission is to really realize what they read about in these science fiction books when they were kids. And that is, of course, the case when we think about VR and metaverses, and what have you. How do you see that playing out and kind of inspiring these founders for lack of a better word?
DK: The thing that occurs to me really is, I think, science fiction, particularly the science fiction of their youth, provides a shared vernacular that is useful in pitching companies and getting people to circle around the same campfire the same idea. So in the same way that on a smaller scale after Uber has made a ton of money, we have all these Silicon Valley pitches that are just Uber for X. And we’re now seeing that Uber is not profitable, and Uber for X, no matter what X is, is also not profitable. We’re seeing that now. But it kind of makes sense, looking back on it, why Uber for X was a successful pitch, if we assume that the titans of Silicon Valley actually aren’t that much smarter than the rest of us. They don’t know why these things are working so well; they are making up stories of why they work so well, and then once something has worked, they convinced themselves that they have it all figured out when they don’t.
In the same way, if you’ve all grown up with an idea of the metaverse or an idea of space colonization, then the big picture of: Hey, we’re supposed to be inventing the future; we all know what the future looks like. These aren’t actual workbench scientists struggling with technical breakthroughs, figuring out that now we’ve solved these three hard problems, we can actually do driverless cars or now that we have solved these six hard problems, we could actually colonize Mars. Instead, it’s just the public relations logic of what is the thing that will get everybody sort of clapping and smiling along with me. It’s probably the shared memory of the trajectory that we thought we were supposed to be on. So science fiction, particularly really old science fiction, I think ends up being important there. Because it’s formative for all of these people who are now insanely wealthy, and who are treated as though they’re geniuses, but they’re actually not that smart, not that much smarter than the rest of us. So what’s the shared cultural ideas that they can all grapple with? It’s the stuff they read as kids.
PM:I think it’s really fascinating, because I feel like you see this repeat again and again, where they’re drawing from these science fiction ideas, they’re trying to bring them into being, but then it never really seems to work out as they imagine it will, as they imagine the realization of the science fictional imaginaries being. They’re really desperate to try to arrive at the metaverse, to try to arrive at space colonization, to try to do any other number of things that they’ve read about in these books. But then it doesn’t work out. And meanwhile, while they are pursuing these things, the rest of the world is like turning to shit because all of our attention and focus is on realizing these narrow-minded ideas of what the future should look like, pulled from some 50-year-old science fiction book, instead of actually dealing with like the real problems that we have.
DK: Of course, most of the science fiction books are also dystopias. “Snow Crash,” although apparently Neal Stephenson insists that he’s not sure if it’s a dystopia (which like: Okay, dude!), but “Snow Crash” is a dystopia. “Ready Player One” is a dystopia, and I don’t think this is going to upset any of your listeners, but I’m going to go ahead and take the stance that “Ready Player One” is actually terribly written; it’s not a good book, I don’t think. I thought “Ready Player One” was trash, but it was trash that was exciting enough for Mark Zuckerberg that, apparently, he made everybody who worked in their hardware division buy and read a copy. I don’t think it’s a well drawn dystopia, I think it’s an interesting one, but it’s a dystopia where everybody’s living in like a tiny hovel. And the reason they’re getting into the metaverse because everything sucks outside, except for the plutocrats who have all the wealth. But the other thing that stands out there is, well, that dystopia is actually kind of great if you’re the plutocrat. So they’re looking at that and saying that that would be a wonderful universe to reign.
PM: While you’re the plutocrat and also the plutocrat who has a lot of issues with connecting with people socially. And so you’d prefer to do that by going into a virtual world, and doing it that way, which is another kind of line that I feel is drawn between what is presented in “Ready Player One” now, I’ve only watched the movie, maybe it’s different in the in the book, and Mark Zuckerberg who seems like an incredibly awkward dude. And meanwhile, keeps making himself the face of this project that like people just are not buying at all.
DK: The only thing that stands out to me is, I think about this a lot with the Mars colonization idea, I’m pretty sure that Elon Musk genuinely wants to colonize Mars, so that he can extend the light of consciousness throughout the universe. I think there’s zero chance that he wants to be one of the colonizers. The thing to keep in mind when you think about Mars colonization, if you try to imagine day-to-day life on Mars, that would suck. How fucking boring would that be? In the same way that there are people who live in Antarctica, they are research scientists who are there just to do their research science, and then they’re going to come home, because life on Antarctica sucks. It is cold; there is nothing to do but your work; it is drudgery. Mars would be that but more dangerous. And my god, I get headaches because I’m in my 40s. What happens if you run out of Advil on Mars? They have this grand vision, but it is a vision of something that other people will do. I’m sure that Zuckerberg would like to be able to play in the metaverse, but Zuckerberg also wants to go on his hydrofoil. You’re a centibillionaire; everything is interesting for him. And then he can also do some metaverse-y stuff where he feels like he’s inventing the next future. But like he’s really trying to build a Metaverse that everyone else will exist in and continue to make him, what I guess, a trillionaire like he’s centibillionaire now. He wants to be a trillionaire. But like he wants to own the future.
It’s not so much building it for himself as for everyone else, because the thing that he’s building is drudgery. Meetings in the metaverse are probably better than meetings on Zoom, if we imagine a future 40 years from now. I can buy that there’s a version of the climate future in which we’re just not flying anymore. And if this stuff gets good enough, we might want to use that for convenings; I can totally buy that. But in terms of what what I use an Oculus headset, in my day to day life for the next five to 10 years? Very little. I tried out Beat Saber and it was fun twice. And then I was kind of bored with it. Same as Guitar Hero — Guitar Hero was fun 15 years ago, and then that got kind of boring too. I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum; some people are really into that. And again, there are people who are loving VR chat, and it can be really valuable, particularly for people with disabilities who physically can’t move around in space in the same way that I can. So this can be good for specific publics. But in terms of a grand future for all of society? Zuckerberg is not building it for himself, because the dude gets to go bow-hunting and has an army of servants at this point. They’re building it for everyone else. They’re imagining this the place that I will put people so that I am the plutocrat in that story.
PM: I think you’ve nailed it. I really think that that sounds like what they’re actually building. Of course, the example from “Ready Player One” is one that I always come back to. You imagine this kind of oasis, as it’s called there, the story’s version of the metaverse, but then if you imagine the real world that exists outside of that metaverse, it’s completely terrible — people living in these kind of trailer-park, high rises. But the world is shit. And then when we look at the world that we are dealing with, it’s increasingly shit. We’re not dealing with the actual real problems that people face in their lives right; it’s increasingly impossible for people to put a roof over their heads; cost of living is going through the roof for everybody. Meanwhile, the response of the government is to raise interest rates and fight wage inflation so that people can’t afford these things. And meanwhile, the richest people in the world are going off and trying to send rockets to Mars and build vast, virtual communities where they want us to buy digital goods, and just stay home all the time and get everything delivered to our homes from Amazon or Uber or what have you. It’s this incredibly dystopian future, but it’s one that works for them and their business models and what they ultimately want to achieve. It’s terrible.
DK: One thing that raises for me — have you read Doug Rushkoff’s new Book “Survival of the Richest?”
PM: I’m almost done it, yes.
DK: So that’s the other piece of that raises for me is, it’s not just that they’re creating these virtual worlds for the rest of us to inhabit. They’re also buying land in New Zealand and paying a bunch of money for bunkers in upstate New York, with the sense in mind that, rather than them helping to prevent the world from going to shit, they just want to make sure that if and when it does, they’ll be safe. The sci-fi that’s had the biggest impact on me, which just came out as a show, which I hope everyone watches because I’d like a second season — here I am I guess supporting Amazon now — but “Peripheral” by William Gibson, I think, the book that has had the biggest impact on my thinking about the future. So the book came out about 10 years ago; again, it just came out as Amazon series. I’ve watched the first episode and it’s great. But the book remapped my thinking about the world, because he’s got this idea in his book called The Jackpot. The book happens in two different time periods. One is the near future, and the other is a far future, then that far future is filled with the sparkling gadgetry that Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk imagines like our future ought to have. They’ve got incredible AR; they’ve got nanobots; they’ve got all this stuff. And it’s also an empty world where everyone is kind of depressed or sort of filled with some sort of PTSD. And they make references throughout the book to “the jackpot.” And it’s about maybe halfway through the book that you find out that the jackpot is a series of crises sort of stacked on top of each other, like climate and disease and war and everything else, that over a 20 or 30 year period wipes out 80% of the world’s population.
So he’s got this time period in the near future where we can see the dystopia that looks very similar to what we live in now. Just a few companies run everything; there are a few rich people who pay no taxes, and everyone else is struggling to get by, and finding gray zone ways to make a little bit of money selling drugs or something. Because the actual normal economy doesn’t work for normal people anymore. So he’s got that time period, and then you sort of jump past the jackpot, where most of the world dies. And those who are left say they figure that they won the jackpot as one of the survivors. But also in that emptier world, we finally have this abundance that Silicon Valley has always promised. Because for the few people who are left like hey, look, we have all this technology, and there’s nobody else around so like there’s abundant everything.
The thing that always sticks out to me reading that is, that relates back for me to Doug Rushkoff’s book, I often get the sense looking at Zuckerberg, looking at Musk, looking at Andreessen, Thiel, all of these incredibly rich people who are hailed as tech geniuses, rather than trying to prevent the jackpot, they’re trying to win it. Because looking at that, and this is what comes up in Rushkoff’s book, they’re looking at these coming apocalyptically bad issues, and rather than saying how can we build technologies that help to prevent them or mitigate them, they’re saying like: Okay, those are happening, but this is going to be somebody else’s problem. I wrote an essay on Substack about this recently where I used Douglas Adams’s old idea of “somebody else’s problem field,” and it’s from the third book in the Hitchhiker series. But it’s like: Okay, the climate apocalypse is somebody else’s problem. And they’re kind of operating under the assumption that like, sure if 80% of the world dies, I’m rich; it’s not going to be me; it’s going to be my friends; it’s just all those people out there. And they’re kind of non-player characters (NPCs) to the billionaire class anyway; they don’t actually interact with us in our daily lives. Must insists that we’re living in a simulation, and, hey, if I had Elon Musk life, I would probably think I was living in a simulation, too. It’s a really nice life to have. But it’d be a pretty dumb simulation to just have a normal life. And why am I simulating working in an Amazon warehouse? Not a fun game. I think they’re treating it as though the jackpot is a thing that they win and won’t really face the consequences. And then their planning is on how do we make sure that when shit goes wrong, I’m never affected by it — instead of taking any responsibility as the world’s most powerful and least regulated actors and saying 80% of the world dying would be bad, let’s try to make that not happen.
PM: I find that absolutely fascinating because one element of this, of course, is how that future that that you’re talking about is one that’s quite distinct from Elon Musk saying we need to increase the birth rate; we need to have more people; Jeff Bezos saying we need to have a trillion people in space and have these expansions, the kind of longtermist view that we need to try to maximize the future population. But then, on the other hand, this desire to win the jackpot so to speak, but then, and this comes up in Rushkoff’s book as well, where is the labor then that’s actually providing this abundance and this service for the people? I feel like that’s an aspect of Silicon Valley, these companies, these billionaires that often gets forgotten that they kind of like to pretend doesn’t exist, because they can say: Look, the technology is doing all these other things, and the technology hides the workers that exists behind it. And so it’s easy for them then to feel that these technologies are providing these wonderful lives for them. Because the technologies exist to kind of hide all of the workers who allow them to live as these wildly wealthy billionaires.
DK: Along with the metaverse being a giant, flaming money pit, another one of the giant, flaming money pits that often comes up from this crowd is automation of work — the myth, the idea that any day now, we’ll just have robots that can handle all of this. And so we don’t need to think about the workers because they’re kind of NPCs (non-player characters) now, and they won’t even exist in the future; I’ll just have robots for it.
PM: And they better not fight back, because we’ll just accelerate the rollout of the robots if they try to demand better wages, or anything.
DK: This is a great model, if we wanted to explain what they spend their time paying attention to and investing in, they’re spending money on inventing robots that can do everything, and then they’re throwing money at what the Oxford future Institute, the longtermism crowd are saying, and let’s also give money to technologists and philosophers who will try to figure out how to make sure that the robots don’t overthrow us. That’s what they’re investing in — we’ve got a sci-fi future where there’s no people who can overthrow us because there’s just robots. And then Nick Bostrom, please help us figure out how the robots will overthrow us anyway. That’s what they’re putting their money into. It’s all dumb and bad, but not that complicated.
PM: It’s not blowing my mind; these are things that I recognize, but it just sucks. And it’s just terrible, right?
DK: We’ve got one of those cork boards, and we’re putting the string between them. And it’s like, this is all terrible. It’s all connected, and dumb and terrible. But oh, look, longtermism ties to this! It’s also bad — all connected but not a smart conspiracy. Just a dumb conspiracy.
PM: I wonder what you make of the response to the metaverse then. Because you’re talking about this future, how these billionaires are envisioning the future, how they’re trying to prepare, so that they are best positioned to survive whatever comes. Then on the other hand, I feel like when you look at the response to the metaverse that Zuckerberg is putting out there, but then many of these other companies as well. It’s like there’s kind of some interest there by investors, right? They see the potential to make some money. I feel like the media has been mixed. I feel like to some degree, there’s been some reporting on it. That’s been pretty excited by some of these, the tech press. But then I feel like the further we move away from last year’s announcement of the metaverse, the more critical that becomes when it just looks more and more like shit. And then I feel like the public from what I can see, and maybe I’m in my little filter bubble here is that people do not like this. People do not see this as attractive. As you say, there might be some people who are using VR chat and enjoy that, and it’s a relatively niche group in the way that you were talking about Second Life before, there are people who use this who enjoy this, and that’s perfectly all well and good. But it’s not something that you can build a global kind of business on, like a Facebook or a Meta. So what do you make of that response, and I guess the public response in particular, where people do not really seem to be interested in going this way?
DK: I enjoy a bit of schadenfreude now and again, and so I think the public response has been delicious! Because the arc of the reporting has been he makes this announcement, and I think some reporters right away were like: Okay, I don’t know about this, man. But a lot of them, I think it’s Casey Newton who in general I like a lot of his stuff, but he was upfront kind of saying: Look, I have to assume that if these smart, extremely rich and successful people throw $10-15 billion at the problem, they’re probably going to come up with something. When Zuckerberg made this announcement, my piece making fun of VR had just come out and I definitely felt this was the best possible test-case for whether or not it has a demand side problem that it’s not going to fix. Because a lot of people bought an Oculus. Hell, I eventually bought Oculus. I was like: Sure, I’ll try this thing it was when they were about to raise the price by $100. And I was like, I’m goin buy this before it goes up $400, maybe I’m wrong. At a minimum, I should try it enough to find out if I’m being an idiot/being a 43-year-old who’s no longer getting where things are going. And again, I think I’ve used it four times, and it was just boring.
After a year of this, those same reporters are saying, well, they’re throwing so much money at it, it’s still early. It could be early. Again, I think 40 or 50 years from now, I imagine we’re going to have some kind of different devices than just an upgrade on the iPhone. Will those devices have some kind of heads up display? In 40 years, probably, if for no other reason than everybody with money is treating this as the next thing, and if they try for a couple generations, something might stick eventually that we just can’t see now. I am definitely someone who in 1978 would have looked at mainframe computers, and looked at the personal computer industry and been like: That’s for hobbyists, who the fuck cares? I absolutely would have looked at the Apple II and the Mac and been like: Who the fuck cares? And actually, I think that for those early years, it’s a hobbyist device that’s only for people who can code. But then a few of them were imagining, once this gets cheap enough, and people build things on top, eventually, some stuff will change. And it took a long time, eventually it did. So does that happen in 40-50 years? Sure, maybe.
But in the meantime, some of the largest companies in the world that are barely suppressed monopolies that I think do harm, and also I just in general don’t like, are going to burn themselves to the ground trying to force everyone to use a product that nobody wants to use. That is fucking funny. Everybody making fun of meta when they come out with legs in their announcement, and then Meta, a day later, having to say: Hey, by the way, those are simulated legs. We haven’t actually figured out legs, but we swear we will like that. We’re living in 2022. As a political scientist of American politics, like the likelihood of us living in basically an autocracy within the next three years is at least 20%, maybe higher than 40. Like, these are dark times, if we can’t take joy in watching Meta fucking faceplant with a product that everyone is trying and saying like: Oh, no man, this sucks. And then their answer is like: Okay, well, here’s a better version that costs $1,500. Why don’t you spend $1,500 on a thing that sucks? Did we mention that there are meetings with Microsoft? That is good comedy in a time when it is hard to find good comedy. God bless you Mark Zuckerberg, you’re burning your shitty empire to the ground. Much like — I love Twitter, and I’m going to miss Twitter when Elon Musk destroys it — watching Elon Musk set $44 billion on fire, because he’s such a dumb dummy. That’s good fun! I’m going to have some fun as that ship goes down, because the platform, when they have no staff anymore, it’s just going to turn to shit. And he’s going to be left with a thing that’s useless. Just like MySpace was — it’s going to be amazing.
PM: No, I think it’s absolutely beautiful to see them burning all of this cash, amounts of money that we can hardly even imagine. Because they’re just such large sums. And one of the things I always say about Musk and Twitter is — there’s a lot of discussion I think on the platform right now as it looks like Elon is finally going to take over, that people are going to abandon ship as soon as he leave — and my response to that is always that this is the kind of drama that Twitter lives for, to actually see all of this shit going down, to be around it, to see it happening firsthand, to see whether it’s Trump tweeting, or Musk tweeting or whoever, to experience this, to engage in the discourse about it. This is what Twitter lives for! And even if Musk takes over and then starts to just drive it into the ground, that’s exactly what the core Twitter user-base is on that platform for, to see the drama, to see everything explode. That’s what they want.
DK: So my prediction isn’t that everyone’s going to boycott and leave Twitter right away. I don’t think they are. What’s going to happen is, I think, it’s going to become MySpace or like Tumblr. There are a lot of social media that if we look back, probably more than 10 years ago, because 10 years ago was when the current platform empires all rose. Again, from the Wired project, there was an era where Yahoo was the future — Yahoo! And there was the AOL era; these empires rise and fall and often what precedes the fall is a billionaire buying it and deciding they know how to monetize. Rupert Murdoch burned so much money purchasing MySpace so that he could be cool. And I think what’s going to happen is Musk’s going to buy it, everyone’s going to complain, but then stick around for the Twitter drama, you’re right about that, but then over the course of six months, as all everybody who works at Twitter get fired, he tries a bunch of things to monetize it, because he’s going to be paying over a billion dollars in interest every year on the thing. So he’s going to try a bunch of monetization plays that suck. And the experience is going to keep getting shittier and shittier. The experience that I have right now, as a cis white dude, I think, six months from now is going to be closer to the experience of any of my black female colleagues. And when that type of harassment is happening to the cis white dudes, and much worse is happening to everyone else, that’s when people are going to go somewhere else. And it’d be cool if it was Mastodon, I’m not sure that it’s actually going to be Mastodon or anything that is designed to be better, but there will be a next thing because the attempt to make Twitter profitable…
I wrote a post on Substack a while back whose main thesis is that big money ruins everything. I don’t necessarily think that you can’t have a good Internet plus capitalism. But I’m very convinced that you can’t have a good Internet plus this type of capitalism — a capitalism in which everything is aimed not just at making money, but at making exceptionally large money. The incentives once money gets exceptionally large, all get skewed and screwy and bad. A thing that has made Twitter, I think, relatively good is that it’s been pretty bad at making money, and pretty good at just doing the thing that people want it to do. There’s a bunch of things that it could do better, but the core thing that it does, it’s pretty much fine. I wrote a different post a while ago about what Facebook is really good for, which is just being a self-updating Rolodex of the people that you’ve known throughout your life. If Facebook went back to just being the place where I could see pictures of people who I knew 15 years ago, and how are they doing with their kids, like Facebook would be lovely, and I’d probably visit it three times a day, and it would make way less money. There’s actually I think, probably a profitable version of Facebook, that does what Facebook does well, but in the attempt to make big money, they end up ruining that. Twitter has basically been fine for a decade, because it was bad at making money, and it could just be good at what it’s good at. And he’s definitely going to ruin that because he’s got to make a billion dollars just to pay the interest payments every year. If you fire all the staff, if you let all the white nationalists back on and encourage the harassment, and you try a bunch of weird shit to monetize a year from now, we would definitely have left Twitter, not because the drama has gotten bad, but just because everything else has turned shitty. And we can build something else for the drama.
PM: I think you’re completely right. That’s what I see as well — because of the changes that Musk wants to make, because he’s so ill -nformed about what makes a workable social media platform, and because, in a way that Twitter has been like somewhat protected from the investor pressure, I think it’s really going to come back in force as Musk takes over. And especially if he tries to go the full way and create his X platform which which he talks about, which I think is just bullshit.
DK: He has no ideas there but also we would not do that. No, we’re not all going to — I understand that you saw a social app from China and thought it was exciting, Elon, but you’re not that good at this. And nobody wants that; we’re not going to live our social lives on Elon Musk’s one app. It’s not happening, dude.
PM: I completely agree. It makes absolutely no sense. And I think that there’s some kind of vision we can have where there’s some like great decentralized networking future that awaits us in the post Twitter world. But as you say, I also think that that is kind of a fantasy, because of the economy, because of the structures that we live in right now. Whatever is going to follow on from Twitter is something that is going to be trying to make more money from our interaction on a platform. I despair if TikTok or something like that is what replaces Twitter because I like the text; I’m not a big fan of full video and going that direction, even images like Instagram; I think that there’s a real important place for a text platform for that form of communication. But I also think, as we saw with the Web3 shit, whatever these companies are going to try to push that’s going to come next is going to be even more commercialized, even more monetized. And that’s going to be even shittier. Even if at the beginning, it might look a little bit better, because there won’t be, as with many of these platforms, in these services, there’s less of that incentive to commercialize right at the beginning, because you’re trying to attract all the users you’re trying to grow rapidly. All these sorts to things, and then that comes in later.
I also think it’s something that we see with the metaverse. Because Mark Zuckerberg promotes this as being open, and he’s going to work with all of these different companies, and it’s going to be really welcoming toward creators. But when you actually look at what he’s making, he’s just trying to create a new platform. He’s trying to escape the control of Apple’s App Store, and Google’s Play Store to a lesser degree, and have Meta control the platform for whatever this kind of future virtual world is going to be where we sell and buy all these virtual goods. And there’s all these new ways to advertise to us in the in the digital realm. Right? This is really what the ultimate goal is here. And as tech always does, it just gets framed in a way that’s like welcoming toward people and supposedly going to solve our problems and be amazing and beautiful. And all these things that we expect that are typically associated with the tech kind of marketing practices, but never really come into being.
DK: And the thing that stands out to me is that Matthew Ball is the VC who’s really pushed to the ideas of the metaverse, I think he’s wrong, but I think he’s smart. And the thing that I think he’s smart, but wrong about in particular is he lays out a roadmap for how to build the metaverse that very much treats the moment we’re in now as being similar to sort of the pre-web Internet, where they’re building protocols; they’re figuring out how to make stuff work; they’re figuring out things like payment rails, and he recognizes thqat if this is gonna work, then Apple can’t control it. Facebook can’t control it. He’s noting all that. But the thing that I think he’s sort of way too rosy optimistic about is like, this isn’t like the pre-web Internet because there’s too much money in it. The free web internet had a bunch of computing engineers, putting out requests for proposals and figuring out what should we do and they come up with like TCP/IP. The protocols they are inventing, that’s back when the money at stake was in the single digit millions, maybe the double digit million. The scale was so small and the stakes were low, which meant that they could all sort of have friendly intellectual conversations, when figuring out what can work for everyone because the stakes are low. Even if Meta and Apple and Nvidia, even if all of the different players agree that they need to treat this the way they did in the 80s, even if Ball convinces them like everybody act like that, it’s going to be play acting because the stakes are so high, because big money ruins everything. That’s gonna trash it.
Now, the thing I do want to point out, because we’re both — I usually go full dystopian — here, I think, being double full dystopian. So the thing I want to pull back and note, eventually there will be agency, but there isn’t right now. So let me start by saying, while I find it beautiful and entertaining to watch Meta light their money on fire, the thing that I would find way more beautiful, is a motherfucking wealth tax. Throughout the history of the Internet as covered in Wired, the thing that they never talked about is wealth inequality. Tthe simplest answer is, if you don’t tax the billionaires, you end up with more wealth inequality, duh. So there is a future, a potential future where big money doesn’t ruin everything. Because we actually start to tax billionaires and tax these products and reduce wealth inequality. That’s not impossible to do; it just requires a political will that our governments, in the U.S. and around the world, do not have right now. We currently have an economic elite that controls a ton of stuff, and they don’t want to be taxed. And their answer when they get criticized is like: Alright, well, then we’re going to bash the media and support authoritarians.
PM: And they’re really good at convincing a lot of people that they shouldn’t be taxed, and that they should be left to do whatever they want. And one of my arguments is that longtermism is just another means, and Effective Altruism more broadly, of offering a way for people to feel that billionaires are justified in having the power and wealth that they have. Because we shouldn’t take it from them. They should just invest it in effective organizations and nonprofits and charities to make the world a better place.
DK: It is a fantasy in which they are the well-deserving elites because they have it all figured out, and we should trust them. And the reality is we live in a world without wizards; not saying that they’re not smart on their own realms, but they haven’t figured out the entire world, the entire universe. We shouldn’t be trusting them as the wizards who can control and guide the future. And also if we do that, they’re gonna make stupid mistakes. Because if you actually look at these fuckers, they make a lot of stupid mistakes. They’re not actually brighter than the rest of us, across all fields. And it’s mostly particular people like Elon like a huge PR play. Zuckerberg to his credit, mostly does his one thing, which is building a monopoly social network empire and then owning the advertising rails and payment rails, so they can make a ton of money off of that. But he sets up the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and they spend money funding public schools in ways that I probably don’t think are the best way to do it, but it’s still like: Alright, you’re trying to do charitable giving; you’re trying to do it well; you’re throwing a bunch of money at some things. But at the very least, Zuckerberg isn’t like: And also I’m a space warrior.
PM: At least not yet.
DK: He has mostly, to his credit, stayed within his fucking lane. He’s now trying to create another lane, which is the metaverse and it’s not working. But the ones who have decided that they are omniscient geniuses, they have figured out every single area. And we’re seeing this with all of the Elon bros now like David Sachs, who were like, Yeah, you know, I’ve hung out at Y Combinator, so I can probably figure out Russia, Ukraine, like I’m a political scientist, and part of my graduate work was international relations. So I’ve taken just enough international relations work courses, to know that I have no fucking answer to Russia and Ukraine. Why would I? I’ve learned just enough to know that I don’t fucking know shit. But this crowd that has decided, well, given that I invested early in the right company by being friends with Peter Thiel, I probably know how to manage all global conflicts. No, you fucking don’t.
PM: I think it’s really fascinating. And it picks up on something. I can’t remember if it was in your article or a Substack piece. But you basically said, going back to what we were saying about the science fiction, these these billionaires are incredibly powerful, a lot of what they’re trying to push onto the world is inspired by the science fictional stories that they read as teenagers or young adults or what have you. And then they try to bring that into being whether it’s the space colonization, whether it’s the metaverse and whatever other bullshit they’re up to. But one of the questions that you pose is what if the stories that they had been raised on we’re not like dystopian science fiction, technology stories, but stories were like, we were trying to achieve more equal worlds, we were implementing wealth taxes, we were trying to redistribute the wealth and shit like that. Would that have influenced them in a different way?
DK: Imagine if the stories that Elon was raised on were about the glories of hyperloop trains, then maybe instead of trying to pitch Hyperloop, in order to sabotage transit, maybe instead of the Boring Company, he would have been like: I’m finally going to really build the Hyperloop, that’s the dream. And all his friends have been like: Oh my god, there could be a Hyperloop, that will be amazing! That’s what we need, is a Neal Stephenson to write a hyperloop book.
PM: Or a high-speed rail book — give us that.
DK: I like trains. Neal Stephenson, do your thing.
PM: That’s not as unimaginable enough, though. It’s too realizable, it has to be crazy and out there and linked to some shitty cyberpunk future, I guess.
DK: I don’t have the skills that Neal Stephenson has in terms of crafting these stories. But that dude wrote a two-book series, starting with basically World of Warcraft and then getting into: Do we all live in a simulation? If he can do that I’m sure he can write a high-speed rail nine-book series. Come on, Neal Stephenson, get to work, man.
PM: I want to start to close off our conversation with this question. I guess it’s kind of broad. But we’ve talked about how this metaverse is kind of failing. The vision that Zuckerberg is putting out there — that this is going to be the virtual space where we all kind of commune and come together and it’s slowly going to move out into mixed reality and alternative reality. And like our whole reality is going to be taken over by these technologies that we interact with, whether it’s through VR headsets, or augmented reality glasses or what have you. So in one of your pieces you wrote, at some point, we have to consider the possibility that the problem with VR is that people don’t actually want it. And I think that a lot of the response to the metaverse stuff is really showing us this right that people are really skeptical of this notion, this idea that we should spend a whole chunk of our day with these headsets on our faces, or even in the future, having glasses that have kind of digital displays, constantly popping things up in front of our faces. And then on top of that, we have Zuckerberg and Nadella and all these sorts of people selling us this vision of the metaverse as as something that is for enterprise where there’s these expensive headsets and we’re going to be doing all these meetings and work applications in the metaverse or in a virtual reality space. So what do you think that this metaverse future that they’re trying to sell us actually ends up looking like? Are we actually going to arrive at the point that Zuckerberg wants us to get to where it’s this kind of big consumer space where we’re making all these digital purchases, and there’s this big new digital goods economy, or is it something much more limited, as you’ve observed with past iterations of virtual reality?
DK: So, I’m not sure. I think it is unlikely that we get his version of metaverse certainly in the next five years. I think they’re going to make a bunch of advances in hardware; they’re spending enough money; there’s a bunch of Workbench engineers and scientists who are very well-funded right now, and they’re not going to twiddle their thumbs. I think that’s going to result in some actual technical advances, without having nearly the payoff that he needs for his company. So I think that’s going to be an entertaining clusterfuck for a few years. And then, and here’s where I’m going to sort of go back to my roots as a dystopian, what I think comes after that if we imagine 10-15 years into the future, I think we need to take the climate crisis seriously in our imagining. but one of the biggest critiques that I have of the metaverse and of Web3 and of AI, I think DALL-E 2, it seems fun to play with. But I joked on Twitter last year that the world scientific community has said we need a whole of society response to the climate crisis now, and their response was like: Well we decided to set a patch of rainforest on fire so we can teach machine learning how to produce pictures for us — does that help? These are solutions that treat the climate crisis as somebody else’s problem. And I think over the next 10 to 15 years, since I expect it’s not going to be a smooth path, I expect we’re going to see rising authoritarianism in the US and elsewhere, which makes technocratic science more difficult. I think 10 to 15 years from now, what we’re going to see is more and more presence of the climate crisis in what we’re building and what we’re needing.
So my hope is that the technical breakthroughs that they make through this bonanza of spending on a future that’s not going to come to pass, then ends up being useful as we start to have technologists who take seriously the idea that they should be building tools that help for resilience. If we were doing a scenario planning around, let’s imagine that air travel just becomes far more rare, like exceptionally rarer, because we can’t afford it anymore, because we actually are taxing fossil fuels in that future. So how does society respond to that? That’s either part of a collapse, in which case we don’t worry about scientific meetings and international companies coming together. Or if it’s not full collapse, then you need to build on the resilience of: Well, let’s have more physical co-presence on top of our digital interactions. That’s a space for VR, or AR that could fit into a climate future, once we are treating the climate crisis as something that is impending, and we need to build resilience and adaptation into as we also lower our emissions. So it’s not a smooth path to there.
I think along the way, a lot of the big, giant companies that have defined tech and made it less good and less delightful and less useful and less fun while getting rich, I think about two that are going to crater and I’m going to find that hilarious; I’m going to make fun of it on whatever comes after Twitter. But then as times get harder, because we didn’t respond to the climate crisis 15 years ago like we should have, or 30 years ago like we should have, as time has get harder than I think we’re going to see these sorts of tools fitting into the responses that we finally start to take seriously. I don’t know what those will be, because I can’t really look that far ahead. I don’t know what that world looks like, I mostly want to prevent the worst, but I want to prevent the jackpot. But I think as things get hard, and we set the silly shit aside, we probably realized that there’s a bunch of ways that the advances that they made when they threw $15 billion at hardware in that old shell of a company Meta ended up leading to something kind of cool.
PM: That’s really interesting. I think it’s definitely possible. One of the things I do wonder about with that kind of future, maybe it’s not completely related to what you’re saying, but when you think about the prospect of a metaverse, for example, and you think about it through the lens of climate, when you think about it through the lens of sustainability, resilience, what is the impact of building that out, of having these massive virtual worlds that are always on, that are effectively like a game that is always being played. And then it’s in the cloud. It’s being run in these data centers that use a ton of energy and resources themselves, where you have not only the need for people to replace their headsets every so often, so there’s the E-waste that comes with that. But then also you’re cycling through the servers that keep this virtual world running. That also has a climate impact — all of these things that we do online have a climate impact. And I feel like that is something that is also really easy when we were talking earlier about it being easy to forget the workers who are behind the technologies and the automations. When we think about all this AI, and and all these tools that are supposedly going to be really helpful for us, even though it’s often very unclear how they’re going to be helpful for us. They all have a pretty significant impact as well.
DK: Well, they do. This is a tangent, but I think it’s a good one. It calls to mind for me that it both has the direct climate impact of the Internet, our digital world is run on physical processors that are run on fossil fuels. And of course, 20 years from now, those processors could be run on solar, they could be run on renewables, if there’s a huge green vortex clean energy transition, so that could happen. But the other thing that points out to me and there’s sort of an upside and sort of a funny downside, back in 2016, late 2016, just after Trump got elected, I wrote this very dark, Medium piece about here’s how I think it’s gonna go down as American democracy falls. And I reread that just after Biden won. And I listed I think maybe 10 or 14 things, and I got two of them wrong, I thought that the economy would collapse right away. It didn’t because the markets were like: No, fuck it, Trump’s identity, but we don’t care, the stock market going up, because they’re like: No, you won’t regulate us cool; let’s do crime! I thought that there would be, during Trump’s years, probably a nuclear war. We came way closer than we should have with North Korea and others, but no bombs were fired.
And the other thing that I thought was VR was about to get crazy good. Because I had read my Wired magazine, I haven’t tried the Oculus, but apparently, it’s for real now. And I thought that was going to lead to sort of a brave new world type scenario where, as the world gets dark and depressing out there, people were just going to cut themselves off from it. One of the things that would dampen street protest was people would be entertained — entertainment’s crazy good. I’m just going wear my VR headset all the time. This is in “Brave New World.” It’s also in, not “Parable of the Sower,” but the second book, the follow up to “Parable of the Sower” that Octavia Butler wrote — that’s one of the things that she builds into that world is rich people who are just living off in their separate universes and ignoring what’s happening around them. So there’s a sci-fi pedigree there. But I was imagining in 2017, 2016, as VR gets crazy good, that is actually going to lead people to just tune out the world around them. And that’s going to be a problem. So it’s sort of the the dystopian upside here is I’m way less worried about that now. I think we’re headed for authoritarianism; I don’t think it’s an authoritarianism that people will just tune out because VR is so good. Because throughout the pandemic, they threw everything at the VR games. And people were like: I can go to VR chat, and talk with people. But all the VR role playing games kind of suck; people are just playing consoles instead. So this breakthrough of VR being so good that we all tune out just hasn’t happened because VR is fucking boring. So at the very least, as we are trying to build social movements that respond to the authoritarianism and that respond to the sheer amount of E-waste and fuel burn that is going into all these architectures, the one sort of minor thing that we have going for us is at least people won’t be quite as distracted by brilliant gaming on VR as I worried they would be because VR is fucking boring.
PM: Yes, they’ll be distracted by TikTok instead.
DK: I understand the appeal of TikTok. I think it’s because I’m in my 40s and have small kids so there’s very little time that I could spend on Tik Tok because I can read Twitter while they’re watching Daniel Tiger. I can’t put my headset in and be like: You can have fun, I’m going to watch videos on my phone. So the appeal of TikTok is very is much smaller for people in my setting. So, I guess that’s the addictive thing. But like by you said before, I totally agree. TikTok is not going to replace Twitter, because there’s a bunch of use cases where you can read stuff quickly on your phone, and get those dopamine hits from getting retweets. And those use cases are actually separate from the ones where you’re going to watch video with sound on. So TikTok is going to keep getting bigger apparently; it’s very addictive, but it’s niche is smaller than all-encompassing one that we used to fear and that is the ambition of Zuckerberg and others.
PM: And that’s a whole other topic of discussion that we could get into there. Dave, I think this has been a fascinating, a sobering, maybe in some cases, a depressing conversation, but a really entertaining one and one that I’m really happy that we had. So I thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show.
DK: This was exactly the blast that I imagined it would be if I got to be on this show. Thanks so much! This is great.