Can the Metaverse Thrive If It’s Fully Owned by Facebook?

MC: Lauren, have you ever visited the metaverse?

LG: Yeah, I think so. I think there was this time when I was meeting with a Microsoft executive in a HoloLens 2 headset, and then I had to switch between that in the HP Reverb G2 VR headset, which was connected to some giant high-powered PC. I walked into my kitchen counter and I was like, “I think I just hit the metaverse.” That sound right?

MC: Yeah, that sounds good to me. I’ll take it.

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LG: Yay.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]

MC: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Michael Calore, senior editor at WIRED.

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LG: And I’m Lauren Goode. I’m a senior writer at WIRED.

MC: We are also joined today by WIRED writer Peter Rubin. Hello, Peter. Welcome back to the show.

LG: Hey, Peter.

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Peter Rubin: Hey, guys. It is great to be here again.

MC: Peter, we have you on because, yes, we are talking about the metaverse and we are talking about VR, and you’ve written a book about VR. It’s called Future Presence: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy, and the Limits of Ordinary Life. How did I do? That’s the full title.

PR: You did great. And it’s out in paperback now too, and there are additions of it all over the world. So even if you’re listening to this in Korea or anywhere else, you can get a copy.

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LG: That doesn’t sound very hig- tech. Paperback, what’s that?

PR: I know. There’s audio and there’s an ebook too.

MC: Peter used to be an editor at WIRED, but even though he has moved on from our virtual four walls, he is still a regular contributor to WIRED and a regular guest here on the show, so it’s good to have you, man.

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PR: Oh, man. It’s so great to be back. I was just telling you before we started rolling, I miss our knees bumping together under the table and the too-small studio that we used to use to record this.

MC: And sharing our lung juice.

PR: And sharing, as Lauren put it, our lung juice, which—

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LG: I have to give Alan Henry credit for that from our WIRED team. He’s the one who first said “lung juice” at one point, and now I just cannot get it out of my mind.

PR: Even if that had been coined in 2019, it would have been gross, but now it’s almost too much to take.

MC: Doubly gross. Well, we could be recording this in person, but instead, we are recording it virtually. We’re all in our own spaces right now, which is sort of fitting for today, because we’re talking about virtual reality in the workplace. It sounds really boring, but stay with me here. A few days ago, Facebook showed off a new beta VR experience called Horizon Workrooms. It’s a combination of virtual- and augmented-reality technology that lets you interact with both the real world and a simulated environment at the same time. It sounds cool, but it’s for meetings, so it’s sort of like Ready Player One if Ready Player One took place entirely in an office conference room with PowerPoints and whiteboards. But Facebook’s new VR experience is exciting because it melds the real world with the virtual world in new and interesting ways.

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It’s an idea that hints at new types of human-computer interaction that proponents have dubbed the metaverse. And later on in the show, we’re going to get back to the metaverse and we’re going to talk about exactly what that means, and why there’s so much hype attached to that word. But before we get meta, I think we need to hear all about Facebook’s demo. So, Peter, you jacked into the Zuckerverse. Tell us about it.

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