Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below belong exclusively to the author.
What does a Silicon Valley billionaire have in common with a Russian despot in command of a country waging a ruinous war on his neighbor? Quite a bit, actually.
Just yesterday, the latter had to tacitly acknowledge his failures by mobilizing reservists to hold as many occupied territories as possible to save face in a tragedy that is entirely his.
Give him a few years and we might see Mark Zuckerberg in a very similar situation, trying to find a way out of the trouble his metaverse fantasies are driving his business into.
Lonely on top
People with significant influence in any area tend to disconnect from the surrounding reality, retreating behind the walls of their fame and wealth.
Political leaders, especially those authoritarian types who spend decades in power, gradually forget what real life looks like. They can’t just take a walk, visit a McDonald’s or go to the movies. They don’t shop or take friends for a beer.
Wealthy billionaires enjoy only marginally more freedom, usually tucked away in their villas, hotels, exclusive clubs, bars and restaurants for the elite. Not surprisingly, then, they often become oblivious to the obvious.
Just like Putin, Zuckerberg is sidetracked by his ego, but he can’t even hear the warnings from their ivory towers.
He seems to think himself a social media visionary, but the problem is that he only invented one thing: the Facebook timeline that shows the latest news about your friends and the content that might interest you at a time when MySpace required you to actively visit each page and you profiles.
This was the only innovation – however successful, of course – that Zuckerberg and, by extension, Facebook, have ever produced.
Since then, it has failed to predict the rise of image-centric social media (Instagram), video-centric social media (Snapchat and TikTok), and direct messaging that has replaced traditional SMS messages and even phone calls (WhatsApp ).
There are many shortcomings for a “visionary” in any sector.
Zuckerberg certainly feels more pressure from Facebook’s waning attractiveness among younger, trending demographic groups, suggesting that he and his company are moving with the times and that he is clearly struggling to find an answer. There is a real risk that within a few years the social media giant may be dwarfed by younger startups who have been able to understand users better.
Luck favors the bold – or not?
Clearly feeling the pain of these lessons, Zuckerberg decided to take a leap forward and try to predict what the next social media might look like to disrupt the market and / or redefine human interaction online in the future. He has lost with the images, he has lost with the videos: this time he will not lose! He points to the “metaverse”.
Mark must have thought thoroughly about what the next technological step beyond text, images and video might be. How will people consume content in the future? What nascent technology could one day replace the one we use today? The only answer, in his mind, could be virtual reality (VR).
He decided that he would no longer be beaten, so he delved into the technology first. His bet on the metaverse is so serious, in fact, that he has decided to relegate Facebook to a mere subsidiary of Meta, probably in an attempt to define his company and himself as the dominant force of this future technology.
It did this, I believe, to avoid its previous failures when some garage startups claimed pioneering status, like Instagram or Snapchat. Meta is supposed to be Zuckerberg’s biggest hit and the parent of the metaverse.
With that, Zuckerberg would have been the first somewhere for once (Facebook, after all, was born in a pretty crowded scene already).
However, it seems to me that his ambitions may, once again, resemble the delusions of Vladimir Putin, rather than the most skilled of Silicon Valley visionaries (like Steve Jobs, who – love him or hate him – was truly in able to shake several markets in his life).
The modern Russian Tsar sees himself as the leader of the Slavic, especially Orthodox world, whose mission in life was to write himself in the history books by bringing Ukraine – the birthplace of all Ruthenians – back under the Russian flag and making relive the empire dismembered in 1991.
Those disappointments have now ended in a disaster that the Kremlin resident is desperately trying to find a way out of, hoping to save what’s left of his reputation, having successfully built it over the past 20 years.
The same fate could await Zuckerberg, clearly believing he is the godfather of social media, who has now lost his mind claiming to build the future and, just like the Russian president, has found himself largely ridiculed for having nothing to show for the billions. sunk in the project (while its core business is in trouble).
A few months ago, people were mocked for dropping a few million dollars on a monkey NFT, but it appears that Zuckerberg blew them out of the water, with Meta allegedly spending over $ 10 billion on the metaverse. in 2021 alone and which should have shown for the founder’s metaverse avatar:
Recall that Meta’s VR hardware arm – the only successful part of the business – was not developed internally, but acquired with the purchase of the leading innovator and manufacturer of the time, Oculus, eight Years ago.
Despite spending nearly a decade and 11-figure sums, Meta itself has yet to prove it can turn it into something more (just as it still has to do with WhatAapp and even Instagram, both of which have shown tiny innovations since it was taken over). .
At the same time, the still young billionaire CEO is clearly distracted by this news from running Facebook’s core business, which recently posted disappointing results.
If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging
After the first-ever decline in year-on-year revenue for the quarter ended June, the company’s stock continued its free fall, losing more than 60% from last year’s highs, wiping out not only gains from the pandemic, but pushing the stock below 2017 levels and costing Zuckerberg more than half of his fortune.
His dreams that the metaverse could reverse this course were certainly not helped by the results of Meta’s Reality Labs division, which reported a loss of $ 2.8 billion (yes, just under $ 1 billion a month).
Can’t the metaverse be successful in the end?
You would be forgiven if you think that perhaps all is not lost for Meta and Zuckerberg, and that with enough time and investment, they can make the metaverse work. That’s why I think they can’t.
Most innovation excites people for one reason or another. As Steve Jobs said, people don’t know what they want until you show them. The problem is that Mark Zuckerberg did it and everyone laughed.
Paradoxically, it fails to even understand that social media is so popular because it puts us all more in touch with other people’s real life. We can discuss, share photos, videos and interact with each other through technology.
What Metaverse offers is a replacement of these real life experiences with virtual ones. It’s not connecting people – it’s disconnecting us not only from each other (since instead of seeing each other we’re told we’re touted as avatars), but also from real life (decorating virtual properties, living in virtual places etc.) .
It is the antithesis of all the benefits of social media.
Just like Putin, driven by ego and blinded by delusions of grandeur, Zuckerberg went all-in on something he hadn’t thought about and wasn’t really ready to handle, putting everything else in jeopardy as a result.
And just like the Russian president, Meta’s CEO got cornered. He cannot retreat, admit defeat or, at the very least, admit that his actions may have been premature. He went all out with a very weak hand and his bluff became apparent very quickly.
It’s hard to imagine Zuckerberg reporting the company’s branding to Facebook, just as it’s hard to imagine Russian troops being called home, regardless of painful casualties. The ego of the powerful – whatever their domain – prevails over reason and pushes them to continue on their downward path in the desperate hope that a change is still possible.
Of course, Russia is unlikely to give up control of every inch of Ukrainian occupied land, just as Meta will be able to squeeze some money out of the market share it controls in VR and AR hardware.
Either way, however, that’s not what they set out to achieve and they came at an unbearably high price, keeping them scarred for years and earning the mockery of their leaders instead of the glory they sought, once again proving the old adage. that pride comes before the fall.
Featured image credit: Meta / Tonight with BBC’s Vladimir Putin