This Is How Things Are in the Metaverse.
Mark Zuckerberg has put his company’s future on the immersive, three-dimensional internet that gamers, parents, people who can’t sleep, preteens, and people who want to be comedians are the first people to use.
My two young daughters are crying as I tell my husband I’m going to the metaverse and he’s on his own. At 7 p.m. on a Friday, I locked myself in my home office and put on Meta’s $399 virtual-reality headset, the Quest 2. It’s a big, white visor with lots of cameras, microphones, speakers, eye displays, and sensors.
When I turn it on, the cries of “I want Mama to do bedtime” stop and are replaced by the sounds of a gentle breeze and birds chirping. I’m taken to a house on a mountainside. I turn my head to look at a river in the distance and a golden sky with hot-air balloons floating through it. This beautiful place, which I can change like my desktop background, is a fancy lobby where I choose an app to load.
I could meditate, do cardio boxing, or kill zombies, but I’m here for Horizon Worlds, Meta’s virtual reality-based social network, where at least 300,000 people hang out as cartoon versions of themselves and build virtual mansions, nightclubs, gardens, and theaters, which are called “worlds.”
I chose a world with a comedy club on the fourth floor and a sky full of stars. A man in a gray hoodie comes up to me when I walk in. “Hello,” I say. He just looks back at me, so I float away.
I’m being talked to by another avatar. He has a beard and a man bun, and he wears a collared shirt with the buttons undone so that a lot of his chest is visible. “Kash Hill,” he says as he looks at the white card above my head. “Do you understand French?”
I say, “I don’t speak French.” He gives a shrug and floats off.
A baseball cap-wearing avatar walks up to the mic and takes the stage. “Want to hear a story about my school?” he asks in a young voice that makes it sound like he’s going to tell a story about sixth-grade problems. “I don’t want to hear this,” says a voice to my left, even though I’m the only one in my office.
Vishal Shah, who is in charge of “the spatial co-present version of the internet” that the company that used to be called Facebook has bet its future on, said that Horizon is “Meta’s universe in the metaverse.” Meta has been around for a long time and has done a lot to change how its nearly three billion users interact with each other, share information, and waste time.
Meta is thought to have sold about 15 million headsets that can connect to the metaverse, but people are still skeptical about an immersive internet. Since Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, said last year that he planned to spend billions of dollars to make the metaverse available to everyone, the stock price of the company has gone down.
There are a lot of people who don’t believe in Meta’s plans, but how many of them have been to the metaverse? I decided to give it a try, and for my purposes, I thought of the metaverse as Horizon, Meta’s virtual platform for events, business meetings, and user-built spaces.
My goal was to go at least once at each of the 24 hours of the day and night to learn how Horizon works and to meet the first people to use the metaverse. Over the past few months, I gave up TV, books, and a lot of sleep so I could spend dozens of hours as an animated version of myself that floats and has no legs.