While Zuckerberg spent most of the hour-and-a-half long presentation as his regular self on camera, the Facebook co-founder had one brief moment walking around a virtual stage as an avatar that for once, had legs. With face shading and smoother gestures, it was an improvement on the cartoonish version Zuckerberg was mocked for posting in August.
But it also underscored how Zuckerberg’s obsessive and superficial formula for human connection is founded on things like realistic renderings of faces that can raise eyebrows, and duplicating office motifs like sticky notes and white boards in digital form.
It is plausible that Meta’s virtual reality efforts do not demo well and must be experienced for them to make sense. It would be utterly foolish of me to proclaim any of these efforts dead on arrival, and I do not think it is helpful to dump on things I do not understand.
But I am going to do a little bit of that because I watched Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote in full and found myself unconvinced and uncompelled by much of anything I saw. The company triumphantly said that legs were coming to in-world avatars, but it later admitted the appendages shown were motion capture animations. The best moments were in the last moments of the presentation when Meta showed off products that would help people with disabilities. But the company admitted those were still research prototypes, nowhere near finished. Whether these products ever will be released — and whether we should be offloading home health supports to private businesses prone to moving fast and breaking things — is another matter.
This is clearly an area Zuckerberg is passionate about to a truly painful degree. So far, though, the best use case — the best use case — for even the more credulous believers is meetings. I cannot imagine buying dedicated expensive hardware for meetings, but I am probably not in the right market; two-and-a-half years into working from home and I still have not bought a ring light. Regardless, that sounds pretty dull. Are businesses champing at the bit to have staff sit in a virtual board room instead of just on a call? Is this solving a meaningful problem for them?
Zuckerberg preemptively responded to criticisms like these by reminding everyone that this category is just getting started. But that is a bit of misdirection. Oculus, the virtual reality hardware company Meta bought, was founded in 2012; Meta bought it in 2014. On a technical level, Meta can point to plenty of improvements. But it is much more difficult for anyone to point to clarifications in the concept and purpose of virtual reality. Again, I would be an idiot to argue there are none at all, but this week’s keynote would have been a great time for Meta to illustrate something new and enrich the story. So far, it does not have legs.