THE METACURSE

HOW ZUCKERBERG RUINED YOUR FUTURE

I’ve just returned from the Metaverse and it’s really crap. But what should I have expected from Mark Zuckerberg? He and his Silicon Valley cohort of censorious, screen-based lizards have spaffed $30 billion on a silly computer game that they believe is the future of humanity. It’s beyond laughable.

But he’s not alone. Amazon, Adidas, Microsoft, Google, Nike, PepsiCo, Walmart, almost every major corporation is investing billions in digital real estate like it’s the bloody gold rush, egged on by multi national consultants such as Accenture, who have entire departments dedicated to helping brands navigate the Metaverse. Or should I say, charging extortionate fees to categorically prove that the emperor is fully robed.

Only a couple of years ago the Metaverse sounded cool, a kind of digital nirvana: a place where we would escape reality for a couple of hours, be whoever we want to be, and roam freely in a universe free from the dirty, porn-infested internet. I do think this is a major part of its allure: now that the internet is full of rubbish, let’s start afresh with a 3D version! 

As you’ve probably heard, the term Metaverse was invented by Neal Stephenson for his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, to describe a virtual world in which to escape a dystopian Los Angeles plagued by hyperinflation and a killer virus. Prophecy indeed.

But now that your local plumber has a website in effect on the same digital shopping street as the likes of Nike and Louis Vuitton, big brands have pinned their hopes on the Metaverse as a kind of elitist internet, an immersive landscape where they can really show off. Such is their hubris they believe little consumers like you and me are so loyal we’ll happily immerse ourselves forever in their digital indulgences.

But instead of this new world evolving gently, brand by brand perhaps, Zuckerberg has jumped in feet first, changing the name of his company to show he means business and ready to spend $100 billion to convince us it’s the future. (As we’ve all become desensitized to big numbers, here’s some clarity: if you earn $100 dollars a day it would take you over 274 thousand years to save a hundred billion dollars. So you’d better get started.)

He’s spent about $30 billion to date and all he has to show for it is the deeply tragic Horizon Worlds, a Disneyfied, nineties-style computer game inhabited by grinning avatars that talk about kindness and instantly make you want to take a baseball bat to their legs…if they had any. (The avatars are legless because, it turns out, legs are tricky to animate). Throwing thirty billion dollars at the problem clearly wasn’t enough to drag his geniuses away from their meditation pods or personal baristas, though I bet Steve Jobs would have them dancing by now (as well as the avatars).

PEAK SMUG

Centuries from now, when alien archeologists unearth all 250 acres of Menlo Park with its eleven restaurants, games rooms, barbershop, eco-friendly dry cleaner, open air gas fires, on site therapists and fifteen art installations, they will surely roll all six eyes at mankind’s unbounded decadence. The Gehry HQ (MPK21) occupies twenty two acres alone, with a thirteen acre rooftop park for deep contemplation in between emails. Menlo Park is a living monument to the entitled. Peak smug, if you like. But Silicon Valley is at a turning point and must now prepare for decline: Meta’s shares slumped 25% this month and Mark’s ‘Metamates’ (cringe) are braced for a round of swingeing redundancies, specifically within Horizon Worlds. And Zuck is not alone. Both Amazon and Google are tightening their belts, reducing travel costs and restructuring in preparation for the recession while Musk’s first announcement at Twitter warned of massive job losses.

REALITY CHECK

Yes, real reality. Zuckerberg’s vision for the Metaverse is social, not commercial. I mean, what other excuse could there be for such a desperately unattractive avatar? Surely we can be a tad more imaginative in an escapist universe? Personally, I’m thinking more sixty foot, missile laden rhino than ugly Zuckling, but in which case how will the social dimension work? And besides, the whole headset thing makes it the expensive cousin of 3D TV, and we know what happened to that.

It does seem like it’s not thought through. If we’re anonymous in the Metaverse then anyone who’s played Grand Theft Auto knows exactly what follows (yes, you start driving over old ladies). And if we’re not anonymous then it’s likely to become an even more horrific ‘safe space’ where no one dares offend and, consequently, nothing of interest happens. Ever. 

Control versus freedom. You choose.

Truth is, you won’t need to. Zuckerberg’s multi-billion dollar pet project is doomed because, ultimately, everything he touches becomes uncool. Meanwhile, the superbrand led, commercial Metaverse will blossom into a giant digi-mall festooned with bespoke ads and promotions for the latest in rhino sneakers. Some nirvana that’ll be. But perhaps the biggest problem for these progressive brands is the fact that the hideous, floating torso of Mark Zuckerberg will forever haunt the corridors of that mall like a legless, cursed spirit. The Metaverse may well have been permanently Zucked.

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily rants and light hearted banter

  Howard Saunders   Nov 03, 2022   Future, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

DYSTOPIA 2041

It was over Sunday lunch back in the winter of 2022 that we had the heated family argument over all this. Dad was on one of his ‘hell in a handcart rants’ and was convinced the government wanted complete control over every aspect of our lives and we should resist at every turn. What he failed to see was any of the positive side: the health benefits, the increased security and even our own longevity for that matter. No, he certainly wasn’t right about everything.

Take the ApMan system, for example. Yes, it tracks everywhere I go but it also nudges me to take more exercise or even drink more water. It lets me know when the air is safe and even recommends the safest route for a daytime breather. After ‘consumer traffic’ was banned in cities in 2030, carbon monoxide levels have thankfully plummeted, but levels of ozone and PM (particulate matter) can still be dangerously high, so it’s best to stay indoors, even for an amber warning. No need to take unnecessary risks.

Traffic levels are historically low but there are still plenty of autonomous trucks and cabs running around so the PSS (Pedestrian Signal System) keeps us safe. I seriously cannot imagine how treacherous the roads were back in the day when Dad used to drive around in his own car…and without any guidance control! Terrifying.

When occasionally we do venture out on foot it’s so much safer these days, even if you do get fifty quid knocked off your UBI for cutting the corner at a zebra crossing. You soon learn to stick to the allocated routes and zones.

PHOTOGRAPHY: JAN ENKELMANN

ApMan is indispensable, frankly. Obviously you need it to get into a bar, store or a gallery, but now that it’s linked to my personal genome it advises me on what’s best to eat, how much, and at what time of day. Following his advice also gives me a serious discount off my health insurance, so it really is a win win. Over indulge on anything and it will vibrate annoyingly for hours so there’s very little drunkenness anymore, at least not for the tracked and healthy. Pubs are more highly regulated than anywhere, so you’d be crazy to flout ApMan’s advice if you want to stay off the trouble maker list.

Restaurants are pretty strict too as they have to follow so much of the latest legislation, so it’s easier just to order from one of the dark kitchens. There’s so much more choice than in the restaurants anyway, and it’s a hell of a lot safer than mixing with everyone, that’s for sure. Every day there’s news of yet another outbreak in a bar or a brasserie that’s then forced to shut down for disinfection. And it often takes months for full Green Clearance.

I remember the local food markets we had around here until they were eventually banned for being the proven source of countless infections and viruses. No one wants to risk their health like that anymore. I think it was the long, hot summer of 2025 that the Hygiene Squad swooped in to close ours down. Quite an exciting day that was!

PHOTOGRAPHY: JAN ENKELMANN

London is so much cleaner and impressive looking than it was in Dad’s day. All the architecture is tastefully illuminated at night and the roads are so much quieter too, with PSS embedded into the pavements everywhere and distress buttons every few hundred metres or so. The heated underpasses do fill up with the homeless in the evenings, but above ground the city looks better than it’s ever looked, I imagine.

PHOTOGRAPHY: JAN ENKELMANN

I haven’t used the Tube in years but apparently it’s almost exactly as it was fifty years ago, complete with some of the (now protected) posters and ads for fast food and alcoholic drinks. Some E-friends of mine made a Youtube documentary about it not long ago. London’s Underground really is a piece of subterranean living history, shuttling cleaners and sanitary workers beneath the city right around the clock.

Back at home my children are pretty well balanced, all things considered. Their bi-monthly Social Wellness tests put them in the top 20%, even though they both spend most of the day in the Metaverse. They go to concerts there as well as educational classes and lectures in order to boost their home studies, so it isn’t all e-sports and shoot-em-ups. Sam’s actually got a paid job in there, managing some digital entrepreneur’s identity or something on an Ethereum retainer. It’s all a bit beyond me, to be honest.

So you see, what my father couldn’t understand was that giving up a bit of our independence would in return help make us so much safer, healthier and more financially secure than ever before. Dad might not agree but I believe that’s a price well worth paying.

I promise my next blog will be a tad more upbeat. Meanwhile please follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily insights and wry retail based musings.

  Howard Saunders   Nov 15, 2021   advertising, city, discount, face recognition, Future, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

WHY I’M BETTER THAN YOU

I may sound arrogant but since everything turned upside down in early 2020 I’ve learnt so much more about who and what I am, so I’ve decided to be more honest with myself, as well as with those around me. 

Everything has changed, there’s no doubt about that, and lockdowns really made us re-evaluate our priorities. For example, I’m lucky that I can work from home, so I was able to enjoy more time with my family and get to know my local area for once. I enjoyed having stuff delivered to be honest. Some days I had so many deliveries it felt like it was Christmas as I’d forgotten what I’d ordered most of the time. (Good job delivery drivers and supermarket staff can’t work from home though, haha!). I do enjoy my work, but I must say, it’s been nice not having to get up at 6am every morning. There’s no way I’ll go back to doing that every day.

So yes, it’s fair to say I’ve changed considerably and have a much better understanding of what life is really about, and how I compare with others.

Education

It’s not like I went to school wearing a top hat or anything but I like to think I had a decent enough education. My Comp was ok I guess, but I did have a great group of friends and they teach you everything you need to know in terms of how to survive normal life, so I’ve always felt pretty well prepared. To be honest, I find the sort of people who’ve had a so-called ‘proper’ education pretty hopeless when it comes to real life, don’t you think?

Social Media

I use it every day yes, but I don’t post my every waking moment on Facebook or Instagram, that’s for sure.  And I certainly wouldn’t say I’m addicted. I only really use it to keep in touch with old friends, from school and that. Some of them, literally, post every blinking meal and every time they step out the front door, and I hardly ever do that! Oh, and my TikTok videos are just for laughs really, although I do get quite a few likes.

Lifestyle

I’m not fanatical about it but I do try different diets on and off, like cutting down on meat or sugar for a bit. I’m pretty good at sticking to the rules, mostly, but when I go out with my friends, like on a Friday night after work, all that good intention goes out the window, I’m afraid. But I work hard, so I think that’s fair enough. I’m definitely not sedentary all day so I’m reasonably fit I reckon, although I do have a weakness for carbs. I do love my pasta. If pressed I’d say I was an ‘everything in moderation’ type. That’s pretty good isn’t it?

The Pandemic

I’m sick of hearing about it to be honest but it was scary, certainly at the beginning. Last year I used to pass the shopping to Dad on the end of a broom handle for god’s sake! But you can’t go on like that forever can you? I wouldn’t say I was terrified but it certainly was worrying. Still is! I do wear a mask when I have to, because like Tesco says ‘every little helps!’ Some of the rules do seem crazy though, like it’s ok to take it off when you’re sitting in a restaurant but not when you go to the loo. I’m sure those in charge know what they’re doing though, don’t they?

It  was shocking to see those pictures though. The hordes of people on the beaches, at the football and those festivals, none of them wearing a mask! Ridiculous at a time like this. I mean, I enjoy a good time along with the best of them, but I guess some people are just born irresponsible.

The Environment

Yes, it’s very worrying. It’s obvious something has to be done, isn’t it? I mean, something’s changing what with all those fires in Greece and California and everywhere. Seems like there’s extreme weather events happening somewhere every day now. And yes, I accept I might have to pay more tax, if it will help. But frankly, if the super rich just paid their fair share, instead of hiding it away in all these offshore banks, that would be probably solve it, wouldn’t it? I mean, they’re flying all over the place in their private planes and stuff and yet, you wait, it’ll be ordinary, hard working people like me who’ll have to foot the bill. Pay your fair share, that’s all I ask.

All in all I think I do my bit, certainly more than most. I recycle everything possible, and wash everything before it goes in the blue bin, which is more than most people. I use those hessian carrier bags as often as I can and try and buy the most sustainable things at the supermarket. Local produce whenever it’s available, but it’s not always easy. 

Too many people out there openly throw their rubbish on the street like they don’t give a damn. Incredible really, but some people actually leave their old mattresses and fridges up by the heath, believe it or not. It’s completely unacceptable, frankly. Disgusting actually. Something should be done about it.

I love nature and always feel properly recharged when I get out into the country. It’s a very special feeling that’s hard to explain so I can’t really believe what humans are doing to this planet, to be honest. That’s what my tattoo is trying to say I suppose: my emotional connection to Mother Nature, if you like. No, I’m definitely not religious though I would consider myself much more spiritual than I used to be. There’s so much we don’t know about, don’t you think?

Hospitality

When we go out, yes if I’m honest, I want to be treated with respect. I mean I work hard for my money and wherever I decide to spend it, whether it’s in a restaurant or a clothes shop, then I want to be treated like it really matters, not like I’m just another customer. Especially when I’ve been before. They should welcome you back properly and be grateful for your business, don’t you reckon?

The Future

I don’t think things will go back to normal for quite a while yet. When they do I’ll definitely be going on holiday…masked up if I have to! All in all I think I’m pretty lucky. I don’t do the lottery very often but if I did win I’d spend the money wisely, not like most of them you read about. I’m not being funny, but I definitely think I have some hidden talents, as yet untapped haha! Time will tell, I suppose. 

I do like the idea of having children someday, but I don’t think it’s fair to bring kids into this messed up world at the moment, so we probably won’t. You don’t need to be stuck in a traffic jam or travel on the tube at rush hour many times before you realise there’s simply too many of us on this planet, for god’s sake. Some people are still having, like, five kids and it’s not a good look is it? You know what I mean?

Finally

Yes, all things considered I think I am probably better than most people. I don’t mean to sound big headed or anything but I’m probably more hard working, a bit more thoughtful, more balanced perhaps than most people I know. Just being honest.

I am everyman and everywoman. I am your neighbour, your work colleague, the shop assistant you just thanked and even that couple standing at the bar over there. I am a brand new blend of caution and entitlement. I am the masked narcissist, your preening, dancing, digitally distanced TikToker. I am the strange lovechild of Homo-Trepidatious and Homo-Narcissus. I am the vast majority of your customers…and your staff. You’ll be getting to know me very well indeed as I intend to stick around for the rest of this decade at least. Catch you later!

Now that we’ve established that I’m better than you, please follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily insights and musings.

  Howard Saunders   Sep 15, 2021   Future, me age, Retail, shopping, smartphone, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

COVID CULTURE

A few blogs ago I wrote about the rise of the Mini-Tyrants who’ve been popping up at the entrances to our shops and restaurants, threatening us with their clipboards and house rules and generally making us feel like shit as we queue to give them money. But things have moved on. Far from this species being a Covid anomaly I fear, that like everything else, it’s gone viral. Hundreds of thousands of once relatively cheery shop keepers, bar staff and landlords have clearly succumbed, not to Covid the disease, but to Covid Culture, a much more insidious and pervasive virus. Judging by my day to day poll Covid Culture has an R rating of well over 4.

First signs of infection are a Cheshire cat of a grin and an obsequious tilt of the head. “We’re doing the very best we can under the circumstances…Sir.” The Sir (or Madam) is critical here. It’s a language perfected by our wonderful Police Service as a means of being extra patronising but disguised as politeness. 

As the disease develops a warm glow rushes like iodine through the bloodstream when the sufferer senses unease, pain or discomfort in others. The Schadenfreuder Glow, as it’s called, can also be triggered by talk of pain or penance to society as a whole. So lockdowns, for instance, are welcomed as a means of punishing those they believe are having too much fun, consuming too much or just living a bit too much…even though it punishes the sufferer too, of course. These are the people that not only believe the world will end in nine years (or is it eight now?) but they get a fizzy feeling in their waterworks in the knowledge that if it does it will teach us a bloody good lesson.

As I mentioned, the R rate of Covid Culture is pretty hairy. A CC carrier working in a restaurant, shop or pub, for example, will infect most of the staff within a couple of days. You can spot an infected business a mile off. The entrances are plastered with Do’s and Don’ts, warning signed and hazard taped as if the local vicar had just been bludgeoned to death on their bloody doorstep. You may only want a sliced sourdough but there’s a strict protocol to go through before you’re allowed to take that little parcel of goodness away from this crime scene.

Infected stores actually bristle with an electric charge poised to snap at you like an exposed cable should you put a foot wrong or wander too near a fellow browser. It’s retail Jim, but not as we know it.

Interestingly, the data suggests a particular character type is more prone to infection than others. Loosely described as ‘Weterosexuals’ they tend to be those smiley, smug beta males that nod over emphatically when a female is talking. Physically, they display a slight under development in the bones of both jaw and back. Colloquially known as ‘Hancocks’ they have long believed that there are just too many people on the planet and have become evangelical enthusiasts for all forms of restraint and restriction, including lockdowns, licenses, barriers, yellow tape and even boiler removal.

It’s a perfectly understandable view, I suppose. Down here, in the dirty ruts and furrows of planet earth where we are forced to witness the waste, the litter, the crowds and the hordes of pasty-faced sun-seekers burger-ing and lager-ing up at the airport, the gravity of Malthusianism has a mighty strong pull. It’s so easy to believe that other people are the problem, doing and consuming more than their fair share. Catching a glimpse of one’s own reflection helps, if only temporarily. Seems to me we need a lot more reflection these days.

But the good news is that the future will not look upon them kindly. History doesn’t congratulate those that didn’t, those that hindered and hurdled. Homo-Trepidatious may grimace at the thought but the future will be built by Doers not Don’ters: open minded entrepreneurs that take risks to create things we didn’t even know we wanted. Malthusians will be seen as the dead weights they are, the dead weights every generation carries with it. As the world opens up it should be even clearer now who are the ones we want to take into the future with us, and who should be left whinging in the wings. 

Eventually of course, the threat from Covid will abate as we learn to tiptoe gently back into the world unmasked and un-distanced. Sadly, Covid Culture will live on considerably longer despite the fact we already know the cure: courage.

Now please follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily insights and musings.

  Howard Saunders   Jul 01, 2021   Future, Retail, sales, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More