What’s a Meta For? — part one

Douglas Rushkoff
6 min readNov 19, 2022

Big Tech’s Search for the Ultimate Escape Hatch

Photo by James Michael Vallado on Unsplash

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg may one day be remembered less for his social network or his Oculus virtual reality platform than his introduction of the term “meta” into popular awareness. With two parts desperation over a declining subscriber base and one part hope that he could breathe new life into his dying business model, Zuck announced he would be dedicating his time — and the company’s capital — into the supposed next generation of digital life. Facebook became a holding company called Meta.

The notion of going “meta” has been around a long time — at least since the first play-within-a-play in Elizabethan theater. But where meta-theater tends to make audiences more aware of the artifice of the play, Zuckerberg’s Meta is intended to do the opposite: to fully immerse the user in an alternate, digital reality. For in its new incarnation, meta has less to do with dramatic irony than a hunger for transcendence, escape, and dominion that characterizes Silicon Valley titans from Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos to Peter Thiel and Elon Musk. (See my new book, Survival of Richest if you want to laugh at how preposterous yet common this “mindset” has become.)

Embracing a mishmosh of undefined virtual reality and blockchain technologies for the even less defined Web3, Zuckerberg intends Meta to “level up” the internet, and reframe everything we currently think of as digital technology. The same way TV could be thought of as going meta on movies, Netflix could be seen as going meta on TV, or aggregation platforms like Facebook went meta on individual websites, Meta is intended to just go meta on everything. It’s one big map that replaces the many territories. By staking such a claim, Zuckerberg does us all a great favor. He may not be able to build such a thing, but he is revealing the faulty foundations of the Silicon Valley Mindset, which is to transcend whatever problems we may be facing by rising above the real world and escaping to the next one: going meta.

Like salvation to a Christian, enlightenment to a Buddhist, or the IPO to a venture capitalist, “going meta” and operating at least one level above the mere mortals down here on terra firma…

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Douglas Rushkoff

Author of Survival of the Richest, Team Human, Program or Be Programmed, and host of the Team Human podcast http://teamhuman.fm