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It’s been a few weeks since Zuckerberg’s video broke the internet, but does anyone actually know what the metaverse is? This week Paul and Rich chat with journalist Choire Sicha to figure it out. Will it be a radical new way to live in the future, or did Facebook only need a new story to tell? Together, they predict what digital platforms will look like in 20 years and what such changes will mean for all of us.

Transcript

Rich Ziade We can have you back on, Choire, this was a lot of fun man.

Choire Sicha No! [Rich laughs]

RZ No!

Paul Ford Never again! [music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]

PF Hey Rich.

RZ Paul, it’s good to see you and hear you.

PF It’s good to see you too. So look, we have somebody on the podcast today who is someone we both known and interacted with many times over the years.

RZ Kara Swisher?! [Paul laughs]

PF So anyway, but no, no. Choire Sicha is here with us today. Choire!

RZ Choire, it’s great to see you. It’s great to have you on the Postlight Podcast.

PF Choire is a noted cultural commentator and writer and our head of marketing saw that he was writing about the metaverse and said, does anyone know him? And I had to admit it. And I begged him to come on the podcast. And he said yes. Choire,hi!

CS Rich. Paul. It’s nice to see you guys!

PF Oh my god. How are you doing? How’s your pandemic?

CS Well, you know, it’s mostly been great. Don’t you love when people say, ”Oh, it’s been amazing.”

PF Oh, yeah. you know, just up and down, like anybody.

RZ Lost weight. [Rich laughs]

CS Nothing parents want to hear more than that. Oh, it’s been great. Child-free and loving it!

PF I will say I tend not to be a super jealous person. But child-free pandemic actually kind of gets me in a place where it’s like–I think the way that most people think about billionaires, I think about child-free pandemic. I mean, that must have been nice.

RZ That was a test.

CS To be honest, like, I thought about it every day. I was like, I would wake up basically every day, you know, around 10 or 11–

PF I need to take advantage of what’s happened to me. [Choire laughs]

CS Yeah. And then, like, wow, you know, I’m really glad I chose not to have children. And I feel for my friends who did and I am sorry that you guys had a much more terrible time than us.

PF No, come on now. Because you’ve always been very, very clear that people who have children are probably making a mistake. There is no part of you that–you must have been waking up every day and going, ”There you go. I told you.”

RZ Now you must pay the price! 

CS Someone has to have children. I’m glad y’all are doing it. I personally beg people not to.

PF Do we really need to have children? Because what’s–so they can populate the metaverse? While sea level rises? Like is that what we’re doing?

RZ Alright, so I mean, let me set it up a little bit here. I do think we should talk about the metaverse, we can’t deny the conversation. I’m going to ask you to define it. The tech world is incredibly good at taking a word and making the rest of the world feel left behind. You’re already behind. So let’s catch everyone up. What is the metaverse, Choire?

CS Here’s what they mean when they talk about the metaverse. What they mean is that you will be able to perform currency transactions seamlessly and perhaps sleepily at the drop of a hat in any given environment so that everything is a banking operation or a social media publishing operation in your world. 

PF I’ve really been looking for that. I’m so glad you’re finally doing that.

CS Don’t you want to have a walk in Zell?

PF Just think about all the different transactions we could have had so far in this conversation.

CS You know, other than that it’s just a giant conference where you have no bottom half and you live in a headset.

RZ That’s how you define it? It’s interesting that you’re dividing in a commerce sense. What’s the second part?

CS So I mean, the rest of it is that the marketing talk is that we want to bring people closer together. And so we can seamlessly go visit each other in our virtual mind spaces or something.

PF What people don’t know is I really like your hoodie. And I actually was able to just buy it off of Zoom by clicking on you. It was wonderful.

CS I would happily monetize–like if this podcast were in the metaverse, I would happily wear clothing where people could swipe and buy and the money got a cut, I’d be thrilled.

PF That’s the future of podcasting right there.

CS Sounds kind of shitty, but kind of good. I don’t know?

RZ It’s all one big store?

CS I mean, do you think I’ve been too cynical to think that like the metaverse is Pay Pal?

PF What do you think it is, Richard?

RZ My understanding is that we have to use technology as intermediaries today to connect. I must pick up my phone to connect with Paul. I must open my laptop and have a video call with Choire to connect with Choire. I can message Choire–the ground rules, the protocols between humans today have strong intermediaries, ie our devices and the platforms we use, and that the metaverse is going to make them fall into the background. And so when I want to be with Paul, in his living room tonight, I can just be there. There is no check your phone Paul. I’m just there.

PF I have to talk to my wife. You can’t just come into my living room.

RZ We have to talk about Facebook and I have the question of whether this is all just a sleight of hand because they’re just a shithole, but we’ll get to that in a second. But he said–I’ll use an example he gave–your best friend who now lives in Europe will go to a concert with you in the metaverse and you will be there together.

CS I mean, Rich, I totally see your point–because listen, so during the pandemic every Friday night me and my best friend Zara, we got on Zoom. And then we would start a movie on our separate TVs and our houses together and watch the thing together, which was so stupid. Right, like it’s super dumb. But we did this every Friday night for a year and a half. And now we go to movies in person because I’m ready to get COVID. But this was like a prime example of what the metaverse is for, right? Like human connection to friends consuming a cultural product together.

PF Right, you guys could be wearing your goggles watching that movie, and sort of virtually in the theatre.

CS And I can be dressed as a slutty mermaid.

PF That’s exciting.

RZ Okay. So more of your sensory senses are overtaken such that it feels like–it feels more real. It’s not in a screen, it’s not in your laptop, it’s not a square in Zoom, you’re stepping further and further into sort of hacking reality so that the person is with you and near you. Choire, it’s interesting that you went right to commerce when I asked you to define it.

CS I just think like Facebook is an advertising platform. And I do think that the big pitch they made, which I feel like people haven’t sort of talked about enough is that they made a pitch to people being famous on the Facebook platform, which they’re worried about, that people are famous on TikTok people are famous on YouTube. And people are not famous–and they are famous on Instagram, but they’re not famous on Facebook. And I think that’s kind of the pressure Zuckerberg feels. Certainly it’s the pressure YouTube feels and they’re paying TikTok creators to like post to YouTube. I mean, like, it’s like, it’s mayhem out there. And they’re just desperate for a fame eco-verse. 

PF So the way to solve this is to create virtual spaces and make everyone wear goggle?

CS They keep the demphasizing the goggles. Do you notice that too? Where they’re like ”oh there’s no hardware!” 

RZ Explain that.

CS I don’t know. Paul, you saw this, right?

PF I think there’s a part of them that’s like cool, 3D wizardry. Let’s show a little of that because at least we have something to show. But then really the way they think is big, abstract systems overlapping. The first thing to say, too, if you’re listening to this at home, and you’re, you know, someone who’s like, what do I need to do about the metaverse? Like, none of this is real yet. This is all just like, rich people running their mouths.

RZ It’s a lot of r&d right now. 

PF Here’s the thing that really threw me, Facebook goes out there, and they’re like, we’re gonna do we’re gonna double down on all this, like, augmented reality, everything, you play cards on the space station or buy Rachel’s sweater, but actually from Rachel, who’s standing right in front of you, or just whatever the hell it is. But what they didn’t say, hey, you’re gonna get to go into influencers houses and hang out with them. And they didn’t say like, how about an amazing 3d family get together right from inside of the core Facebook experience, etc, etc. And so what that made me think, there’s like three options. One would be, they don’t really see themselves as a big software platform, they just see themselves as an amalgamation of stuff. Just like we have WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook we’ll have Metaverse over on the side and it doesn’t really matter that those other things exist. Maybe they’ll link up, you’ll be able to log in all four at once. But like that won’t matter. Or is it really that they’ve decided this will be the radical new thing? And the old things don’t matter? Or is it just a play thing and they needed a good story to tell? Because all their other stories are so bad?

CS I mean, the number one thing I keep hearing about this, too, is like there’s just nowhere to look at like tentacle porn.

RZ Porn, historically, it’s sort of unspoken, and there’s not a lot of essays about it. But historically, porn has spearheaded a lot of technical innovation.

PF There’s a lot of essays about it, but it’s not–

RZ I don’t read those Paul, you read those kinds of essays. Okay?

PF I read the essays for the article.

CS Porn brought us video streaming, exactly. 

PF That used to be the case. But now I think social media–social media never had a pornographic application. I think humans connecting and tormenting each other or ruining the entire political apparatus of the world is actually more compelling than pornography. 

CS Ah.

RZ Let me ask–kids are a fascinating lens right?

PF Rough transition, Richard. [Choire & Rich laugh] Jesus Christ.

RZ My kids saw like a telephone on a wall in a movie. And they’re like, what the hell is going on? What is that? It looks like a banana. And they’re talking into it, and it has no screen. And then they see phone booths in movies. And you know, what you end up realizing is, as things change, a lot of the assumptions that we make they they’re not even built in for them. They’re new, right? And so that kid that’s born–15 years from now, kid is born, then they’re seven. And they’re watching someone look at a phone to do something or they’re like, what are you doing? Are they doing that?

CS Yes. 

RZ You think so?

PF I think that’s right.

RZ Oh my goodness. I mean that real?

CS The one thing that kind of blew my mind working with Taylor Lorenz, the tech reporter, she was like put the implant in my skull now, like it’s coming. 

PF She’s good with it.

CS But that sort of made me reassess my relationship to the internet too. I was like, I was like, oh, I have to understand, like, what’s coming and what’s coming is a device free future. And if like we talked about the metaverse, like that’s what Zuckerberg wants to talk about. Maybe just because he hates Apple and, you know, Samsung or whatever.

PF But I buy the glasses, I don’t buy the idea that we’re going to be in a helmet and cut off from reality. But I totally buy augmented reality once things settle down.

CS Implants! Implants! But it in my head!

PF Exactly.

RZ Augmented reality like walking by storefront and there’s just stuff on the glass that’s just–

PF No you’re thinking ads, like of course there’s that. I just sort of like you’re walking around you see your friends been there, messages pop up, you’re able to interact. Think about Google Maps, the Google Maps experience when it’s able to like sort of be passively in front of your face. How great that could be. 

CS Paul misses Foursquare. Aw. 

PF Yeah. I never really used it because I didn’t have that much of a life.

RZ I’ll tell you a funny Google Maps story. My son, who is–this is years ago. Six years old. I showed him Google Maps, I showed him Street View. And I said, we’re going to leave the house and I’ll go down to the corner, and my wife had left the house. And I’m going down the street, and I turn on Fifth Avenue here in Brooklyn, and he goes ”Catch up to Mommy.” He didn’t distinguish that that Google Streetview was not that moment, right then and there. He thought, okay–

PF That’s a funny story. But that can be our shared reality really soon for everyone, not just five year olds. Doesn’t that sound great?

RZ Look, here’s another thought. It’s important that Samsung not lead the way here. Okay, because every time you give them an Android based operating system, they put this glossy layer or like ASUS. If ASUS leads the way it’s important that it not be them. I’m just going to say that out loud.

CS Hard agree. 

PF It’ll just be Apple. If Apple decides it’s real, Facebook can’t make consumer products that bazillions of people want to own and put on their face like it until it’s Apple, I won’t take it seriously. 

CS But isn’t it gonna be just like Facebook wrapped in a Venmo shell with like a coin desk narrative interface? Like I mean, I don’t know–it’s gonna be terrible.

PF Maybe. I mean, it’s, I mean, now you’re sort of hinting at the giant super apps that they have in China that are just like, here’s your whole life. Like, that’s the dream, right? And we haven’t been able to achieve that dream in America, because there’s just too much anti-trust, not enough government. 

RZ It’s actually good you bring up Apple, Paul, nobody is better positioned than Apple to insinuate itself more into your life, because their model is hardware, not ads. And they’re able to take this high minded position around privacy and how like they’ve shut down entire businesses by turning down the ad pipe on your iPhone. They are trusted in a very powerful way that I don’t think anyone else is.

PF We have to assume that Apple glasses exists today. They have to. So Facebook is all in here. Put it on your face. We’re going, get on the bus with me Mark Zuckerberg, why is Apple just watching?

RZ Actually, if you look at Apple’s roadmap over time, I’ll give you an example rotating a video. For the longest time technically, to rotate an image is still image, it wasn’t that technically complicated. Everything did it, you could rotate an image. So if I took a picture of someone the long way, and I needed to rotate it around, I could do it. But rotating a video requires reprocessing the video because it’s more complex, and it’s a moving image. There were countless apps on iOS that did that, effectively, probably, I’m going to go ahead and say millions of dollars in app revenue was going towards apps that just rotated a video. Apple sits and watches. They just watch and watch and watch. And then all of a sudden, it feels two years later. And they’re like, now it is time. And then next thing you know, the same button that was rotating your image rotates the video and that is the end of all of those apps. Right? And Apple consistently does this.

PF It took the finance industry. You know, it’s like the Ray Dalio like, here’s our report on Eastern Europe. And then they move $80 billion the next week, and that’s done now. They’re done with Eastern Europe, onto the next thing.

RZ They hold a premium to the experience, right? Innovation is always a little kluge in the beginning. It’s never smooth, right? And Apple just hangs back and then executes the way they want to execute. That’s a big driver for them. Also, why bother? They make gobs of money.

CS Yeah, exactly. Another company in this realm that Americans love more than Apple is Amazon. Americans love Amazon. And as someone who just had like Whole Foods got delivered to my house today, like I’m sure like, I’m just saying like the real Metaverse is like me sneezing at my like Play Station and groceries coming to my home.

RZ I mean, this is a great point. Because if you’re in the tech world, you think Amazon was being run through the mud, but their approval rating is like over 90%.

PF And you overlap that with journalism. Look, I mean, I have to occasionally take my friends aside and be like you realize that what we believe is like less than 1% of America? The other 99.7% of Americans are like, I love that the box has a smile on it. They just can’t believe how great that is.

RZ Also, it’s I mean to get, you know, a bunch of bananas and a Wi Fi router in the same bag is a special thing in two hours.

PF It’s true. But you also Richard, I’ll say this about you. You love ordering from NewEgg.

RZ Oh, NewEgg is a beautiful thing. That’s a separate topic. If there’s a new egg Metaverse, I’m in the NewEgg metaverse. I will be there. And stay there forever. NewEgg.com is sponsoring this podcast. [Rich laughs]

PF Are there any marketing emails that you just keep getting? Because they help you connect with who you are? [Rich laughs]

CS You know, that’s a really good question.

PF For me Microcenter is a big one, for Rich it’s NewEgg. I love when they’re um, they’re just like drone deals. I’m like, yeah!

CS Yeah, I was getting that way with Best Buy a little bit weirdly, which I don’t know why, but they were literally like, they’re so aggressive. They’re always like, don’t you need a drone and a camera to go with it?

PF They’re out of control. Their checkout experience is like, hey, no, I’m gonna put like 200 batteries in that cart. And you’re like, no, don’t do that. And they’re like yeah, Bluetooth speaker. Best Buy is the thirstiest big box store.

CS They seem panicked, like the emails are actually desperate. I kind of love it. 

RZ I want to ask you both a question. When you wake up in the morning. Do you pick up your phone?

PF Of course I do. Because usually what’s happened is my beloved co founder has suddenly 28 messages by 7:30. [Rich laughs]

CS Is he like that still?

PF Oh god, yeah.

RZ Still? What does that mean?

CS It’s been so many years you two have been at this together!

PF You know me, I would did there. I’d be like, well, I wonder what I do. What will I do today? What are interesting colors? Rich provides the focus that I might not otherwise have, I’d have to find that focus.

RZ That’s a very kind way to frame it, Paul, thank you. 

CS Rich is your payment layer.

RZ I don’t message you that much. And it’s a good point. Choire, I used to message a lot more. We used to be very paranoid state. This was a self funded startup. Now we’re not there anymore. So But do you still pick up the phone in the morning?

CS I mean, to say I pick it up would imply that I’ve put it down while I’m asleep, which is incorrect. [Rich laughs]

RZ Just in your mouth.

CS It’s in my hand. I fall asleep reading my Kindle app. And then sometimes checking Reddit, I wake up and I start looking at things. It’s actually–

PF What are your Reddit faves? 

CS I have a pretty intense Reddit life that’s actually pretty private. But a lot of it’s like video games. There’s some hobbyist stuff on there that I won’t discuss. Not that it’s dirty, it’s just that it’s personal.

PF That’s totally fine. Just like your all your personal nerdy stuff. And your little communities have gone there.

RZ We want this! What I’m getting at here is we’re picking up the phone the minute we wake up, this is what we want. Like we could sit here like old man and say oh, the way I used to do it. I used to go get the newspaper from the newsstand.

PF Zuckerberg is trying to like, you know, Facebook, or whatever the hell it’s called. He’s trying on trying to package this all up into some new framework. And it’s, here’s what’s gonna happen. It’ll happen and they’ll make the 3d graphics will be better. And they’ll they’ll figure out the part where you pick something up in the metaverse and throw it at your and, you know, a virtual dog chases it and all that. And Choire will still be on Reddit 20 years from now.

CS Yes, because you age with your platforms. That’s what we saw with Snap and TikTok, right? 

RZ What is Reddit at that point?

PF Well, Reddit is just Usenet. 

RZ Is it something else? Does it evolve?

PF Users don’t care.

CS No, users don’t care. But I will say like, watching the sort of anti work people try and organize the Black Friday walkout–

PF Rich, have you seen anti-work?

CS They are trying to organize like a general strike like an on Reddit essentially, which is sort of a first and read its long history.

RZ What the hell?

PF Well and Twitter can’t do this actually, as a platform. Facebook could could organize a general strike, but it would basically like be organized by the CIA. 

RZ Wait, what is this? What’s happening here?

PF It’s a mass labor movement on Reddit, and all that that entails.

CS And they have split it off into a general strike group, which is a lot of people planning, making plans, and we’ll see.

RZ Is this kind of satire? Is it a joke?

CS Oh no, this is real.

PF Well, but I mean, it’s it’s satire in the same way that everything is meta and everything is comedy, and everything is satire, but they’re totally serious about the general strike. 

CS Oh, yeah.

RZ The general strike, like all workers?

CS Yeah.

RZ Let me shift gears for a second. Let’s imagine they figure out how to reverse the aging process. And it’s 6:30 in the morning, I just woke up. What’s the first thing I’m doing 20 years from now? 30 years from now? Am I staring up at the ceiling and pointing at a virtual croissant and then it shows up at my door?

CS Are you poor? Are you poor or not because you’re gonna have a really different experience. 

PF Yeah, he’s right.

RZ If you’re poor, you only have iPhone 28. Let’s assume I’m a middle class. I get vacations, I go on vacation. I’m doing fine.

PF Every single platform ideation session assumes there is one platform and one way of communicating in the future. You know, first of all, everything will be smarter. So let’s say you’re going to affiliate yourself with your Kindle, I go to bed with my Kindle, but your Kindle will now have every single thing that your iPhone does. 

RZ It all collapses.

PF On a $2 chip, right? Like the iPhone headphones, the new ones, what are they called? The AirPods?

CS Wow, dad. 

RZ I’m Android ecosystem, thank you. The AirPods have as much power as the first iPhone did in terms of computing power, right? Like they’re just rocket ships.

RZ Yeah, just getting smaller and smaller. 

PF You’re gonna go to the movies, they’re still going to be movie theaters, they’re still going to be big screens on the wall and you’re gonna watch Netflix 20, 30 years from now, right? Like, so all of those experiences will still be there. It’s just that everything that we assume like is very Apple are very, very Android or very like phone aor very Metaverse is going to be kind of disposable interchangeable between all of those platforms. 

RZ That’s all built in?

PF Why wouldn’t it be? It’ll be in your fan your electric fan that you buy at the drugstore because your other one broken, your AC is having trouble, like your infrastructure will be failing, but your ability to get a microchip in anything will be extremely high.

RZ Choire, you’re waking up 30 years from now? What’s happening in your bedroom, in your kitchen in your bathroom? Experientially? Are you just walking around with your phone?

CS No, I won’t have a device but my biggest fear is so the conversation that our friends who work in marketing and brand departments are having is about experiential life display right? So like the only thing that any company is making is for places for people to go and take pictures of themselves. That science is going to evolve frighteningly and ways that I’m not going to personally like. Because people like me are gonna have to go places and like our little drones will follow us around and show us off there constantly. I think that I’m gonna have to wake up and grind.

PF Think about that chocolate please on near Union Square.

RZ The chocolate water fountain.