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Opinion: Facebook has killed the word ‘meta’

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Meta is one of those words that keeps on evolving.

It’s been used for centuries as a prefix for terms such as metaphysics, though its use as a standalone adjective is a relatively new sensation that’s trended over the past several years, according to an etymological study by Merriam-Webster.

These days, meta has exploded into popular culture to largely refer to things that are self-referential. The book and movie, “Gone Girl,” for instance, has a scene in which a character describes a bar aptly named The Bar as “very meta.”

Mass appeal tends to be followed by corporate cultural appropriation, as we’ve seen with every “cool” word from time immemorial. “Rad” and even the word “cool” itself come to mind.

Meta is one of those terms where you had to be in the know to get the joke, which made it feel a bit like an exclusive club.

The club is no more, as the word is out.

Still, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes with the latest announcement from Facebook that it changed its umbrella company name to Meta. The parent encompasses Facebook, Instagram and the corporation’s other services.

In Facebook’s case, the term is referring to the “metaverse,” a composite universe melding online, virtual and augmented worlds, upon which the company appears to be banking a large part of its future.

The name change comes during a period of strife for Facebook, which has faced backlash from legislators, consumers and advocates for how its services have adversely impacted children, the democratic process and other important issues.

The timing of the name change is very suspect, as it appears Facebook is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by showing off a new logo and promising a future that heavily incorporates the metaverse.

In this distraction, the result is one of the grossest examples of corporate cultural appropriation witnessed in our time.

Had the word “cool” been a new hot term in recent years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook had renamed itself Cool and promised to focus on the “coolverse.”

Research has shown the damage social media can have on the brain. A 2018 article from Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes is one of many that have explored the concept. In his piece, titled “Dopamine, smartphones & you: A battle for your time,” Haynes indicates Facebook notifications can produce an influx of dopamine in your brain, leaving you wanting more. In that way, he surmises, services like Facebook create a feedback loop where your brain constantly seeks more dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical that has a huge part in motivating us. You can see why that would have negative implications in terms of addiction and other mental health disorders.

To take a sinister point of view, the change of Facebook to Meta makes more sense in this context. Our brains crave the dopamine that’s artificially created by the company’s services, and thus, it’s a part of our very psyche. We begin to need it because the self is validated. That’s pretty meta.

Personally, I have a social media problem. I have wanted to leave Facebook for years, but that dopamine feedback loop is difficult to resist. I want fewer Facebook-induced dopamine hits, not more.

The company is not heading in that direction. Company officials know the power their services have on our brains, and that fact will continue to be exploited.

The metaverse, then, carries a bit of a dystopian flavor that is difficult to choke down.

A composite universe controlled by Facebook? That’s a big no thank you from this social media user.

I believe we’re reached a turning point in the history of the internet, where the battle for our brains will intensify. What will stand out are services that aren’t trying to manipulate, that provide needed social networking in a safer atmosphere.

In the meantime, I’d challenge each social media user to think about how this kind of technology impacts your brain. It’s a bit unsettling to think about, and changes in the way things currently work may be needed soon.

Our brains deserve better.

Springfield Business Journal Digital Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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