You’ve probably seen the Meta ad. A young teen stretched out on his bed, clutching a football. “I wanna be quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys,” he says. “I wanna carry eighty-thousand fans to victory.” Then, we see the boy again, this time in a stadium wearing a Cowboys-like jersey, throwing a pass. But the kid isn’t wearing a helmet. Instead, he’s donned his Meta Quest 2 Pro headset, a dandy little device that sells for $1,500.
It’s not only the exorbitant price of the virtual-reality apparatus that has me riled, it’s the whole idea of the ad. The kid reminds me of when I was still teaching. I did my best to sit down individually with every one of my students, an effort to tease out what they wanted from life and perhaps formulate a plan to help them get there.
When a kid came to me saying they wanted to be a professional athlete—as many did—I pointed out that there’s a lot of hard work and dedication on that path and no guarantees. Though I know the odds of being an athlete at the pro and Olympic levels are incredibly slim, I never tried to talk anyone out of it, though I always mentioned the need for a plan B, explaining that one awkward step can end an athlete’s career.
“So, you play on our team here at school. What’s your position?” I’d ask.
More times than I care to remember the kid would look at me quizzically and say, “I don’t play on the school team.”
“A club team then?”
“No, I just play in the neighborhood.”
I would then gently point out that if they really wanted to become a pro athlete, they should actually play on an actual team. “That’s the way to learn,” I’d say. “You can’t become a great player without playing.”
And then they’d just stare at me, as if to say no effort should be required to reach their dream.
Now, back to the Meta ad. What is it really saying to young people? Are Mark Zuckerberg and his boys actually insinuating that wearing their high-tech goggles is better preparation for a career in sports than, um, actually playing in real games? That’s the impression the ad gives me. It seems the idea of hanging out in your room, interacting with pretend people is preferable to actually getting involved with a real coach and players. No weight training or sweating required. No learning the intricacies of your position. No need to develop the interpersonal skills involved with being a team member. No putting yourself on the line in front of actual fans. And if that imaginary pass you’re throwing to an imaginary receiver in an imaginary stadium goes awry, no worries. Just restart your imaginary game and give yourself a do over.
Is this really the message we want to send when one in five kids in the U.S. is clinically obese, which amounts to 14.7 million children and adolescents? Add to that the fact that almost 16% of 12-to-17-year-olds suffer from depression, a condition often brought about by isolation and loneliness. Perhaps their little Meta headset might make them feel like they have actual friends, but eventually they’ll learn the reality of virtual reality. There is nothing real about it. They will reside in a fake world and someday, when they need an actual friend, there might be no one to turn to.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe, someday, some kid will play football or baseball or hockey in their pretend universe and then they’ll become pro players. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it. Because it is!
We should not allow children to slip into this world. Video games sucking up all their time are bad enough. The Metaverse will swallow them whole.
I know what some of you are thinking. She’s just an old teacher who doesn’t understand modern technology. These are just games. What’s the harm?
All I can say is take heed, parents. Don’t leave your kids for endless hours in their rooms where they will become increasingly addicted to their fabricated worlds.
I really hope I’m wrong.
Find Anne Montgomery’s novels wherever you buy books.