Wise Words | Social Media
Prefixes rarely make headlines, but with Facebook's rebrand, "meta" became a word for 2021. Nathan Dufour explores its ancient origins to find out what it says about our present.
In the wake of Facebook's recent rebranding, we've been hearing a lot about the word meta.
Freed from its usual role in English as a prefix in words like "metaphor", "metastasise" and "metamorphosis", it now stands alone as a proper noun, the new name of a social media monolith with the self-declared purpose of ushering its users into the "metaverse".
Meta’s metaverse will apparently entail augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies, to effectuate an immersive online experience – an "embodied internet", where users are not just scrolling, posting and commenting, but interacting in a fully-realised computer-generated world.
Worlds such as this already exist, with games like Minecraft, Roblox and Second Life, which to varying degrees merit the name of "metaverse", depending on whom you ask and how it’s being defined. Indeed, much ink (or rather, many a pixel) has recently been spilled over precisely this question – what is a metaverse? And is it a good thing?
But let's explore these questions by asking a more fundamental, and lexical one (a meta-question, if you will): what does the expression meta mean, and what does it symbolise? And what does that have to do with Facebook's new name and vision?
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The term metaverse was coined by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, a speculative epic whose action takes place in two parallel worlds – primary, physical "Reality", and the online, virtual "Metaverse" existing alongside it. Reality is dominated by malevolent mega-corporations who have privatised every sector of human life, and the Metaverse is fraught with danger, intrigue and corruption.
The metaverse supposedly spans the physical and digital worlds (Credit: Getty Images)
One may wonder whether this consideration factored into Meta’s rebranding process – that the origin of the concept with which they’ve made themselves synonymous is so distinctly tinged with sci-fi ominousness, and the spectre of worldwide corporatocracy.
But the prefix itself, meta-, was originally an innocent preposition. (Meta is not the first company to appropriate a preposition; I can no longer think of the German über without thinking of taking a ride somewhere.)
It derives from the Greek μετά, which encompasses a wide array of meanings, such as "with", "after", "alongside", "on top of" and "beyond". A metaphor, for instance, is literally an act of carrying (phora) something beyond (meta). In general, meta- can also denote a change of place or state, as in metamorphosis.
One can see how these spatially relational meanings pertain to the recently coined "metaverse" – it refers to a reality existing alongside, upon or beyond the confines of the supposedly primary reality that preexists it, a transcendence of what came before.
But this qualitative aspect of "transcendence" – the connotative aura which makes Meta such a ponderous choice of brand name – did not always attach to the word, and in fact may have glommed onto it only by virtue of an historical accident.
Aristotle lost in thought with his hand on a bust of Homer – perhaps even contemplating a little metaphysics (Credit: Getty Images)
It’s from the Greek philosopher Aristotle that we get the term "metaphysics", the branch of philosophy devoted to the most ultimate categories of existence – things like "substance", "being" or "actuality" – which he examines systematically in the work of that name.
Except, that’s not what Aristotle himselfnamed the work (which may not have been a finished work at all, so much as a hodgepodge of notes and smaller treatises). Rather, the title seems to have arisen simply because in the traditional ordering of his collected works, it was placed after (meta) another work called the Physics.
Hence, the phrase Meta-physica, meant to merely label "the book after the book about nature (the Physica)", came to refer to the whole philosophical department in which one asks the biggest, broadest questions that can possibly be asked.
It now refers to a conceptual layer of something that is beyond or transcendent of the thing itself
Because of the exalted status of metaphysics (both the book and concept) among the concerns of later Western philosophy, the prefix meta- came to be associated with transcending, comprehending and encompassing. And by extension from that, it now refers to a conceptual layer of something that is beyond or transcendent of the thing itself, and is hence denotes self-awareness or self-reflection.
This shows up in academic discourse, when it gets tacked on to the front of various terms and concepts – metalanguage, metaethics, and so on – when theorists of a given discipline theorise about the parameters of the discipline or concept itself.
Relatedly, in colloquial English, meta has become an adjective, which essentially means extremely self-aware, self-reflective, or self-referential– as in the phrase, "that’s so meta". Just as every academic takes a secret delight in the arcane jargon of their discipline’s meta-theory, so does each participant in discourse relish the performance of self-awareness that we call meta – everyone wants to be in on the joke.
Memes, for instance, are especially given to meta-reference – their meaning, and their humour, derive from their creators’ and viewers’ shared awareness of the template’s foregoing iterations. It’s not a funny picture in and of itself, but because of all the uses of that same picture before it, and the self-aware extra layer that the latest caption lays on top ofit. In the age of information, meta-reference is the soul of wit.
It has been the triumph of entertainment franchises to notice that meta-reference and meta-narrative can be commodified. For Meta is not the only company expanding into the metaverse – the same is true for companies like Disney, which owns universes like Star Wars, Marvel and others, into which, as metaverses, they will undoubtedly be inviting their audiences not just as spectators but as participants. (Incidentally, New York Comic Con now offers virtual attendance billed as "Metaverse Membership".)
Characters from Ready Player One, at the launch of the movie (Credit: Getty Images)
This very phenomenon was in fact foretold by another metaverse-themed 2011 novel, Ready Player One, made later into a movie – which returns us to the anxieties implicit there and in Snow Crash. For while the user may participate in the metaverse with apparent freedom, they remain subject to those who control the medium itself – the artists and programmers who create that world, and ultimately the powers behind them. Insofar as the simulators control the simulation, they control those who are simulated.
In a sense, this is not far from what companies like Meta have been doing all along. For in giving us spaces in which to create and promulgate our handles, our pages, our brands, they have been luring us into a kind of simulation – one that is characterised not by unity of experience across users, but fragmentation into the pigeon-holes of experience, the selective streams of information, the personalised and curated narratives, that characterise social media.
Our handles, and the whole apparatus by virtue of which we become @ourselves, rather than being ourselves, represent meta-layers of identity, laid on top of us, and reaching out beyond us. We are beside ourselves.
The opportunity to develop an avatar to represent our (chosen) bodies in virtual space merely makes more literal and vivid a phenomenon that has already been going on – we are already in a metaverse, one in which the storylines run so thick and abundant that unmediated access to the "primary reality" has long since vanished, if indeed it was ever there.
Is the metaverse something that’s meant to work beneficially with our world, and our nature? Or are you asking us to pass beyond this world?
The question for Meta then, and for any other company coaxing us into a manifest metaverse, would be, what sense of the word "meta" do you mean?
Is the metaverse something that’s meant to work beneficially with our world, and our nature? Or are you asking us to pass beyond this world, as though there’s some need to escape what’s already here? Do you mean "with, alongside", or do you mean "beyond"?
This connects to a broader technological (and philosophical) question about whether progress consists in "getting beyond" the square one of primary reality – the "beyond" we chase, urged by the illusion of the inadequacy of the here and now. How do our attitudes to that question inform our relationship with the planet, and our use of the internet?
Viewing meta with an even closer etymological lens, we find that it comes from the Proto-Indo-European root element *me-, the same root that goes into the Old English mið, meaning "with" or "among", which is in turn related to the modern English middle.
This may bring the phenomenology of our virtual experience into even sharper relief. For it seems to be the nature of human experience to be in the middle of things, constantly at the fulcrum point between our physical selves and the possibilities of transcendence that are suggested by our consciousness.
We dwell in the middle space between our inherent limitations and the theoretical limitlessness of our technological extensions. And our technologies – like language, writing, telecommunication and virtual reality – have each in turn constituted a metamorphosis in our collective being.
Poised in this middle space, we must consider what kind of -verse we want the metaverse to be. The word "verse" literally implies a turning (from the Latin vertere, to turn) – and so in a cosmological sense, the Universe is a turning-as-one. It remains to be seen whether our metaverses will be a turning-away from that shared movement, and as such a contortion, or a turning-with, and as such a harmony.
An escape, or a genuine connection? Beyond, or alongside? So much hangs upon the use of a preposition.
*Nathan Dufour Oglesby (aka Nathanology) is a writer, rapper and video artist based in New York City. He holds a PhD in Classics, and is one half of the eco-rap duoNate and Hila. His music can be found onSpotify, and his videos onYouTube,TikTokandInstagram.
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Facebook's new company name Meta is a reference to the Greek term for 'beyond', according to Mark Zuckerberg.What does Facebook becoming Meta mean? ›
In his video introducing the name, Mr Zuckerberg said he liked Meta because it's a Greek word that “symbolizes there's always more to build”. In the Greek, 'meta' meant 'after' or 'beyond'.What is the original meaning of Meta? ›
Marko Ticak. Updated on September 30, 2022 · Grammar. Meta is a word which, like so many other things, we have the ancient Greeks to thank for. When they used it, meta meant “beyond,” “after,” or “behind.” The “beyond” sense of meta still lingers in words like metaphysics or meta-economy.Is Facebook actually called Meta now? ›
Is Facebook Being Rebranded? Facebook the social media platform is not being rebranded. The name change applies to the parent company, which will now be called Meta rather than Facebook, much like when Google reorganized as Alphabet a few years ago.Can I turn off Meta on Facebook? ›
You can remove your Facebook account from a Meta Portal using your Facebook settings. To remove your account remotely: Go to your Facebook settings. Below Your Active Portals, select Remove Yourself next to the Meta Portal you'd like to be removed from.How does Facebook changing to Meta affect me? ›
The new platform brings together apps and technologies under one new company brand. But worry not, if you are a Facebook user this doesn't change anything for you. The same is true for Instagram users and WhatsApp users. The websites and apps they use will continue to retain their old names.Why is everything called meta now? ›
The name was chosen to echo the key product that Zuckerberg hopes Facebook – now Meta – will be represented by: the metaverse, the name for a shared online 3D virtual space that a number of companies are interested in creating as a sort of future version of the internet.Why is it called meta instead of Facebook? ›
The new name reflects the company's growing ambitions beyond social media. Facebook, now known as Meta, has adopted the new moniker, based on the sci-fi term metaverse, to describe its vision for working and playing in a virtual world.What does meta mean in the Bible? ›
“Meta” in Hebrew means “is dead”.What changes are coming to Facebook in 2023? ›
In 2023, Facebook plans to further expand its VR and AR offerings, including new features and applications that will change the way people engage with the platform. As virtual and augmented reality become more prevalent, businesses will need to think about how they can use these technologies to engage with followers.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said AI was helping the company boost traffic to Facebook and Instagram and earn more in ad sales. Meta Platforms Inc.What does Facebook Meta mean in Hebrew? ›
Meta means "dead" in Hebrew (feminine adjective).Is Meta supposed to replace Facebook? ›
Facebook on Thursday announced that it has changed its company name to Meta. The name change was announced at the Facebook Connect augmented and virtual reality conference.Will deleting my Facebook delete my Meta account? ›
Some information, like messages you sent to friends, may still be visible to them after you delete your account. Copies of messages you have sent are stored in your friends' inboxes. If you use your Facebook account to log into Meta Quest, deleting your Facebook account will also delete your Meta Quest information.Do I have to switch from Facebook to Meta? ›
You don't have to link your Facebook and Meta accounts beyond transferring over your data if you don't want. Neither decision is permanent. If you set up your Meta account without Facebook, you can always link your accounts later, and you can unlink them if you do choose to set up with Facebook.Who does Meta sell your data to? ›
Primarily, the information is shared with “partners”. These are the people and organizations that pay for the right to get that data, mostly advertisers. Then there are the “vendors”. These are marketing and research companies that buy and distribute advertising for the partners.Do people trust Meta? ›
Meta has a major trust issue
Almost half of respondents (48%) said they don't trust Meta-owned apps including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The social media company has repeatedly come under fire for continued data breaches and privacy scandals.
The biggest concern with Meta is privacy.Does Zuckerberg still own Meta? ›
Zuckerberg controls 13% of Meta, and the holding makes up the bulk of his wealth.Did Mark Zuckerberg leave Meta? ›
This is false. News website The Leak earlier in the day reported that Zuckerberg was set to resign in 2023, citing an unnamed insider source.
Facebook (FB) changed its corporate name last fall to Meta, part of a strategic shift in focus from social media to a future, immersive — and so far largely theoretical — form of the internet powered by AR and VR technologies called the metaverse.Who owns Meta? ›
Mark Zuckerberg is the founder, chairman and CEO of Meta, which he originally founded as Facebook in 2004. Mark is responsible for setting the overall direction and product strategy for the company. He leads the design of Meta's services and development of its core technology and infrastructure.Why did Facebook suspend my account? ›
Your account is temporarily suspended because your profile doesn't list your authentic name. Facebook is a community where people use their authentic identities. We require everyone to provide their authentic name and birthday so you always know who you're connecting with.What's an example of Meta? ›
pertaining to or noting a story, conversation, character, etc., that consciously references or comments upon its own subject or features, often in the form of parody: A movie about making a movie is just so meta—especially when the actors criticize the acting.What is meta symbol? ›
The Meta symbol
It can resemble an M for “Meta,” and also at times an infinity sign, symbolizing infinite horizons in the metaverse. The Meta symbol was designed to dynamically live in the metaverse — where you can move through it and around it.
Some people have defined meta as an acronym meaning “most effective tactics available”. Metas have shaped the way we look at traditional and contemporary online gaming and have had an insanely large impact on the industry, particularly in esports.What does meta mean in slang? ›
"Meta" is used to describe something self-referential (self-aware). For example, when somebody's making a movie about making a movie - that's meta. Or when you're writing a post on Facebook about being on Facebook, telling a joke about jokes, or reading a story about reading stories.Will Facebook be gone in 5 years? ›
Facebook will lose dominance as a major web company in less than a decade, Eric Jackson, founder of Ironfire Capital said Monday on CNBC's Squawk on the Street. "In five to eight years they are going to disappear in the way that Yahoo has disappeared," Jackson said.What will replace Facebook in the future? ›
- WT. Social. ...
- MeWe. MeWe markets itself as the “next-gen social network” — an app built with the latest social-sharing technology — with privacy built into the design. ...
- Mastodon. ...
- Diaspora. ...
- Minds. ...
- LinkedIn. ...
- Telegram. ...
Facebook doesn't let people track who views their profile. Third-party apps also can't provide this functionality. If you come across an app that claims to offer this ability, please report the app.
ByteDance Ltd., the China-based owner of TikTok, is starting to snare market share in the virtual-reality headset space that Meta Platforms Inc.How does Meta make money? ›
Meta Platforms Inc. sells ads on social media websites and mobile applications and also sells augmented- and virtual-reality products and services. Advertising sales are the primary source of Meta's revenue.What apps are under Meta? ›
Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, owns the top four mobile apps worldwide, withWhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram seeing the most cumulative downloads between Q1 2014 and Q3 2021.What does Meta mean in religion? ›
The term he uses most is “meta-religion,” which he defines as how each empire or nation came up with a basis for organizing and managing multiple religions in a common political community.What does Meta mean God? ›
“Meta” does mean “beyond.” But it doesn't signify there's always more to build. In fact, it signifies boundaries. Confused? Not if you're in a faith tradition built on ancient foundations. They recognize God is Meta, beyond our understanding (Job 36:26).What does Meta mean in the Greek Bible? ›
Meta (from the Greek μετά, meta, meaning "after" or "beyond") is a prefix meaning "more comprehensive" or "transcending".What does meta mean in the Greek Bible? ›
Meta (from the Greek μετά, meta, meaning "after" or "beyond") is a prefix meaning "more comprehensive" or "transcending".What is meta in the Greek Bible? ›
Definition: (1) gen., with, together with, Mt. 16:27; 12:41; 26:55; with, on the same side or party with, in aid of, Mt.What is meta in Greek mythology? ›
In Greek mythology, Meta (Ancient Greek: Μήταν "beyond") was the daughter of Hoples who became the first wife of Aegeus, king of Athens. She bore no child to the king thus he married another woman named Chalciope, daughter of Rhexenor or Chalcodon, who also could not give him an heir to the throne.What was the name of meta before it became meta? ›
Meta Platforms, Inc., doing business as Meta and formerly named Facebook, Inc., and TheFacebook, Inc., is an American multinational technology conglomerate based in Menlo Park, California. The company owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, among other products and services.
“Meta” does mean “beyond.” But it doesn't signify there's always more to build. In fact, it signifies boundaries. Confused? Not if you're in a faith tradition built on ancient foundations. They recognize God is Meta, beyond our understanding (Job 36:26).What is the meaning of Facebook meta in Hebrew? ›
DYING OF LAUGHTER.What does meta mean in religion? ›
Meta means “dead” in Hebrew (feminine adjective).What does meta mean in Hebrews? ›
In Hebrew, *Meta* means *Dead* The Jewish community will ridicule this name for years to come. 11:23 AM · Oct 28, 2021.What does meta verse in Hebrew mean? ›
In Hebrew, Meta means 'dead' so Metaverse stands for a universe of zombies.What is the Latin meaning of meta? ›
The word meta is Greek and means "among, with, after," but we can thank New Latin, the language of scientific nomenclature, for its use prefixing the names of certain disciplines.Who is meta the person? ›
An individual human being about whom information is maintained.What is a meta in philosophy? ›
Meta-philosophy or metaphilosophy (with no hyphen) is the philosophy of philosophy itself. According to the wikipedia article, "its subject matter includes the aims of philosophy, the boundaries of philosophy, and its methods".Why did Mark Zuckerberg change his Meta? ›
For the first time in 17 years, Mark Zuckerberg has a new job title. On Thursday, he officially became the CEO and chairman of Meta, the new parent company name for Facebook. The rebrand is about solidifying the social media giant as being about the metaverse, which Zuckerberg sees as the future of the internet.Who started Meta? ›