Emily Articulated: The Meta-Wordle dichotomy

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

An alert from my news app buzzed, with a headline from The New York Times reading, “Out With the Facebookers. In With the Metamates.” Clicking into the article, while simultaneously chiding myself for allowing push notifications on my phone, I read about an announcement  from Mark Zuckerberg. 

Emily Erickson.

The billionaire Facebook founder released a change to his employees’ monikers — the tradition of nicknaming employees being common across many major tech platforms (i.e., Googlers, Amazonians and Yahoos, to name a few). But with the company transitioning away from Facebook and to Meta, calling its employees “Facebookers” no longer made sense. Hence, “Metamates” were born.

Meta Platforms Inc., or “Meta,” was unveiled in October 2021, a rebrand described as better reflecting the current and future direction of the company — a future less focused on its social platforms (especially as phone apps) and more dedicated to building a future in which our virtual and physical worlds become relatively seamless.

This future virtual space, dubbed the “Metaverse,” will be crafted by developers across tech companies, all creating different facets of our new world. Zuckerberg envisions holograms replacing our physical devices like TVs and computers, and we, ourselves as holograms, attending work meetings, seeing concerts and visiting loved ones without having to physically be there to experience time together.

Zuckerburg further details what our lives would look like when collectively pulled into the Metaverse in his founder’s letter: “You’ll move across experiences on different devices — augmented reality glasses to stay present in the physical world, virtual reality to be fully immersed, and phones and computers to jump in from existing platforms. This isn’t about spending more time on screens; it’s about making the time we already spend better.”

But, as we’re seemingly hurtling toward an increasingly virtually integrated future, wherein we’ll swap our physical bodies and experiences for digital replicas (despite an alarming amount of sci-fi movies playing out the potential dire consequences of such an existence), there’s also the rise of Wordle.

Wordle, a simple online game in which users have six chances to guess a five-letter word, went viral in January this year after its creation in October 2021 (around the same time of Meta’s release). 

Josh Wardle developed the game for his partner, and hosted it on a basic website before its recent acquisition by The New York Times — which, to the media company’s credit, has maintained the game’s simple playing experience and no-frills design.

With six rows of five black boxes, a standard keyboard of white letters, and green and yellow fills used to indicate correct letter use and position, the game couldn’t be a further cry from the fully immersive digital experience touted by Zuckerberg. With only one play allowed per day and without a timer or countdown, its motivation is temporary stimulation to be enjoyed at the user’s own pace. 

“I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” Wardle said in an interview with The Times. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”

Wordle doesn’t accommodate binge-use, isn’t a hub for advertising and isn’t meant to remove a person from the world around them. Yet (or perhaps, because of this), it’s widely used around the world.

This push and pull of Meta and Wordle — of technology propelling us into new paradigms, and of the seeming course correction of simpler digital experiences, is telling. Technology will always be able to afford us greater ease, comfort and methods of entertainment, but as we become more integrated with it, our fundamental humanity is at risk for exploitation, and even alteration — and we can’t help but react to that.

As the parts of our brains and bodies wired for physical experiences are deprived, and as our relationships with others become less tangible, we’ll create opportunities to swing back to simpler ways of living and of restoring physical connection. As we grow closer to a paradigm in which the Metaverse is real, we’ll also romanticize and prioritize basic human experiences as well.

We can’t always stop the train of technology, and, often, it isn’t productive to try. But we can be conscious of the things that make us truly feel good, connected and present, at the same time remaining critical of the things that promise to alter our experience of the world around us. We can be agents in a reality where we accept the gifts of the Metaverse while also demanding the boundaries and basics upon which Wordle was built.

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