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How Facebook is pushing staff out of social media as it morphs into Meta

The Instagram engineer had already packed his bags for a December holiday when his boss pulled him into a virtual meeting to talk about job goals for 2022.

Their conversation soon took an unexpected turn. Forget the goals, his boss told him. To succeed at Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, his boss said, he should instead apply to a new position in the burgeoning augmented reality and virtual reality teams. That’s where the company needed people, he said.

The engineer, who had worked at Instagram for more than three years and who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation, was taken aback by essentially having to reapply for a job. He said he hadn’t decided what to do.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of the company formerly known as Facebook, has upended his company ever since he announced in October that he was betting on the so-called metaverse. Under this idea, his company – renamed Meta – would introduce people to shared virtual worlds and experiences across different software and hardware platforms.

Since then, Meta has pursued a sweeping transformation, current and former employees said. It has created thousands of new jobs in the labs that make hardware and software for the metaverse. Managers have urged employees who worked on social networking products to apply for those augmented reality and virtual reality roles. The company has poached metaverse engineers from rivals including Microsoft and Apple. And it has officially rebranded some products, such as its Oculus virtual-reality headsets, with the Meta name.

The moves amount to some of the most drastic changes at the Silicon Valley company since 2012, when Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had to shift its social network away from desktop computers and toward mobile devices. The company restructured, focusing its energy and resources on making mobile-friendly versions of its products. The makeover was hugely successful, leading to years of growth.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is driving the move from social media to the metaverse. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is driving the move from social media to the metaverse. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

But changing the company’s course now is far more challenging. Meta has more than 68,000 employees, more than 14 times its size in 2012. Its market value has risen by more than eight times over that period to $840 billion (€740 billion). Its business is entrenched in online advertising and social networking. And while the shift may give Meta a head start on the internet’s next phase, the metaverse remains a largely theoretical concept – unlike the 2012 move to mobile when smartphones were already widely used.

Internal disruption

The result has been internal disruption, according to nine current and former Meta employees who were not authorized to speak publicly. While some workers were excited about Meta’s pivot, others questioned whether the company was hurtling into a new product without fixing issues such as misinformation and extremism on its social platforms. Workers were expected to adopt a positive attitude toward innovation or leave, one employee said, and some who disagreed with the new mission have departed.

What the metaverse focus means for the company’s existing social networking products such as Facebook and Instagram remains in flux, two employees said. At Facebook and Instagram, some teams have shrunk over the last four months, they said, adding that they expected their budgets for the second half of 2022 to be smaller than in previous years.

A spokesman for Meta, which reports quarterly earnings on Wednesday, said building for the metaverse was not the company’s only priority. He added that there hadn’t been significant job cuts to existing teams because of the new direction.

Adam Draper, a managing director of Boost VC, a venture capital firm that invests in companies focused on “sci-fi technology”, said Meta’s new bet was well-timed.

“There will be entire economies and countries built digitally through VR/Web3, and we are just scratching the surface,” he said, using terms to describe next-generation technologies for building the metaverse. He noted that Meta was in the lead with virtual reality because of products such as its Oculus headsets, adding: “This is the sci-fi future, and Meta made the bold move to make it a reality.”

Facebook’s pivot to the metaverse started in its top ranks. In September, Mike Schroepfer, the long-serving chief technology officer, said he would step down by the end of 2022. In his place, Zuckerberg appointed Andrew Bosworth, known as “Boz”, who has for the past few years led development on products such as the Oculus headsets and Ray Ban Stories smart glasses.

Bosworth’s ascendancy was a sign to insiders that Zuckerberg was taking virtual reality and the metaverse seriously. The two had met at Harvard in an artificial intelligence class, when Zuckerberg was a student and Bosworth was a teacher’s assistant. They kept in touch after Zuckerberg dropped out of the university. Eventually, Bosworth moved to Silicon Valley to work for Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg has since turned to Bosworth for major initiatives. In 2012, Bosworth was given the task of building out Facebook’s mobile advertising products. After management issues at the Oculus virtual reality division, Zuckerberg dispatched Bosworth in August 2017 to take over. The virtual reality business was later rebranded Reality Labs.

Pledged billions

In October, the company said it would create 10,000 metaverse-related jobs in the European Union over the next five years. That same month, Zuckerberg announced he was changing Facebook’s name to Meta and pledged billions of dollars to the effort.

Reality Labs is now at the forefront of the company’s shift to the metaverse, employees said. Workers in products, engineering and research have been encouraged to apply for new roles there, they said, while others have been elevated from their jobs in social networking divisions to lead the same functions with a metaverse emphasis.

Of the more than 3,000 open jobs listed on Meta’s website, more than 24 per cent are for roles in augmented or virtual reality. The jobs are in cities including Seattle, Shanghai and Zurich. One job listing for a “gameplay engineering manager” for Horizon, the company’s free virtual reality game, said the candidate’s responsibilities would include imagining new ways to experience concerts and conventions.

Internal recruitment for the metaverse ramped up late last year, three Meta engineers said, with their managers mentioning job openings on metaverse-related teams in December and January. Others who didn’t get on board with the new mission left. One former employee said he had resigned after feeling that his work on Instagram would no longer be of value to the company; another said they did not think Meta was best placed for creating the metaverse and was searching for a job at a competitor.

Meta also lured away dozens of employees from companies such as Microsoft and Apple, two people with knowledge of the moves said. In particular, Meta hired from those companies’ divisions that worked on augmented reality products, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and Apple’s secretive augmented reality glasses project.

Representatives for Microsoft and Apple declined to comment. Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal previously reported on some of the personnel moves.

Meta’s employees have been asked to contribute to the change in other ways. In November, they were asked to sign up for Project Aria, an effort to gather data for future augmented reality glasses, according to an internal memo that was reviewed by the New York Times.

Employees could “earn points and win swag” by wearing the glasses and gathering data through the device’s cameras and sensors, the memo said. To reduce people’s privacy concerns about being filmed with the glasses, employees were asked to wear a T-shirt identifying themselves as a “research participant” and were told they could not view or listen to the raw data captured by the glasses, according to the memo.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Meta, told employees that the shift to the metaverse would open up endless opportunities. Photograph: Lino Mirgeler/AFP/Getty Images
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Meta, told employees that the shift to the metaverse would open up endless opportunities. Photograph: Lino Mirgeler/AFP/Getty Images

Employees have also been able to sign up to test the Oculus Quest headsets and to use them for meetings in Horizon Workrooms, the company’s virtual reality work-conferencing space.

Wearable tech

Meta is working on other wearable-tech products, including a smartwatch with health and fitness tracking capabilities, said two people with knowledge of the project. The Information, a tech news website, reported earlier on the smartwatch. Ray Ban Stories, the smart glasses that people can use to capture video, are a stepping stone to making more people comfortable with putting smart tech on their bodies, the report said.

In a company-wide meeting days after Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was going all in on the metaverse, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, took questions from employees about the change.

She said she was “excited” about the metaverse’s possibilities and told attendees to imagine the endless opportunities that would be available to people around the world, two employees who listened to the virtual meeting said.

Many employees showed their enthusiasm using heart emojis. But in one private chat for engineers, which was reviewed by the New York Times, one employee wrote: “Who is the elephant in the room who is going to ask how all of it works? Not it.” – This article originally appeared in The New York Times

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Paramount Studio Prevails in Copyright Battle Over ‘Top Gun’ Sequel

Paramount & The Copyright Battle Over ‘Top Gun’ Sequel

The Voice Of EU | Paramount emerges triumphant from the legal showdown triggered by Maverick’s triumphant return to the big screen. A U.S. district judge swiftly shut down a lawsuit brought by the widow of the Israeli scribe who penned the piece inspiring the 1986 blockbuster, Top Gun. The heirs of Ehud Yonay alleged Paramount breached intellectual property rights with the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, which soared to unprecedented heights in 2022, raking in over $1.5 billion worldwide. However, the judge decreed that numerous aspects of the sequel, including its narrative and dialogue, bore no resemblance to Top Gun. The sole shared element? Both narratives orbit the U.S. Air Force pilot training hub.

Judge Percy Anderson’s verdict laid bare that many of the claims raised by the Yonay clan failed to meet copyright criteria. In a 14-page ruling, he affirmed that the sequel’s themes, dialogue, characters, setting, and overall presentation diverged significantly from Yonay’s original article, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Marc Toberoff, the legal maestro representing the Yonay lineage since 2022, swiftly vowed to contest the ruling. The estate had dispatched a cautionary missive to Paramount in May of that year, weeks before the sequel’s release, forewarning of potential copyright infractions due to the family reclaiming story rights in January 2020.

The judge’s decree solidifies that Top Gun: Maverick marches to its own beat, with little homage paid to its predecessor or Yonay’s source material, which meandered through life at Miramar Naval Air Station in a non-linear fashion, honing in on pilots Yogi and Possum. Instead, the latest installment, helmed by Joseph Kosinski, unfurls a linear tale set years later, spotlighting a fresh squadron at North Island Naval Air Station, also in San Diego.

With the lawsuit dismissed, the runway is clear for the trilogy’s third chapter, headlined by the indomitable Tom Cruise. Currently in pre-production at Paramount, the script by Ehren Kruger, architect of the sequel’s success, fuels anticipation. Talks are underway to enlist Kosinski’s directorial prowess once more, though industry pundits speculate production could hit turbulence if Paramount falls under SkyDance’s umbrella. The titans of entertainment are in deep discussions about the fate of Tinseltown’s venerable studio.

Regardless, Ehud Yonay’s legacy won’t grace the credits of the third installment, as Judge Anderson quashes any such notion.


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‘Ripley,’ The Best Treatment Of The Patricia Highsmith Classic That Sheds Light Onto The Cursed Human Condition

‘Ripley,’ The Best Treatment Of The Patricia Highsmith Classic

When faced with another adaptation of Tom Ripley, the character, the very human villain created by Patricia Highsmith, the writer who tried to understand the evil that nests in each one of us, one wonders what was the need for it? I mean, hadn’t Anthony Minghella nailed the idea of such a charming, queer criminal in The Talented Mr. Ripley, a luminously dark film that became an instant classic in the 1990s? You might ask if the present is so lacking in ideas. But let me tell you that it suffices to watch a few minutes of Steven Zaillian’s Netflix miniseries Ripley to think quite the opposite (Zaillian is also the creator of The Night Of). That is, one wonders why hadn’t anyone done this before, how Minghella could have stayed so far away, so much on the surface of the character, really?

The feeling that, from the beginning, Ripley has been much more than an apparently seductive guy, that he actually never was — for Highsmith, he was always a strange guy — who nevertheless managed to make others trust him because, by observing them, he gave them exactly what they wanted, at all times. What they wanted was attention, to feel understood. The sense that through Ripley the world and the human being — everything that someone is capable of doing to get what he wants, and what he wants is not necessarily a good thing, you will see why — can be explained and has been there from the beginning, but it would seem that what we knew about him was that he was a fake, a trickster, a perpetual mask. And why, how did he experience that mask, where did he leave the rest? Well, Zaillian answers all those questions one by one and raises a few more.

And Ripley does so thanks to a hypnotic and fascinating narration that brings back the best film noir, inhabited by a present in which subjectivity reigns. Thus, there is an excellent intention in the use of black and white — and not only because of the classic air it gives, the tribute to noir from high neo-noir — because there is no color in Ripley’s world, everything is governed by Good and Evil, and the nuance is painful because no one in the society of the time (1961) is seeing it. And it is also there in the third person who constantly becomes the first person — that is, the viewer is both outside and inside the character, because what he is seeing is not only what is happening, but how Ripley himself feels what is happening. And how does Zaillian achieve this? With the sublime use of sound and fixed shots, objects and an environment that only seems to stalk the protagonist. The calm before any storm.

Ripley
Andrew Scott in an image from ‘Ripley’. Lorenzo Sisti

The way the crimes are told is the best example of that latent — and immersive — subjectivity that achieves what Highsmith set out to do, time and again, in her novels by telling how darkness, the damned, nestles in each of us: to empathize. They know the story. The writer’s recently divorced mother drinks a full glass of turpentine when she finds out that she is pregnant. And yet little Pat survives. And she grows up to become a writer who wants nothing more than to understand what her mother did. Her mother must have loved her; but she tried to get rid of her: did that make her horrible? It was through villains who were nothing more than ordinary guys with one foot on the edge of the abyss that Highsmith tried to understand her mother. And Ripley, her most perfect, her most polished, creation.

Remember the story. Tom Ripley (here, Norman Bates-like, played by Andrew Scott with a coyly sinister touch) is a small-time con man who lives by intercepting mail that isn’t his and forging identities to collect small sums. He is hired by a shipping magnate to bring his wayward son, Dickie Greenleaf (a magnetic and superb Johnny Flynn) home. Dickie lives in Atrani, a small Italian seaside town, with his girlfriend Marge (played by a cold and suspicious Dakota Fanning), where the two lead a small bohemian life. Ripley and Dickie are supposed to have been friends at some point — Dickie doesn’t remember him — and the attempt to convince him will turn into an impossible impersonation that Ripley painstakingly improvises as he goes along, criminally eliminating one obstacle after another.

Ripley
Dakota Fanning as Marge Sherwood and Johnny Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf in ‘Ripley.’
Courtesy of Netflix

On screen, the subtlety with which Zaillian portrays the fine line that separates Good from Evil — or what we should not have done from what we have done — is drawn by the narrative’s attention to detail and symbols. There’s a narrative beneath the narrative we’re contemplating, which Minghella overlooked; here, they give the character abysmal depth. Those stairs that Ripley climbs, which are at first intricate, labyrinthine, and then cease to be so; they remind us of Sisyphus, in his repeated ascent, the effort, the awareness of the Evil that weighs heavier and heavier. The annoying, insidious clock that marks the race against time that we will never win. The oppressive silence. The silence of death. Ripley is alone with himself when he kills, and the viewer is inside him.

“Tom Ripley is nobody, and so he can be anybody,” Patricia Highsmith herself said of her character. “In that sense, he’s an impostor. He’s someone who gets under someone else’s skin, and so he reflects us a little bit because we’re all a mask in a way,” she added. Yes, Tom Ripley is a mask. He is an animal destined to be someone else, who survives by being someone else, and here each twisted monologue in front of Andrew Scott’s mirror takes another step toward some kind of abyss. Because, as we said, Ripley — and any Highsmith villain — is capable of doing anything to get what he wants, and what he wants is not always, as we also said, a good thing. Not even for him. And here’s the thing that every one of Highsmith’s creations hides: an imperiously savage desire to destroy his world. Zaillian’s miniseries — pure suspense, an intellectually superior suspense, you’ll see — shows that desire better than anyone else.

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Resurgence of Nuclear Threat: Is a New Cold War Evident in Literature, TV Series, and Films?

Is a New Cold War Evident in Literature, TV Series, and Films?

The screen is filled by a scientist who, with eyes like light bulbs in all their electrical splendor, seems to question himself beyond time. He is Robert Oppenheimer, who 48 years after dying of throat cancer — he drank and smoked too much, doctors warned him — has provided the cultural reference point for months. Christopher Nolan, director and screenwriter of the movie Oppenheimer, which won seven Oscars, said in an interview that the American physicist was the most important man of the 20th century because through him, mankind gained the ability to blow up the entire planet.

The spectacular notoriety of his scientific vicissitudes, the political betrayals and the tangled web of Soviet espionage experienced by the New York researcher and his Manhattan Project team has surprised many. After all, it is a film for adults in a time of superhero franchises, a long, dark journey with no possible happy ending and which dissects a deadly serious matter.

One of the keys to its success is perhaps that it links fatally with the present day, when the war between Russia and Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, and the tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan bring back a certain air of the Cold War and its arms escalation. Vladimir Putin has for some time been threatening to unleash a nuclear conflict and just this month United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned of rising geopolitical tensions, saying that humanity cannot survive “a sequel of Oppenheimer.”

Cillian Murphy Oppenheimer
Cillian Murphy (l) as Robert Oppenheimer (r), who is photographed at the New Mexico ranch where the atomic bomb was tested in September 1945. Photo: MELINDA SUE GORDON (AP)

These are shadowy echoes of the past being renewed in the present. “Yes, being very different times, I would say there is a certain revival of the Cold War. The idea of rearmament and the tension of balance, the fear of entering into a direct confrontation, reaching a level of brutal destruction,” reflects Mariano Aguirre, author of Guerra Fría 2.0 (Cold War 2.0). In his book, Aguirre makes note of the great differences between eras — nowadays the struggles between countries are between different types of capitalism, without a trace of socialism or communism and between a fragmentary multilateralism of blocs, more complex than the U.S. vs the USSR equation of yesteryear — but he underlines certain similarities between the period 1947-1991 and the present day. There are processes of escalation and rearmament, the indirect confrontation between superpowers with atomic capability, proxy wars (as in the case of Ukraine), brutal repression of civil liberties in Russia, and a certain air of cultural cancellation in the West if one questions, for example, the expansion of NATO’s area of influence.

Aguirre, an associate member of the London-based Chatham House think tank, also highlights similarities in the growing importance of the art of diplomacy, closed-door negotiations and contacts, hostage exchanges, or the influential role of certain media. Examples of this would be the exchange of the women’s NBA superstar Brittney Griner for a Russian arms dealer, the current situation of The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, accused of espionage and imprisoned for a year in Russia, or the case of the United States leaking to the media that diplomatic sources had already warned Putin’s government about the possibility of attacks in the Russian capital before the massacre at the Crocus City Hall, northwest of Moscow.

Little Boy Bomb
A replica of ‘Little Boy,’ the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945. MPI (Getty Images)

You and the Atom Bomb

It was George Orwell who first spoke of the concept of the Cold War as a radical geopolitical shift, because of the possibility of mutual self-destruction brought about by the development of the atomic bomb. He wrote about the subject in an article published on October 19, 1945, in Tribune magazine. In his essay, You and the Atom Bomb, Orwell warns that living in the shadow of the nuclear threat “is a peace that is no peace,” but a new war landscape he called the Cold War, which now seems to be revived again.

This atmosphere is related in public reports, non-fiction books and novels. In 2023, the Brussels think tank Bruegel warned that we were heading toward a new Cold War between two large blocs led, respectively, by the United States, the hegemonic power, and China, the emerging one. For their part, researchers at the Royal United Services Institute detect that Russia is rekindling some of the methods of the 1970s and 1980s, involving clean agents on long-term espionage missions — so dear to Moscow since the Soviet era — as was the case with the theft of atomic secrets by Klaus Fuchs, a member of the Manhattan Project. And from Spain’s Elcano Royal Institute, analyst Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde warns that the latest moves NATO seems to be planning “take us back to times we mistakenly thought we had overcome, with the only exception being that, if previously we were talking about the European Union, now we are talking about Russia.”

John MacKenzie
Michael Caine (right) in John MacKenzie’s The Fourth Protocol.

Reality and fiction

That old icy air is also being revived in video games, television series and movies. The Call of Duty videogame franchise is enjoying success with Call of Duty; Black Ops Cold War, set in 1981, where two of the game’s characters are Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and the protagonist is an alleged Soviet spy trying to steal U.S. nuclear secrets. On the streaming platforms is the documentary series Turning Point: The Bomb and the Cold War (Netflix, 2024), which across nine episodes narrates how close the world came to a nuclear apocalypse in the 1960s. As for possible fictional apocalypses, Oppenheimer’s 2023 release was joined by Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and is set in the 1950s in the context of nuclear testing in the U.S. desert near the Mexican border.

“On August 6, 1945, in the blink of an eye, the world changed completely. That had a full impact on popular culture and on comics,” reflects cultural analyst Giovanni Pasco, who specializes in the sociopolitical reading of comics. He emphasizes that after 1945 in the United States, highly politicized superhero figures emerged, fully involved in the present war of the atomic bomb and its consequences on the planet: The Fantastic Four were a family exposed to cosmic rays in a rocket when they were racing to beat the communists in the space race; The Incredible Hulk was a scientist accidentally exposed to gamma rays during a test; Spiderman was a boy bitten by a radioactive spider and The Watchmen exemplifies a dystopian fiction that harkens back to the Cold War era, where the world is constantly on the brink of nuclear disaster. And it’s not just about the past or future, but the present: these are all superheroes that to this day are being transmuted into movies or series.

Perhaps the Cold War never quite died down. After the 246,000 civilians killed by the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, after the decades-long psychological confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States led the U.S. Civil Defense Service to broadcast radio and television spots on how to behave in case of a Soviet attack (with the voices and faces of Johnny Cash, Groucho Marx, and Boris Karloff), the fear of the bomb and its geopolitical consequences has resurfaced.

Barbara Moran, an American science writer and author of The Day We Lost the H-bomb (2009), about the nuclear accident in Palomares, Spain, believes that the cultural preoccupation with the bomb is changing over time. Before, in the movies, “maybe there was fear of radiation, mutations, and nuclear destruction,” she says, while now people seem to be more “concerned about human weakness, betrayal, and political consequences.”

Regarding the world’s current political leaders, it so happens that their ties to the Cold War era are very close. “For better or for worse, Joe Biden was trained in those times and knows very well the potential dangers of confrontation between nuclear powers, and Putin was molded as a spy in the final years of the Cold War, in the times of the decline and disappearance of the USSR,” Aguirre notes.

Against all odds, the intrigues between spies and the nuclear threat are once again topical. It is something that seems from another time, from another world. As the secret agent John Preston, played by Michael Caine in the movie The Fourth Protocol (1987) says to the different heads of the secret services, in the face of their conspiracies in the heat of atomic danger: “It’s about time they put you in a fucking museum.”

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