The Metaverse Will Live in Altoona, IA

I am not a connoissseur of local news. Most of the time it’s little more than a mechanism by which people can launder their petty grievances in print, and when it’s not that, it’s a vehicle for delivering paper advertisements for big box stores that inexplicably still exist. Still, sometimes one is in line at the gas station buying a Cheesewich (the ideal food for writing prose and staving off spironolactone sodium deficiency, much to the chagrin of pickle fans) and when one is in such a line, grasping one’s Cheesewich, one sometimes finds oneself staring at the newspaper rack, and one sees something truly dreadful:

Behold, the Metaverse.

If you want to read the story, for some reason, here’s the barely disguised press release the Register ran.  If you, like I, resent the paywall but aren’t motivated enough to get around it, here’s the gist:

“Altoona has been an excellent place for our fourth global data center since we broke ground in 2013,” said Rachel Peterson, vice president of infrastructure for Facebook. “With ready access to renewable wind energy, good infrastructure, a strong talent pool and great community partners, Altoona, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the state of Iowa have continued to deliver on everything we saw when we started building almost 10 years ago. We’re proud to call Altoona home.”

The language here is a bit reminiscent of cryptocurrency enthusiasts who claim their mining operations are ecologically sound, in that it can only be true if one pays no attention to the rest of the system the data center enables – a system in unfathomable amounts of computing power are dedicated, as with cryptocurrency, to essentially unproductive (and sometimes actively harmful) bullshit. Children toil in rare earth mineral mines, vast clouds of poison are dumped into the atmosphere to ship both the minerals and the products made from them, which are then themselves transported to towns like Altoona whose governments are eager to prostrate themselves and starve their budgets in the name of attracting “job creators” like Meta.

In fairness, though, they did put up some windmills.

If this is a reminder of anything, besides the willingness of local governments to accept ever rawer deals from corporations, it’s a reminder that a physical substrate still underpins all of the Web3/Metaverse pipe dreams, and that physical substrate is underpinned itself by human labor. One of the dearest people in my life joked that “they should “just put it in the metaverse.”

My dear, that is the Metaverse, right there in Altoona.

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