A plastic carrying-case apparently exploded at Northeastern University’s Boston campus on Tuesday night, injuring one staff member, in what may be a protest against virtual reality – or just a hoax.
Though the US city’s bomb squad and other emergency services and law enforcement responded, the box did not contain a bomb.
According to CBS News, the package – a Pelican hard case used for safely transporting sensitive equipment – “was under pressure” and did not contain “any gunpowder or explosives in it.”
The unidentified contents of the case depressurized – in a non-incendiary way – when the university staff member opened the case at Holmes Hall.
“The staff member sustained minor injuries and is being treated at a local hospital,” Northeastern University said in a statement. “No students were injured.”
While NBC10 Boston has said investigators are exploring the possibility the incident may be a hoax, the news organization also characterized the case as having been deliberately “rigged” to depressurize when opened.
NPR is also reporting that investigators are trying to determine whether or not the incident was staged and that the employee who reported the explosion made all or some it up.
According to CNN, the package “contained a rambling note that criticized Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the relationship between academic institutions and the developers of virtual reality.”
Holmes Hall, where the explosion occurred, is the home of Northeastern University’s Immersive Media Lab and the Northeastern University Virtual Reality (NUVR) student club.
The note has not been released to the public but reports describe it as a manifesto that criticizes virtual reality, artificial intelligence, the metaverse, and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The note, said to rail against academic VR development, reportedly demands the cessation of VR research.
NBC10 Boston said the note, “which contained grammatical issues, misspellings and copious exclamation marks, characterized virtual reality as a government operation.”
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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The internet giant formerly known as Facebook adopted the name Meta last year. Beyond the branding benefit of distancing itself from Facebook’s privacy problems – serious enough to sink its Libra-turned-Diem currency project – it did so to signal its commitment to developing and monetizing the metaverse, a dystopian term culled from the science fiction novel Snowcrash that the company glamorizes as “a set of digital spaces to socialize, learn, play and more.”
Meta aspires to be the gatekeeper, advertising provider, and toll collector for these digital environments, visited via Meta-made headsets and accessories including vibrating gloves. Having detonated $10 billion to develop virtual world tech just last year, Zuck Corp. is unlikely to throw in the towel because of an exclamation-laden threat.
On Wednesday morning, university officials issued a statement reassuring students and staff that the campus is safe and that classes will be held as usual. The investigation into the incident at Northeastern University continues on a local, state, and federal level.
Max Abrahms, an associate professor of political science at Northeastern University and terrorism expert, told NBC News that the incident has some similarities with the Unabomber, who sent 16 bombs to universities, killing three people, between 1978 and 1996.
The US government’s decision to publish the Unabomber’s anti-technology manifesto in 1995 led to the capture of Theodore Kaczynski, after his brother recognized the text style and contacted the FBI. ®