Once again this March, the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference (VWBPE for short) will take place in Second Life, running from March 23rd to 25th, 2023. According to the EventBrite description of the conference:
This year, we celebrate Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education’s 16th Annual International Conference on Education in Virtual and Augmented Reality. The main conference takes place March 23-25, 2023, with immersive experiences happening two weeks before and after the main event.
Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a global grassroots community event focusing on education in immersive virtual environments. This open conference is organized by the education community to provide an opportunity to showcase the learning that takes place using virtual and augmented environments. Educators and content creators alike are encouraged to attend, present, and take part in this discussion of collaborative deeper learning and co-presence in virtual worlds and games.
To the best ability possible, VWBPE provides educational and networking opportunities that are relevant to educational curriculum development utilizing virtual environments and “best practices”.
helping to build community through extension of learning best practices to practical application of those ideas and techniques;
providing networking opportunities for educators and the communities that help support education; and
providing access to current innovations, trends, ideas, case studies, and other best practices for educators and the communities that help support education.
Over 1,200 people from 30 countries attended our last conference in March 2022. In just the past several years, over 200 hours of video footage has been captured and has been made available free to the academic community in addition to other video broadcasts, with thousands of views.
Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a meaningful way for presenters to share their research and experience about the rich learning systems in virtual worlds and games. This free online conference is produced entirely by volunteers.
This open conference is organized by the Second Life community to provide an opportunity to showcase the learning that takes place using virtual worlds. Everyone is encouraged to present, attend and take part in this discussion of collaborative deeper learning and co-presence in virtual worlds and games…
Over 2,000 attendees representing 90 countries participate in 150-200 online presentations including theoretical research, application of best practices, virtual world tours, hands-on workshops, discussion panels, machinima presentations, and poster exhibits. You do not have to be a formal academic to participate.
While the VWBPE conference proceedings are apparently published as the Journal of Virtual Studies published by Rockcliffe University Consortium, my Firefox web browser threw up a security warning when I tried to access the journal’s webpage:
Indeed, Rockcliffe University Consortium (a gold-level sponsor of VWBPE, and a primary organizer of the conference) is a “university” which, as far as I am aware, exists only within the virtual world of Second Life, as opposed to an accredited, real-world university. According to their website:
Rockcliffe is a registered non-profit C-Corp in the United States, however we are not a 501(c)3. Structurally, we are organized along the lines of a B-Corp. The organization is made up completely of volunteers. The entire organization is a collection of global SOHO [small office/home office] locations tied together through a common technical infrastructure that serves as a proxy for a brick and mortar location. While the majority of our volunteers are from the United States, Rockcliffe also [has] volunteers based in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
While those who seek the reassurance of academic rigour and scholarly structure might turn up their noses at a self-proclaimed Second Life “university” with a glitchy journal website, I would remind you that the current organization also embraces those virtual world educators and researchers who might otherwise feel excluded from a professional, academic conference. And I can attest that I have attended some truly excellent presentations at previous VWBPE conferences over the past 15 years, such as this 2021 talk by Dr. Marie Vans about social VR.
As for YouTube, I only follow selected channels via the excellent Feedbin app, which I had originally written about here (note that since that was written last October, I decided to unfollow everybody on Twitter completely; I only use Feedbin for newsletters and YouTube channels now). The biggest advantage to this setup (and well worth the subscription cost) is that I am no longer a slave to YouTube’s recommendation algorithm and its incessant, irritating inserted advertising!
Clubhouse lived and died and was deleted from my iPhone over the course of a year (but it was fun while it lasted, and a much-needed outlet during the pandemic lockdown).
Which means, that as of Valentine’s Day 2023, the only corporate-run social media I still used on a daily basis was Reddit. So, why did I finally get rid of that?
It’s a bit of a story. But essentially, something happened this morning that was my wake-up call that I was spending far too much time on Reddit.
Although I had been aware of Reddit for many years, I only bothered to set up an account in 2018. At first, I barely used the service, but I did notice that, as I moved away from Facebook and Twitter, I was spending more and more time on Reddit.
Originally, I had subscribed to all the virtual reality and metaverse-related subreddits (what Reddit calls communities). For a little while last year, I was glued to the daily post on the r/worldnews subreddit about the Russia-Ukraine war. And, of course, Reddit was a place where I followed the latest news about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Over time, I found that I was spending less time on those communities, and more time on what I call the snark subreddits—those communities which have spring up around a public figure (usually a celebrity or an “influencer”), full of sarcastic and often-hilariously-on-point criticism of their posts on Instagram and other social media sites, as well as newsmedia coverage about them.
One of those snark subs was called Hollis Uncensored, and it focused on the once-married (and now divorced) influencer couple of Dave and Rachel Hollis. Rachel had lucked into becoming an Instagram influencer and conference speaker, and had a popular book published, titled Girl, Wash Your Face. Dave, who was a successful executive at Disney, decided to leave corporate life and join the influencer/speaker/writer market with Rachel. They worked together (including advising married couples on their relationships) right up until the shock announcement that they were separating, which of course got some people quite upset that they were marketing themselves as marriage “experts”.
After the split, it wasn’t long before Dave Hollis hooked up with Heidi Lane Powell, a fitness influencer who was divorced from Chris Powell (that couple hosted the reality TV show Extreme Weight Loss for several years). In much the same way as Dave had latched onto his (ex-)wife Rachel’s business as an influencer/speaker, so he became a part of Heidi’s work and personal life as her business partner and her boyfriend. Seeing a pattern here? So did we, and we gloried in snarking about it!
Well, after breaking up and getting back together again several times, recently Dave and Heidi announced that they were separating as a couple (again). During all this, Dave had to abruptly cancel a men’s conference we was trying to sell, when he went for treatment at an addictions centre in California—something which Heidi accidentally let slip during a snapshot of a Zoom meeting posted to her social media, where a particularly sharp-eyed snarker did a reverse image search and matched the furniture and decorations in the room Dave was speaking from, with the treatment facility! There were also several frankly embarrassing attempts by David, coaxed on by Heidi, to participate in things like a triathlon (which he bailed out of) and a bodybuilding competition (where he came in last for his age range).
Needless to say, all this provided ample opportunity for the snarkers in the r/hollisuncensored subreddit! Every evening, before going to bed, I would lie on my sofa with my iPad, catching up on Hollis Uncensored and my other favourite snark subreddits. It was like I was sitting at the mean girls’ table in high school, gossiping and giggling about what so-and-so did to such-and-such!
However, over time, I noticed a disturbing pattern in my Reddit behaviour. Often, I would go back and forth between various subreddits (including my current favourite, the cryptosnark community r/Buttcoin), looking for new items to comment on. I would often stay up past my regular bedtime, restlessly checking for the latest snark, rechecking to see whether my comments had been upvoted. I was becoming addicted.
This morning, while brewing a pot of coffee and getting ready to head off to work, I signed into Hollis Uncensored, to read the shocking news that Dave Hollis had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Variety broke the story last night:
Dave was only 47 years old, and he left behind his ex-wife Rachel and their four children (the youngest of whom is only 5), plus his ex-girlfriend Heidi and her four children (from two previous relationships). It turns out that Dave had had a heart condition, and he had actually been hospitalized recently for it while attending some sort of influencers’ Mastermind summit in California (an event that seemed to bring together all the toxic-positivity grifters).
There has been much anguish expressed today over at r/hollisuncensored, and not a little soul-searching. Most people are still processing, and still in shock. Suddenly, all that snark about Dave’s, Rachel’s, and Heidi’s antics doesn’t seem that funny anymore. Some have suggested that the existing comment threads about Dave be deleted, even the whole subreddit be shut down, while others have pushed back on that idea. One much-upvoted comment in the aftermath of this shocking news reads as follows:
None of us wanted this, it was about holding [those] people, who teach on well-being and health while publicly doing harmful things, to account. It’s very sad. And [it] goes to show why we should take addiction and mental health seriously, from experts, not this self-help grift. Dave was a victim of self-help culture as much as a perpetrator of it. It’s very, very sad. I hope those around him who are also struggling from addiction and other mental health issues take this as a wake-up call that they need to seek professional, evidenced based support, to commit to it privately, [and] not to teach on it [un]til a long time after their own healing. Addiction and anguish are not something you can handle by changing your mindset or moving your body and journaling. This constant whirling around of epiphanies and anguish makes you sicker and further away from being ok. Do not follow self helpers, course creators selling no product, attend[ing] these conferences, masterminds etc.
May his family have comfort.
For me, this was my clear sign from the universe that I was spending far, far too much time on Reddit, and I just decided to delete my Reddit account this morning, cold turkey. (My previous posts and comments will remain up, but without my username attached to them. As I did before I set up a Reddit account, I could still go in and view the communities I used to be a member of, but I can no longer comment or post unless I set up a new account, which I have zero intention of doing.)
So, what have I learned from the past few years, and from today?
I have learned that I have a lamentable tendency to become addicted to social media, particularly in those apps like Facebook and Twitter, where the algorithm is specifically designed to keep you scrolling through your feed (all the better to strip-mine your personal data and sell it to advertisers, my dear!). Even worse, I tend to use social media as an escape from facing the own problems and issues in my own life. It’s time for me to stop discussing and snarking about other people’s problems, and focus on my own!
I now consider it unlikely that I will use any corporate-run social media in future (except in cases like YouTube, where it is effectively filtered via Feedbin to avoid the recommendation algorithm). My experience over the past few years with social media has been an eye-opener, and it will inform my decisions and actions going forward. I used to avidly seek out new social networks to join, dating back to my time on Friendster twenty years ago; now, I tend to run in the other direction!
I originally looked at Mastodon as a replacement app for Twitter, and I had put a lot of my effort into building a social network there over the past ten months. The community there is great; overall, they’re a high-quality bunch of people. However, I have also decided to take a mental health break from Mastodon, too. Even though it was a far better place than the toxic dumpster fire which Twitter has become under Elon Musk, I am seriously starting to question why I feel the need to use any social media at all.
I still have and will continue to run my blog and my Discord server, but I do feel it’s time for me to step back and do a complete and utter reset of how I use social media, going forward. I’m probably going to have to fight through some tough Reddit withdrawal symptoms! But I do think this is the best step forward for me.
Wish me luck!
UPDATE Feb. 15th, 2023: Well, I can confirm that I am definitely struggling with Reddit withdrawal! I did give in to temptation at lunch today at work, and I poked my nose back into Hollis Uncensored today, and somebody had just posted this well-written explanation, which I share in full:
There is a rift in the snark community right now, and it’s important to clear things up. All points are up for discussion, because discussion is the basis of our community. (If you don’t want to read it all, the gist is in the first and last paragraphs)
It is possible to be respectful of someone’s grieving family and friends without sugarcoating their actions. Like all humans, Dave was more than a one-dimensional character.
So here goes:
A person’s death does not negate their bad behavior and the effects of it. Dave had a massive role in the toxic positivity self-help world where one of his harmful acts was pushing vulnerable people to pay for his advice rather than go to a professional (just look at the things he said about his book while berating his followers during pancake-gate). He sold this guru advice while in active addiction and spiraling mental health. He sold a very harmful lie, and addiction was an integral part of that. Addiction and mental health concerns are unavoidable topics of discussion here. He also knowingly sold a couple’s retreat for THOUSANDS of dollars to desperate couple’s while knowing his own marriage was on the rocks, and he had no business giving out advice. There are so many more problematic things, which is why this sub exists.
His children and family are victims in more than one way. During his meltdown, he repeatedly denied his child food (who was too young to make food for herself) for HOURS, while he ignored her, snapped at her, and badmouthed her. He appeared to be under the influence yet again, which is a relevant and important observation because he was responsible for caring for vulnerable children at the time. That is child endangerment. That’s not excessive speculation; that’s a fact based on the definition of the words. Beyond that, he was repeatedly and relentlessly condescending to Rachel and Heidi. Every time he showed his kids on social media, he barely engaged with them and was hyperfocused on how he appeared. He used his kids as content. Personally, I believe that came out of a place of deep discontent and poor self-image, but that does not negate the effect it had on his family. We begged him to pay attention to his kids and engage with them, and we hoped he would. We were rooting for him when he got help for his addiction, and we were worried about his mental and physical health as they appeared to decline lately. I believe he genuinely loved his kids, but someone can love their kids and still do harm.
As I touched on above, the general consensus is that we don’t armchair-diagnose HOWEVER there is a difference between saying someone is XYZ and saying we’re concerned because someone is exhibiting traits of XYZ and is behaving in a harmful way. A good example of this is Heidi’s disordered eating. It is okay to say that (from what we are able to see) she is exercising excessively without taking in enough calories, appears to be increasingly unhealthy, and appears to be engaging in textbook body-checking behaviors. This is an incredibly important observation because she has vulnerable people paying her for workout and eating plans. We are also genuinely worried about her health, just like we worried about Dave. However, as much as we worry about her health, we are more worried about the thousands of vulnerable people she influences. It is not worth sparing the feelings of one person as that cost of so many others.
We held Dave accountable for his actions but also hoped he would get legitimate help and get out of the scamming guru world he was so deeply in. I think most of us still hold that hope for Heidi, too, but she is victimizing others and we shouldn’t stop talking about that. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible for Rachel because she doesn’t exhibit the naivete of Heidi and Dave. Part of the absurdity of the Hollis/Powell crew is that they will rake you for thousands of dollars, selling you on their all-knowingness while having very basic “epiphanies” (a.k.a. things that most of us learned between middle school and college) right in front of your eyes and they don’t see how incongruous that is.
Ultimately, there is an overlap here of traditional snark and genuine accountability and hope. That’s the point. While there is levity in joking about their antics, this isn’t just for fun. There HAS to be levity, because the consequences of their actions are very dark. That being said, there is always the underlying goal here, which is to bring light to their scamming and help prevent them from taking advantage of others. We hope that that includes the perpetrators getting help because we do care about these people, but our priority is in caring for their victims.
The key part is in the last paragraph. There is indeed an overlap in the snarker communities between mean-girl, traditional snark, and the act of holding influencers like this accountable for their words and deeds. Do I feel guilty that I participated in the snark about Dave? Yes, a little. But, at the same time, we snarkers were playing a role in educating ourselves about people who grift and scam, in order to help identify the behaviour in others, and to help those who were (and often, still are) victimized by such “influencers.” It was also an education in the dynamics of parasocial relationships on social media, and at look at those people who choose to live in the public eye, for better or for worse.
UPDATE February 21st, 2023: Public relations consultant Molly McPherson chats about Dave Hollis’ death and its impact on the Hollis Uncensored subreddit with fellow podcaster Emily Rose, in the most recent episode of Molly’s podcast, Indestructible PR with Molly McPherson. You can listen to the 44-minute podcast (which includes a fascinating general discussion about parasocial relationships) on Apple or Spotify, or however you consume your podcast content.
The cause of death for Dave Hollis, author and former executive for Disney, has been confirmed.
Hollis, who died in February at the age of 47, had lethal amounts of cocaine, fentanyl and alcohol in his system when he died, according to an autopsy from the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, which was obtained by PEOPLE.
The motivational author and father of four was unresponsive when authorities arrived at the Hays County home, and he was pronounced dead a short time later, the autopsy says. Hollis’ death has been ruled an accident.
Hollis had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, according to the Medical Examiner, in addition to high blood pressure and depression.
Sad news, but not that surprising. Some of the comments on the r/HollisUncensored subreddit have been scathing:
And he [Dave Hollis] wanted people to pay him to tell them how to live their lives to the fullest. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable. F*cking hypocrites.
And herein lies (IMHO) the entire reason for the existence of this page. Sure, lots of people are struggling in this way, but they aren’t charging people money to attend their own self-help masterminds. He was a fraud and a grifter and it’s a fact now, not just Reddit speculation. Reddit always knows.
Same way he and Rach [Rachel Hollis] made money giving marriage and relationship advice while theirs was falling apart! F*cking frauds!
Oh, and yes, I’m still hanging out on Reddit. Some habits are harder to break than others. 😉 and the Hollis Uncensored subreddit has been the perfect place to process this most recent news and its aftermath.
Weighing only 127 grams, and at the diminutive size of 143 mm long by 52 mm wide, the Bigscreen Beyond goes on presale today for US$999.00, and the first units are expected to ship in the third quarter of this year.
One drawback of this device is its comparatively limited field of view (FOV), 90° by 93°, which many commenters on the r/VirtualReality subreddit community saw as a dealbreaker. However, people need to remember that Bigscreen is primarily a virtual space to gather with friends (from both near and far away) to watch movies together, and the Beyond seems like a logical, lightweight, comfortable headset whose primary purpose is to consume such content. It’s notable that the Beyond headset features a custom-moulded face cushion, and Bigscreen has built the necessary infrastructure in order to create these custom faceplates, on a quick turnaround, for each and every purchaser! (The Beyond also uses magnetically-attached custom lenses for those, like me, who might require vision correction.)
And I wonder if any other social VR platforms are going to follow the lead of Somnium Space and Bigscreen, and branch out into branded virtual reality hardware. It’s an intriguing trend, and it certainly looks like we are going to see some interesting new VR headsets enter a marketplace dominated by Meta, with Valve and Vive fighting over the remainder. 2023 is going to be a fun year!
UPDATE 3:00 p.m.: Of course, the virtual reality hardware YouTubers are all over this announcement, dropping videos they recorded during the pre-release period, while under a press embargo. Here’s a 20-minute review by Adam Savage’s Tested channel, which included a chat with Bigscreen VR’s founder and CEO, Darshan Shankar:
UPDATE Feb. 14th, 2023: I forgot to mention one other interesting fact about the Bigscreen Beyond: you do a scan of your eyes before your device is delivered, not only for the custom-fitting face cushion, but also to set the IPD (interpupillary distance, i.e. the distance between the center of the pupils) for the headset! The IPD is fixed at the factory, and cannot be adjusted after delivery.
So, between the custom face cushion and the fixed IPD, this is not a device which can be shared between friends, coworkers, or family members! It is truly customized to your eyes and your face.
Also, as you might have guessed from the videos, this is not a wireless headset. It’s a PCVR device, which means that it must be connected to a desktop PC with a good graphics card. You’ll also have to shell out for SteamVR accessories such as hand controllers and base stations, if you don’t already have them; the US$999 only gets you the headset!
I will be taking some research days (mostly, successive Mondays) from my regular job as a university librarian to devote to these projects. It will likely take me the rest of this winter and probably well into spring to do this work. Thank you for your patience as I head out to herd cats!