I Was Interviewed by a Business Reporter for The Globe and Mail for an Article About the Metaverse

On March 10th, 2022, I was contacted by Joe Castaldo, a business reporter for The Globe and Mail (which bills itself as “Canada’s National Newspaper”). He was writing up a story about businesses entering the metaverse, and the current metaverse hype cycle, and he asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed.

After checking in with my union representatives at the university, who gave me the all-clear to go ahead, I was interviewed for an hour via telephone. The Globe and Mail had given Joe a Meta Quest 2 wireless VR headset, so a couple of weeks later, I gave him a guided tour of two popular social VR platforms, VRChat and AltspaceVR.

Well, Joe’s article was published in The Globe and Mail today, titled Is the metaverse the future of the internet? A Globe journalist steps inside to find out (if you should hit a paywall, here is an archived version).

I’m not going to reproduce the entire newspaper article here; I was mentioned in the final few paragraphs:

For Ryan Schultz, the widespread interest in the metaverse is a little weird. “My obscure, niche hobby has suddenly gone mainstream,” he told me. A reference librarian with the University of Manitoba, he spends a few hours every week strapped into a headset or exploring desktop-based worlds, and has been blogging about it for years.

Mr. Schultz finds the speculative nature of the digital land rush in some worlds off-putting. “People are investing in this basically as a flex and as a boast to their friends that they can afford these artificially limited items,” he said. Businesses with virtual office space, meanwhile, are likely spending money on a “really fancy three-dimensional brochure.”

He’s seen much of it before. Corporations flocked to Second Life when it took off in the 2000s. Coca-Cola installed soft drink machines, Toyota set up a car dealership, American Apparel built a clothing store, and IBM established an island for employee recruitment and training.

It wasn’t long before the corporate enthusiasm died. “Nobody came to visit these locations, because the people who were already in Second Life didn’t care,” Mr. Schultz said.

He understands the appeal of virtual worlds, though. When he first discovered Second Life, he spent hours there each day. Away from the computer, he has jokingly called himself an “overweight, divorced, gay librarian with diabetes.” At 58, he feels his body growing older, and he’s struggled with depression so bad he’s taken leaves from work. “I kinda suck at this whole reality business,” he wrote on his blog.

In Second Life, Mr. Schultz loved building avatars – angels, supermodels and a Na’vi from, well, Avatar. There was solace in becoming someone else. During the pandemic, he’s met his social needs through virtual reality, and a mental-health app became a lifeline. “I can put on my headset, join a group, and use cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to work through issues and problems, and it’s extremely powerful,” he said. “You feel like you’re really present.”

For those of us who are not already immersed, such moments are likely a long way off. I searched high and low for meaning and connection in the metaverse, but mostly found empty branding experiences, a speculative frenzy around digital assets, and people who were just as curious as I was to find out what this was all about, and were still searching for answers.

But given the relentless enthusiasm of those trying to turn the metaverse into some kind of reality, there will be plenty of chances to try again, for better or worse.

I think that Joe did a good job of describing the metaverse in a way that newspaper readers could easily understand, and there are a couple of videos included in the digital version of the article which made me laugh at certain points, as Joe and his producer Patrick Dell navigated Decentraland and Horizon Worlds!

I also appreciated that the online article linked out to my ever-popular list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds. I’m not really expecting a spike in traffic to my blog (I didn’t get one when I was interviewed by a writer for New Yorker magazine in 2019), but it was an interesting experience, nonetheless.

(By the way, I do receive more and more requests to be interviewed lately, because of my blog. I turn most of them down, but I said yes to this one, because The Globe and Mail is a major Canadian newspaper, and one which I read often.)

The Globe and Mail newspaper interviewed me for an article on the metaverse

P.S. The mental health app mentioned in the quote above is called Help Club; here’s the blogpost which I wrote about this self-help social VR app for mental health.

MANITOBA MEETUP! The Alternate Reality Club, Winnipeg’s XR Meetup, Hosts a Virtual Discussion Panel on the Metaverse in AltspaceVR, on April 28th, 2022

Winnipeg, Manitoba (and no, it’s not this green in April; photo by Mahesh Gupta on Unsplash)

This is a first for me! Usually, when I write about the metaverse on this blog, I write for a global audience. After all, virtual worlds and social VR platforms bring people together regardless of their physical location on the planet Earth!

But this is a local, made-in-Manitoba event, even though it will be held on the social VR platform AltspaceVR due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and therefore open to a broader audience.

Winnipeg’s Alternate Reality Club is a Meetup group with over 630 members, which has been around since 2015, and they describe themselves as follows:

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are entirely new mediums that are transforming many of the ways we currently interact with technology, which will have a massive impact on the world over the next 10-20 years. Let’s get together to discuss ideas, share knowledge and development techniques, foster new collaborations, and increase awareness of what local developers are creating in these amazing new mediums.

On Thursday, April 28th, 2022, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, I will be one of six invited panelists, who will be talking about the metaverse:

Meetup #15 Alternate Reality Club: Winnipeg XR Meetup

METAVERSE?

Curious about the metaverse? We’ve gathered a panel of people to share their thoughts on what the metaverse is, could be, should be, and what that means for all of us. In case it gets complicated, we’ll also do a Q&A! All are welcome.

Moderated by Jonathan Phú Son Lê, Training Manager at New Media Manitoba, the full line-up of panelists consists of:

  • Sheila Harris – Capstone Ridge Group / Transformation Consultant
  • John Luxford – CTO, Flipside XR
  • Daniel Blair – CEO, Bit Space Development Ltd. 
  • Dee King – Co-Founder, ZenFri Inc.
  • Ryan Schultz – Blogger and Librarian, University of Manitoba
  • Mike Himbeault –  Director of Business Solutions, Powerland Computers

As we’re still being a bit cautious about in-person events here in Manitoba, this meetup is being held virtually on AltspaceVR, and is open to all who want to join in virtual reality (Vive, Oculus or Windows Mixed Reality), or through their computers using AltspaceVR’s Desktop Mode. Please visit the AltspaceVR website to download the app and set up your account.  There are separate downloads for Vive, Rift/Quest, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, as well as a 2D/flatscreen desktop version for Mac and Windows.

The Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg, Manitoba—again, NOT in April! We’re still in the tail end of winter up here in the frozen Canadian prairies. (Photo by Mahesh Gupta on Unsplash)

I’m looking forward to making some local connections at this virtual event. See you there!

UPDATE April 29th, 2022: Here’s a picture of the panel from the AltspaceVR event! (I’m second from the left, wearing a blue-and-white sweater).

NEXT: Beyond the Metaverse Virtual Conference—A Free, Daylong Event Hosted by Lethbridge College, February 17th, 2022

Lethbridge College, a Lethbridge, Alberta-based college which was among the first post-secondary institutions in Canada to offer a Virtual and Augmented Reality program, is hosting a free, daylong virtual conference on February 17th, 2022, titled NEXT: Beyond the Metaverse. The event runs from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (in what I assume is Lethbridge time, Mountain Time Zone).

According to a press release issued by Lethbridge College today:

As the reality of an evolving Internet becomes more mainstream, so does interest in the metaverse – a network of spaces where you can create a virtual world parallel to your physical one.

Just as the Internet revolutionized how we communicate, learn, play and do business, spatial computing, by way of the metaverse, is transforming those everyday interactions yet again.

Lethbridge College is bringing together some of the world’s leading voices on this computing revolution for NEXT: Beyond the Metaverse, a free, virtual conference presented by Lethbridge College’s Spatial Technologies Applied Research & Training (START) centre on Feb. 17. Hosted on the AltspaceVR and Classy Live platforms, the conference connects the best virtual and augmented reality experts with industry and individuals alike.

Emceed by Kent Bye, producer of the Voices of VR Podcast, the full-day event features presentations by April Speight, Spatial Computing Technology team leader, Microsoft Cloud Advocacy; Matt Todd, historian for game design, Ubisoft Quebec City; Antonia Forster, senior technical specialist, Unity Technologies; and George Bloom, executive producer Visual Effects, Metaverse and Innovation Lab, CBS Television Studios. Join them as they explore the complex topic of the metaverse, where it’s at, where it’s headed and why it’s important.

You can read more detailed speaker bios and register for this event on this page. It looks to be an interesting virtual conference. See you there!

The 2021 Raindance Immersive Awards Ceremony: A List of All the Winners

I’m a sucker for awards shows (the Oscars are like the gay Super Bowl to me!). So I was in my element as I watched the two-part 2021 Raindance Immersive Awards, which were hosted in the social VR platform VRChat, with audiences also watching the livestream in-world in both AltspaceVR and NeosVR, as well as remotely on YouTube (the videos are below).

The Raindance Film Festival is the largest and most important independent film festival in the U.K., showcasing features, shorts, web series and music videos by filmmakers from the U.K. and around the world to an audience of film executives and buyers, journalists, film fans and filmmakers.

Powered by HTC VIVE’s Viveport and VRChat, this year’s Raindance Immersive (October 27th to November 21, 2021) comprised immersive VR games and experiences competing for jury awards, as well as the Spirit of Raindance Awards, which are selected by the festival team. Raindance is the only film festival in the world to recognize and award VR on such a scale, so this was a major event!

The Raindance Immersive Awards ceremony for 2021 was in two parts. The first part was held yesterday. The cameraman for the event was my friend (and the co-producer of the upcoming second season of the Metaverse Newscast), the talented social VR videographer Carlos Austin.

If you have never visited VRChat, I think that this 1-hour-and-40-minute video is your prefect introduction! You really get a sense of the wonderful variety and diversity of avatars which are available in VRChat, as well as a good look at the Embassy virtual world where the ceremony takes place.

Carlos deftly steers his camera around the avatars milling about and chatting with each other at the very beginning, before the event starts, and it feels as if you were in a cocktail party, overhearing bits and snippets of conversations! I loved it. (If you want to skip right to the awards ceremony proper, it starts at the 27:56 minute mark, and it runs until the 1-hour-and-13 minute mark, followed by an afterparty.)

The awards handed out in Part 1, in order, were (all links go to the description page on the Raindance Immersive website, with a promo video and more information):

The second half of the awards ceremony was today; it was again filmed by Carlos Austin (the awards ceremony proper starts at the 46:50 mark in the video if you want to skip straight to that part):

The awards handed out in Part 2 of the ceremony, in order, were: