UPDATED! Editorial: Why I’m Taking a Break from Social Media (and the News Media) Until After the U.S. Election

I’m writing this blogpost lying on my sofa, using the WordPress app on my iPad. It’s been a long, long, long workweek, and I am exhausted. If I am not working, I have been sleeping (and vice versa). And tonight, I have made a decision.

I will be avoiding ALL social media and news media until after the U.S. federal election is over. I have already successfully broken my Facebook addiction, but I am also going to stay off Twitter and Reddit as well. I will be taking an extended break from the news media as well. No more popping into Google News every few hours. And, of course, my TV set is busted, so no TV news, either!

I will instead narrow my focus to those matters that I actually have some control over: my full-time paying job with my university library system, and my blogging. My blogposts are automatically set up to be posted to my Twitter feed, but I’m going to see if I can step away from checking my Twitter feed every few hours (and stay off Reddit, too).

I’ll still be on Discord, of course. And I will still be writing about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse on this blog.  So I’ll still be around. 

I just feel I need to take this break to focus on what’s really important, rather than fret and worry about all the things going on in the outside world that I have absolutely zero control over. It’s time to hit the pause button and look after my own mental health and well-being.

UPDATE Sept. 19th, 2020: After sleeping on it, I had a few more thoughts.

Making a resolution is one thing; keeping it is another. I may find myself falling back into checking the newsfeeds, or I might be able to replace some old, bad habits with new, healthier ones.

All I know is that I feel an urge to make some changes in my life in pursuit of wholeness and healing, and one of them is to spend less time obsessively scrolling through a “doomfeed” of bad news.

And another change is to spend less time hanging out in the echo chamber of social media. I am aware of FOMO: the Fear Of Missing Out on something that’s happening. But sometimes, you just need to take a break, and hit the pause button. That’s what I am going to do (or, at least, attempt to do) over the next two months.

Wish me luck!

Photo by Anisur Rahman on Unsplash

Tivoli Cloud VR: A Quick Update

Yesterday, Andrew William and I paid a visit to Tivoli Cloud VR, the new, open source social VR platform based on the code from the old High Fidelity platform. Caitlyn Meeks and Maki Deprez, the friendly, geeky team who are the heart and soul of Tivoli, kindly gave us a bit of a guided tour, and showed off a few new worlds and a few new features.

We met up at the Squirrel Nut Café, where they hold a Tea Time meetup every Saturday.

Chatting with Caitlyn and Maki in the Squirrel Nut Café

Among the worlds Caitlyn took us to were Nostalgia, a wintertime Bavarian market with gently falling snow, created by Skimi, who brought over many of his models from Second Life:

Our next stop was Madder’s meeting place and art gallery, set in a futuristic cityscape environment (all of which actually runs quite well on a Raspberry Pi processor, with no less than six avatars wandering around!). Caitlyn informed me that all the art I saw on the walls was automatically framed and positioned, instead of each piece being placed by hand, using the scripting abilities of Tivoli.

We wrapped up our brief tour with a visit to a new project that Tivoli is working on with Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: a working lecture hall that boasts a fully-fledged, shareable virtual computer that can be used by the presenter to present slideshows and videos, but also to run other programs such as games!

This virtual computer runs on Linux and is called a Tivoli Shared Desktop, and Caitlyn informs me that they are working on a custom desktop environment, to make it even easier to use from VR as a more general-purpose virtual computer. The Tivoli Shared Desktop and this virtual lecture hall were created for a cognitive science course that is part of the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at SFU, that will be delivered both in-world and via Twitch, which some students will be using to view the lectures and interact with the instructor.

The lecture hall and virtual computer created for Simon Fraser University

Caitlyn and I spoke about the importance of having an open source virtual world which is not controlled by Facebook/Oculus, especially in light of the announcement last week that a Facebook account will now be required for all Oculus VR devices. We discussed the ramifications of such a move, plus the fact that Facebook Horizon avatars would be linked to people’s real-life profiles (and the impact that could have on role play communities, for example).

Caitlyn told me that she saw it as Tivoli’s mission “to protect the future of VR from Facebook”, a sentiment which I support wholeheartedly. (Then she apologized to me if her statement sounded arrogant, which it wasn’t at all! If anything, I think it’s a confident, positive, and bold vision for the future. We need all the non-Facebook VR hardware and software we can get!)

One of their goals is to provide a really high-quality virtual reality experience, and her and Maki have been hard at work revising the original HiFi codebase to that end.

She told me that the Tivoli Cloud VR platform is growing slowly but steadily through word of mouth, and they have had an recent influx of Japanese users. In fact, one day recently they came across one Japanese user in VR who had actually fallen asleep in his headset! (Shades of VRChat! Or, as Caitlyn said, “Achievement unlocked!”)

Oh, and I forgot to mention that all TIvoli automatically users get one free gigabyte of file storage space for their own projects. I plan to move the avatar that I had created using the Virtually You app for the old High Fidelity—the files for which someone kindly saved for me—into my personal storage space. I’m looking forward to replacing the standard-issue, photorealistic Matthew avatar you see in these pictures with one that looks a lot more like me in real life!

I find it extremely cheering that Tivoli Cloud is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the old High Fidelity platform, and I very much look forward to seeing it grow and develop over time. Caitlyn and Maki and their team are already off to a great start!

All pictures in this blogpost courtesy of Andrew William—thanks, Andrew!

The Second Life Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society Opens Today!

Did you know that nearly US$4 million has been raised in Second Life for the American Cancer Society across the many in-world fundraising events, since they first started in 2005? It’s an impressive feat.

The 2020 Relay for Life fundraising event for the American Cancer Society opened today, June 6th, 2020.

This year’s Relay for Life track runs through dozens of specially-built and landscaped sims, decorated by various groups in Second Life! The entire route is lined with luminaria, which you can light in dedication to a loved one with a small donation.

Today, RFL teams are walking, running, or wheeling their way around the track to raise funds in the ongoing fight against cancer. Here’s a list of today’s events, including a list of all the themed laps.

For more information about Relay for Life in Second Life, you can visit their website, check out their wiki, or watch the following video. Strawberry Singh recently interviewed the organizers behind the massive Relay for Life event on her talk show, Lab Gab:

If you’re looking for a starting point, you can teleport to American Cancer Society Island to join the event this weekend!

UPDATED! Black Lives Matter: A Memorial and Educational Exhibit in Second Life Looks at Racism and Fascism

I was one of the librarian volunteers working regular reference desk shifts at Info Island in Second Life* when the Virginia Tech mass shooting happened on April 16th, 2007, when an undergraduate student at the university shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others with two semi-automatic pistols. It remains the deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States, and was also the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history, until it was surpassed nine years later by the Orlando gay nightclub shooting.

Within days, a makeshift memorial was erected next to our reference desk, which was visited by hundreds of avatars, who left flowers and teddy bears, and lit virtual candles. Here is an image I took at the time, with the Info Island reference desk in the foreground, and the memorial wall in the background, with pictures of the 32 people who lost their lives that day.

Standing in front of the Virginia Tech memorial on the first day

After a week, the area next to the reference desk was a literal sea of flowers and candles. I loaded up my angel avatar and flew over the scene:

The owners of Info Island set up cubes (which you can see in this picture at bottom right) so people could sit and meditate. Some people stayed for hours, crying and chatting with each other. It was all incredibly moving, and I learned for the first time that expressions of grief and outrage in virtual worlds are no less powerful than in real life.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life have always been home to memorials and monuments to inform and educate people about episodes of terrorism, crime, and injustice. And so it is with the current Black Lives Matter Movement.

Today, I paid a visit to an art installation and educational exhibit intended to inform, educate, and raise awareness of the racism faced by Black people in America. The imposing Ministry of Truth building from George Orwell’s dystopian science fiction novel 1984 sits opposite a recreation of a Nazi concentration camp.

Inside the concentration camp is an exhibit of paintings done by David Olère, who was a Polish-born French painter and sculptor best known for his explicit drawings and paintings based on his experiences as a Jewish Sonderkommando inmate at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II:

Scattered throughout are paintings by Bansky, and deliberately provocative quotes, sculptures, and images, drawing parallels between humanity’s history of racism and fascism, and speculative fiction such as Orwell’s 1984, with what is happening here and now in Donald Trump’s America:

(Here are sources for the Donald Trump quote on the wall in the picture above: Politico, USA Today, CNN).

The Black Lives Matter memorial is just around the corner from the Ministry of Truth and the concentration camp (here is the exact SLURL of the memorial wall; you will arrive at a common spawn point on the sim, just follow the large white signs with the arrows to locate the spot).

A number of Second Life vendors have donated free items, which you can pick up here at the Black Lives Matter memorial. Here my avatar is wearing a Black Lives Matter hoodie from BUNK and a BLM baseball cap by Snapz:

The hoodies come in four different styles, and fit classic avatars as well as Maitreya Lara, Belleza (Venus – Isis – Freya), Slink (Hourglass – Physique), Adam, Aesthetic, TMP/Classic, Exmachina Davide, Signature Gianni, Belleza Jake, and male Slink mesh bodies. The baseball cap comes in one size, but you can click on it to adjust it to fit any head. There are also shirts by Mossu, Blueberry, and Nerdy Princess to fit a variety of male, female, and children’s mesh avatar bodies, as well as some wall hangings and other items for your home.

At a time when mass demonstrations carry the very real risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus and developing COVID-19, virtual worlds provide a valuable space where we can gather safely and protest against the injustice, police brutality, and racism currently taking place in America and around the world.

UPDATE June 5th, 2020: Linden Lab has just released the following statement via their official blog:

Social Injustice Has No Place in the Physical or Virtual World

Like many of you, we are feeling a combination of horror and outrage over the history of racism against Black lives. What we continue to witness is deeply disturbing and demanding of immediate social change.

The killing of George Floyd seen on video around the world is only one in a long and unacceptable series of violent and racist attacks and discriminatory behavior directed against people of color. 

We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, all victims of systemic oppression and violence, and with Black communities across the U.S., the globe, and the virtual world in condemning racism and any and all actions that promote division.

Our mission at Second Life has always been to help build a better world, and in support of Black Lives Matter, we will be donating $10,000 each to three charities that are active in helping to fight oppression and injustice including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

How can you help? This weekend, you can participate in the Stand for Justice fundraising effort dedicated to raising funds for Black Lives Matter, Black Visions Collective, Campaign Zero, the National Police Accountability Project, and a Split Bail Fund benefiting 38+ bail funds nationwide. We also highly encourage you to sign petitions, text, call, or donate to show your support, acceptance, tolerance, inclusion, and equal opportunity for all.

Now is the time for us to come together as a community and to stand up for what is right, just, and decent. We hope that you will stand with us in our fight for a better world and in recognition that Black Lives Matter today and every day. 

—The Linden Lab Team

*For a short history of the rise and fall of libraries in Second Life, please see this blogpost.