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 A Globe journalist steps inside to find out (if you should hit a paywall, here is an archived version).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).

HOUSEKEEPING NOTICE: Be Careful What You Wish For…Because You Just Might Get it!

Be careful what you wish for
‘Cause you just might get it
You just might get it
You just might get it

—When I Grow Up, by The Pussycat Dolls

Last week, I met with the head of my university library system, and I was asked to draw up a proposal for a virtual reality lab, which will be set up in one of the libraries on our university campus. Within the next month, I have to spec out hardware and software, plus any other supporting equipment, as well as work out staffing and training implications, etc. I’ve also been tasked with building a initial collection of platforms, programs, and apps for use by faculty, staff, and students using those VR headsets for teaching, learning, and research purposes.

*Ryan does the happy librarian dance*

I am reminded of the familiar saying: Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it. I am simultaneously flabbergasted, elated, and panic-stricken (the latter is due to the rather tight deadline to submit a proposal with a budget to my boss!).

What this means is that the RyanSchultz.com blog and the Metaverse Newscast show are going to have to be put on hold, at least temporarily, while I beaver away at my brand new project! I hope to be back within the next month, folks, but right now, I have to put my head down and WORK.

Wish me luck! I am about to get a crash course in dealing with the corporate sales departments of virtual reality hardware and software vendors, as an educational institution! This is going to be a very interesting, and certainly very different, perspective on the business of virtual reality.

Hanai World: A Brief Introduction

A little over a year ago, on March 2nd, 2021, Microsoft held its annual Ignite event on the social VR platform of AltspaceVR (which, of course, is owned by Microsoft).

I wrote at the time:

The Ignite event finale was a showstopper, promoting a still-in-development joint venture with Canada’s Cirque du Soleil called Hanai World, which featured not one, but FOUR people captured in volumetric video gathered around a magical campfire, 360-degree video of dancers and jugglers and other Cirque du Soleil performers, and AltspaceVR spectators (like me!) who were able to wander around and experience the space in 3D:

Well, a year later, and I have some more news to share about Hanai World! They now have a website set up and. much like this video, it is a rather trippy experience, talking about various kinds of eggs:

My heart sank when I scrolled down to page to realize that these eggs are apparently NFTs for sale:

The Genesis NFT of Hanai World provides native and ongoing utility and will grant the NFT holders unique accesses:

1. Be one of the first Hanai World nomads
2. Participate in future phytigal events and creations
3. Participate in NFT educaiton, and AR/VR and phygital experiences
4. Access to unique privileges and experiences

First, whoever coined the term phytigal needs to have some sense slapped into them (this “word” ranks right up there with abominations like metafluencers and metawave). It’s unnecessary, it’s ridiculous, and it’s irritating. STOP IT.

There’s not a whole hell of a lot on the website yet, and the NFTs (whatever they are supposed to be) are not yet for sale. Guy Laliberté, the founder of acclaimed Quebec entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, is prominently quoted as saying:

When I founded Cirque du Soleil, I was creating theatrical experiences based on a traditional stage – the circus. In creating Hanai World, we are offering theatrical experiences based on a contemporary platform – the metaverse. Both these chapters of my life find common roots through my commitment to the values of love, trust and respect. These essential life principles characterize my desire to be a good ancestor as well as my purpose with Hanai World, a phygital adventure, to empower the young creative minds of this world and help them lead the journey of art with heart.

So it would appear to be that Hanai World is going to be some sort of virtual/physical hybrid theatrical venue with some sort of NFT component? Honestly, I cannot make heads nor tails out of the word salad here. How eggs and being a good ancestor come into it, I really have no idea.

And there is that goddamned word phytigal again….kill it with fire! 🔥

This press release from the time of the Microsoft Ignite event last year describes Hanai World as “a new social mixed reality platform built on Microsoft Mesh that aims to connect physical and digital worlds”. The release goes on to say:

Leveraging the power of human connections, Hanai World—the platform which will make the most of Microsoft’s powerful new mixed reality collaboration platform Microsoft Mesh—will create and host a wide range of physical and digital experiences in real venues, in the flesh, and virtually, through mixed reality headsets, thus allowing people from all over the world to participate simultaneously in a collective experience, wherever they are. The first events previews should be available end of 2021.

Well, so much for that deadline… 😉

Oh, and apparently, they’re hiring:

We the curious dreamers, passionate seekers, and outsiders are imagining Hanai World as a poetic metaverse where the playground has yet to be defined.

👥 Want to be part of this journey with us? View our job offers in bio.

🤝 Collaboration opportunities:
– Treasure Hunter/researcher
– Senior art director
– Illustrator/storyboard artist
– Concept artist
– 3D environment artist
– Copywriter/Translator
– Video Game Creative Director

I assume they’ll tell you more about this project if you apply for a job there? The lack of any sort of concrete information about this project is kind of bewildering to me. The fact that they are hiring a whole bunch of people signals to me that they haven’t yet worked out a lot of the details of this whatever-it-is yet, either. And either they already have assembled a team of computer programmers to build Hanai World, or they are nowhere near ready to hire programmers (hence the focus on artists, researchers, copywriters, and other creative/design types in this hiring ad).

Another point: it’s clear that at least some portion of the massive profits from the Cirque de Soleil franchise are going into this little venture! Hanai World appears to be a Canadian-based. bilingual (English/French) company, based on the ad. So if you’re interested, consider applying for a job! The worst that could happen is that they say no.

To learn more about Hanai World, you can visit their website, join their Discord sever, or follow them on social media: Facebook and Instagram (there’s also a Twitter account you can follow, which for some reason they left off their website).