I Am Addicted to Social Media

One of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same thing as other people. So it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common.

Now just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said, “We’re gonna give each person a different customized definition, and we’re gonna be paid by people for that.” So, Wikipedia would be spying on you. Wikipedia would calculate, “What’s the thing I can do to get this person to change a little bit on behalf of some commercial interest?” Right? And then it would change the entry.

Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to, because that’s exactly what’s happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.

—Jaron Lanier, from the documentary The Social Dilemma

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is not the blogpost I originally started writing.

The first draft of my blogpost is quoted below:

As I lie on the sofa in my darkened apartment, listening to an LGBTQ “Queeraoke” room in Clubhouse (and wondering if I have the audacity to inflict my pitchy tenor voice on the assembly), it occurs to me that my relationship with social media has evolved significantly since I started this blog, a little over four years ago.

I don’t kid myself; my divorce from Facebook (not so much a single event as a series of steps), led not to a reduction in my use of social media, but an overall increase, something about which I have strong mixed feelings about. (It would appear that I am not alone in this: I have noticed a significant uptick in recent views of a blogpost I wrote about Jaron Lanier’s 10 reasons to quit social media, according to my WordPress blog statistics.)

Spending so much of my time in social isolation since the pandemic started 20 months ago, I find myself spending varying amounts of time every day on five wildly disparate social media platforms: Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Discord, and (the newcomer) Clubhouse. I tell myself that it helps me stay connected to other people, but I also

And then, like so many other blogposts I write, I set it aside, literally mid-sentence, to complete on another day, when the muse struck.

Well, today is another day.

And it is a day that I started watching a one-and-a-half hour documentary on Netflix, which is also available to watch for free on YouTube: The Social Dilemma. And, as it happens, Jaron Lanier also appears in this particular documentary—along with two dozen other experts, many of them executives who formerly held high-ranking positions at social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I full well realize the irony in asking you to watch a YouTube video on social media addiction (given the platform’s at-times-scarily accurate recommendation engine, algorithmically designed to keep you viewing long past your bedtime), but I would urge you to set aside 93 minutes and 42 seconds of your time, and watch this documentary. It is eye-opening, it is disturbing, and it is a wake-up call.

One shocking thing I learned from this documentary is that even the people who designed, created, and tweaked the algorithms that glue us to our cellphones, are addicted to social media and its attendant ills (for example, a more divisive society and increasingly polarized politics).

We are participating in an experiment that is slowly but surely rewiring our brains in ways that we are only now starting to comprehend. Particularly disturbing is the impact that social media algorithms are having on children and teenagers, something once again brought to light by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen last week in her testimony to the U.S. Senate.

According to the video description on YouTube, The Social Dilemma was only supposed to be on YouTube until September 30th, 2021, but it’s still up as of today. I don’t know how long it will be available on YouTube, so if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, please don’t delay in watching this.

As I said up top, while I might be proud of my emancipation from Facebook, I have landed up spending more time—a lot more time—on other social media, notably Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Clubhouse, and Discord. The pandemic (and its lockdowns and social distancing requirements) have only exacerbated the problem over the past 20 months. And I suspect that I am not alone in this.

I might be free of Facebook (which I consider the most egregious culprit), but I am still addicted to social media.

Are you?

Here’s a resource to help you learn more: The Center for Humane Technology.

UPDATED: Second Life Founder and High Fidelity CEO Philip Rosedale Will Do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit on February 23rd, 2021

Philip shared the following photo when posting about his Reddit AMA on Twitter (source)

Mark your calendars! Philip tweeted late tonight:

Join me for a Reddit AMA on Feb. 23rd from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Ask me about Spatial Audio, VR, virtual worlds and virtual economies, avatars, and … anything.

So if you have any burning questions you’ve wanted to ask Philip, this is your perfect opportunity! When the AMA starts tomorrow, I will link to it here.

See you there!

UPDATE Feb. 23rd, 2021, 3:51 p.m.: Please accept my apoliogies for not linking to this AMA sooner; I was so tired that I lay down for a nap and landed up sleeping through the entire event!

Here’s the link to the Ask Me Anything posted to the r/IAmA subReddit, with the following introduction posted, plus the above photo as proof that he is, indeed, THE Philip Rosedale!

Hi Reddit!

I am the founder of the virtual civilization Second Life, populated by one million active users, and am now CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity — which has just released a real-time spatial audio API for apps, games, and websites. If you want to check it out, I’d love to hear what you think: highfidelity.com/api

High Fidelity’s Spatial Audio was initially built for our VR platform — we have been obsessive about audio quality from day one, spending our resources lowering latency and nailing spatialization.

Ask me about immersive spatial audio, VR, virtual worlds and spaces, avatars, and … anything.

(With me today I have /u/MaiaHighFidelity and /u/Valefox to answer technical questions about the API, too.)

This AMA has also been reposted the the r/secondlife, r//HighFidelity, r/WebRTC. and r/GameAudio subReddits.

UPDATE 4:26 p.m.: I have been informed that the AMA is still going on, as of this writing!

Two Early Images of Facebook Horizon Have People Talking on Reddit and Twitter

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? More details here


Given that Facebook Horizon has asked its alpha testers to sign strict non-disclosure agreements, it’s hardly surprising that there is next to nothing publicly known about the social VR platform Facebook plans to launch sometime in 2020. (Those who do know, can’t say anything, or they risk being booted out of the alpha, and perhaps even banned from Facebook Horizon for life.)

However, a single image has leaked out, and was posted to the Oculus Quest subReddit community on Reddit (the usernames of the avatars in this screen capture have been erased):

The original poster says:

I’m not a Alpha Tester, but I managed to find a screenshot of the Horizon alpha somewhere on the web. It’s unique, couldn’t be reverse searched, and not a promotional shot. (names removed)

Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, often has reviews of products and interesting news reports about the VR industry, posted this image to Twitter, asking:

Is this a screenshot from Facebook Horizon? If it is, it looks a bit simpler than I was expecting…Will it be like this in its first release, or [are the] shaders…going to improve?

Somebody responding to Tony’s tweet posted an image from a closed Facebook group, which appears to confirm that the image is indeed legitimate (I have edited it to blur out the avatar usernames over their heads):

I do not know if somebody broke their NDA to use this image for this group, but it is already out there on Twitter, and the Facebook group is listed as Visible, which means anybody can search for, and find, this particular group. In fact, there are not one but two such groups already, this one and a second one, also Visible, with the following image (which might have been part of Facebook’s original press kit):

Given that there is so little information currently out there about Facebook Horizon, people have weighed in (on both Reddit and Twitter) about these images. Robert Scoble said:

I sure hope it is better than this. Sigh.

And Charlie Fink commented:

I should feel better about this image than I do.

Jossi Sivonen said:

What an anticlimax if so! The gfx (graphic effects) looks way better in this early teaser… (which clearly states that this AIN’T actual VR footage);

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time that a tech company’s promotional teaser video did not resemble the final delivered product (hellooooo, Magic Leap?).

And, I must admit, based on the two “leaked” images above, Facebook Horizon does look a tad…underwhelming. (One person on the Twitter thread said that the shaders looked “cheap”.) Robert Scoble’s comment led to the following exchange:

Tony: I mean, I think that I can do this graphic myself in Unity LOL! I’m sure that a billionaire company like Facebook can do better…

David: Can you do graphics like that at [a] constant 72Hz on Quest with 50 people in a fully customized (from inside VR) world?

Tony: VRChat can do that (the world is built in Unity though), Rec Room has better graphics as well. ENGAGE the same. So, if *this* is the final graphics, it is disappointing. But we all know it is going to be better, it’s impossible [that] it is this one when version 1 will be released.

David: Of the apps you mentioned, only Rec Room has true dynamic inside-VR world creation, and its graphics are pretty much on par with this.

So, what do you think? Are you excited about Facebook Horizon? Do you think that, with Facebook’s clout and deep pockets behind it, it will be the first massively popular social VR platform? Or do you think that, like Facebook Spaces, this will also be a failure?

Please feel free to leave a comment below or, as always, you are welcome to join the freewheeling discussions, arguments, and debates about social VR and virtual worlds taking place among the over 400 people who hang out on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion forum! We’d love to see you there.

Ben Nolan of Cryptovoxels Did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit

Cryptovoxels Logo

Ben Nolan, the creator of the blockchain-based virtual world Cryptovoxels (CV for short), recently did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit:

Hi all, I’m Ben Nolan, the author of Cryptovoxels. I’ve never done an AMA for CV so for the next 48 hours, ask me anything about CV and I’ll answer as accurately as possible.

If you are not familiar with the concept of Reddit AMAs, here is a good concise description of them from Lifewire:

AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything,” which is basically just a trendy internet slang term or acronym used to describe an interview that occurs between one user who hosts it and all the other users who want to ask questions.

What makes AMAs so interesting is types of people who are willing to host them. From high-profile celebrities to regular people who’ve had extraordinary life experiences, there’s never any shortage of great AMAs to look up and even participate in yourself.

You can find most of these interview-style threads in the /r/IAmA/ subreddit, which currently has over 18 million subscribers. There’s also the slightly less popular but still extremely active /r/AMA subreddit that has just over 300,000 subscribers. Here, you’ll find a number of posts from people stating who they are and asking users to ask them anything.

Cryptovoxels has the distinction of being the first blockchain-based virtual world to launch (the second is Decentraland, which is still in closed beta with a long waiting list of users who want to get in). I first blogged about Cryptovoxels back in July 2018, where I was extremely skeptical (even sarcastic) about the project and its chances for success. Four months later, I was proven completely and utterly wrong by the ongoing success of the project, and I publicly apologized to Ben Nolan:

So I now take back my earlier harsh, sarcastic assessment of Cryptovoxels. It’s taken off quite nicely, and it appears to be thriving! Just goes to show you how wrong I can sometimes be. Please accept my apologies, Ben.

Since then, Cryptovoxels has only grown by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by the statistics in this Sept. 3rd, 2019 blogpost:

At this moment…

– There are more than 1,000 people following the Cryptovoxels twitter
– There are more than 1,320 parcels minted in the city, with more than 280 distinct owners
– Over 1000 parcels have been developed and had signs, text, images, NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) and .vox models added to them.
– There are more than 74,000 edits on the parcels in the city, this includes voxels being placed, features being added and buildings being raised and torn down
– There have been more than 134,000 visits to parcels in-world, people that have physically entered the world and explored into parcels
– Over 890 of the 1512 streets in Origin City have been revealed through the minting process

An aerial map of Origin City in Cryptovoxels

So the timing was right for Ben Nolan to do his Reddit AMA. Here are just a few of the things we learned from that Ask Me Anything.

When several people asked Ben to explain what Cryptovoxels is, he replied:

Haha, I wish there was an easy way to explain what Cryptovoxels is, but you really have to red pill it and explore to begin to understand. I would say that in one sentence it’s a “virtual city that is owned by it’s users”. I think this gallery is a good example of what you can build in Cryptovoxels.

Yup a city building game is a good description of what it is. Cryptovoxels is free to play, but if you want to build a gallery, you have to buy the land which costs $30-$300 dollars depending on what and where and how much land you want. You are then the owner of that land, and if you don’t want it in the future you can sell it to someone else. A bit like owning a domain, but you don’t have to pay for renewals.

Ben also explained some of the technical details of the project:

It’s written in Babylon.js (version 3.3) for the frontend, and node.js for the backend. All the data is stored in Postgres and the land ownership is recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.

Ben is already generating profit from his enterprise, enough to make working on Cryptovoxels his full-time job:

Parcels sell for 0.2 to 1.0 ether (ETH), so about $36 to $180 USD at current prices. I’ve made enough to work full time on it since June, and at the moment it’s going well enough for me to hire someone else to work with me… I work full time probably 50 hours a week on CV.

He’s even fielded several offers of venture capital for his project!

I’ve been contacted by 3 or 4 VC firms, and they were really cool to talk to and seemed to believe in the vision for CV – but even though it’s a bit stressful trying to scale the company just from sales, I think keeping CV privately owned means that I have a greater chance of building the vision of a distributed, user owned metaverse. I am a bit sad though, that I won’t get to get bought out by Hooli and wait out my vesting period sitting on the roof with big head drinking beers.

He also shared his thoughts about other virtual worlds, such as Second Life:

Heya, I’ve been playing Second Life for years and years. If it didn’t have such a wonky scripting language (I find Lindenscript pretty weird), I’d probably be a developer in Second Life – but there were a few things that SL didn’t do that I wanted to implement when I made Cryptovoxels:
– Web based
– Blockchain land ownership records
– Javascript scripting
– Voxel based building
– VR support
Second Life is totally the grand daddy for all social VR projects and we owe it a huge debt of gratitude. I hope one day to be able to step through a portal from Cryptovoxels into Second Life and back again. 😊

And (of course!) I asked Ben what he thought about Decentraland (DCL for short), the other blockchain-based virtual world project that is now so close to a public launch:

I really like Decentraland, I wish them lots of luck with their private beta and I’m keen to try it out once the public beta arrives. Their Unity client looks really nice and the nice lighting and shadows was a big inspiration for the Babylon 4 upgraded I was trying (and failed) to do. My hope is that once they are in public beta, we can find a way for users to teleport from CV to DCL and back again.

I also asked him two other questions:

  1. What one thing do you think is Cryptovoxel’s biggest success to date?
  2. What’s your biggest regret with the project? What do you wish you could do over?

Ben replied:

  1. The biggest success so far is all the awesome builds by community members. One of my fears was that CV would get bought up by investors who had no desire to build in the world and were just waiting for gains on their tokens. That still happens of course, but over 70% of the sold parcels have been built on, and the art galleries, museums and exhibitions are what make exploring Origin City so addictive and an easy way to consume time.
  2. I wish I had double checked my maths when I first created the voxel-positioning code. It looks fine in the Cryptovoxels client, but now that we have 3 or 4 (Unity, Janus, Substrata) clients consuming Origin City [the name of CV’s main city], the little hacks I made to make things look good on the web, those hacks make creating a conforming client really painful for third parties.

I would encourage you to go over to Reddit and read through the AMA in full. Here’s a link. Thank you to Ben for hosting this and answering so many questions! More virtual world CEOs need to host AMAs like this.

If you want more information on this project, you can follow Cryptovoxels on TwitterDiscord, and Reddit, or just visit their website.


Also, at some point in the near future, I do plan to write up a more detailed blogpost comparing and contrasting the two biggest blockchain-based virtual world projects to date, Cryptovoxels and Decentraland. This will be largely based on an excellent article that Jin from the RyanSchultz.com Discord server has recently put together. Thanks, Jin!