Midnight Lunch Meeting with Beijing

You haven’t caught on to the new headset quickly enough. I’m sorry Jimmy, we’re going to have to let you go. Could you imagine? I’d be devastated.

josan gonzalez
Image: Josan Gonzalez

Patrick Caughill at Futurism put together a list of Ray Kurzweil’s predictions, one of which relates to virtual reality (VR) and the future of work. Basically, brain-computer interfaces could precipitate a more ubiquitous “telepresent” workplace where we jack in whenever, from wherever—similar to what we do with our phones, but more immersive. That said, I’m not sure how this would play out in line at Starbucks.

“[Kurzweil] predicts VR will advance so much that physical workplaces will become a thing of the past. Within a few decades, our commutes could just become a matter of strapping on a headset.” I don’t know about 20 years, but at some point remote jacking will be a thing, even on Mondays.

There are benefits. Barring health concerns, VR could up productivity while downgrading the effects of isolation. Jacking in for a meeting every few is better than wasting away on a train. On Wall Street, my Queens commute vaporized an hour plus each way. More with bad weather. Talk about stress.

More than a third of the US workforce freelances in some form. That’s 55 million people. Research suggests that people who suffer from loneliness are prone to serious health problems. VR could bring reluctant loners into the fold, inspiring creativity and infusing a sense of community into the daily routine. Because we all need love.

With VR and venti latte in hand, Jimmy slayed work without sacrificing a single rep of gym time, and he’d never be late for Ramen again. Amen.

Good for Jimmy! But there’s something about meeting in person that beckons VR back to the corporeal. Here’s the thing about humans. We need face time. Facial and behavioral cues, however subtle, are the currency we use to navigate social contexts, especially in professional settings. Even now, leading a three-way from my cell isn’t half as good as Skype or Gchat—the limitations of which I can strongly affirm.

Space drives behavior, so this virtual gig better deliver. How and at what pace VR will cut through the noise is anyone’s guess. Will dropped calls be the same? Will the VR itself be a distraction? Either way, we’ll learn to live with the static until the interface improves. With any luck, we’ll get some work done, too. And that’s not all.

As Caughill points out, VR could even shift the urban landscape. “Without the need for people to live close to work, we could see unprecedented levels of de-urbanization. People will no longer need to flock to large cities for work or be tethered to a specific location.” I say wanderlust is more of a threat, but that’s just me.

With at least 6 billion people living urban by 2050, regardless of VR, the global economy will have its due. Hopefully, there will always be reasons for people to stay in cities. I don’t think the VR itself will make them come or go. I do believe, at least on a snowy day, it will make them happier.

Is Facebook Undecided on Hate Speech?

fb-monster-50Facebook Friday (FBF). Facebook employs 7,500 to parse free speech from hate speech. But does it know the difference?

Image: “Pretty Double-Headed,” Wangechi Mutu

This morning, The New York Times launched a clever crowdsourcing campaign to help determine whether or not six “deeply insulting” statements should qualify as hate speech on Facebook.

In June, ProPublica posted the hate speech rules Facebook uses to train its reviewers. It later came under fire for prioritizing white men over Black children in the screening process, prompting it to change its policy to cover age as a protected category. Some question the maneuver’s sincerity.

Muddying the water further is the platform’s policy on modifiers. For example, “women need to be hit in the head” does qualify as hate speech, because it advocates violence based on gender (a protected category). But “female sports reporters need to be hit in the head” does not qualify. Because, as the Times observes, including occupation in the attack “negates the protection based on gender.” Weird.

One ProPublica commenter says, “The idea of censorship of social media just feels like a slippery slope. When some humans are setting a rubric for other humans, however thoughtful and logical it may seem, it makes free speech meaningless.”

Another says, “They protect based on gender identity? Tell that to their ‘real name’ policy enforcers.” ProPublica is asking users to report hate speech through its Facebook page.

Did any of the answers surprise me? Sure. Facebook considers “white men are assholes” hate speech, but saying “poor black people should still sit at the back of the bus” is okay. If the social network has taught me anything, it’s how to judge a book by its cover. Am I crazy to think so?

The Web of Choice

TBT Fall 2011

Who would have thought the maxim, there is no spoon, could also conjure up the illusion of choice? Gladden Pappin says, “The filters which prevent web searches from going astray give you no hint about what course of action is virtue and what is vice.”

This subtle indictment of algorithmic bias reminds me of Sinclair’s critique on the contradictions of journalism, which (perhaps unfairly) depicts newsroom staff as “subordinates drifting inevitably toward the point of view held by their masters.”

For Pappin, varied views are fine when taken in moderation, because “when freedom equals unlimited choice, and when technology abolishes limits and with them purpose, everyone winds up having to make or discover the rules himself.” And what’s so wrong with that?

How Facebook Killed Fake News

fb-monster-50Facebook Friday (FBF) features news about the social network we love to hate. Today: Will the Wikipedia button slay fake news?

image: Patrick Tomasso

It’s static, but it’s interesting. I get Wikipedia’s stringent rules for what is or isn’t legit. If the almighty wiki overlords sanction a button to rid the world of fake news, then bring it. Question is, where will it go? Facebook is riddled with tap-traps. Try tapping a pic and instead you’ve opened pandora’s box of pop-ups. Tags, filters, emojis—everything but the kitchen sink.

Adding Wikipedia to the FB clutter grenade without pulling the pin will take focus. And that’s a problem. Focus is the one thing Facebook doesn’t have.

Make Love, Not Flame War

Image: “Circling Birdies,” Cheko

Is virtual reality (VR) the most disruptive platform yet? VR changes how we show, tell and use information. VR mirrors the real world. It has the power to disrupt the 2D humdrum of today’s social platforms, and offer a closer look at how we think, live and love.

If we use VR openly and inclusively, it could build empathy, and change the nature and depth of connection across the board. Make love, not war.

Apolis (uh–paul–iss) or “Global Citizen”

Apolis is a socially motivated lifestyle brand that empowers communities worldwide. It’s based on the idea that people can live better when they have equal access to the global marketplace. Like fair trade only better.

I found an article from 2013 buried in Evernote about two brothers using co-design principles to help communities that help themselves. Shea and Raan Parton travel across borders, documenting how various products are collaboratively made. They invite people to get involved by telling their stories, and they help local tourism and learn new cultures and customs in the process. Their Middle East project is the result of befriending people like Shlomy Azolay, an Israeli leather craftsman they found online. (Btw, Apolis means “global citizen” in Greek.)

Here’s what gets me: they worked together online for five years before meeting in person. That’s the power of social; sometimes a signal is all you need. If these guys can use social tech to create a global marketplace from scratch, imagine what it can do for the mom and pop next door.

You Are the Metaverse

Published Sep 12, 2015

This week, I teleported to Second Life Island for a tour with Joyce Bettencourt, who leads TechSoup’s Nonprofit Commons under the alias Rhiannon Chatnoir. A million active users per month still leaves a world of space to get lost in. For about an hour, Bettencourt’s alias helped me acclimate to my new body, ahead of my first presentation in VR next month.

The night’s young for Second Life. Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab says “the world is waking up again.” He’s talking about Project Sansar, the next level of virtual reality that’s set to transform the workplace.

Nonprofit Commons Second Life
image: nonprofitcommons.org

What Sansar means for Second Life (Linden Lab’s other creation) is anyone’s guess, but for TechSoup, where VR is the new norm, a reboot is big. Despite Second Life’s questionable growth, it’s widely thought that a resurgence could change the playing field in ways the World Wide Web did for the internet. The Nonprofit Commons has “rented” space on Second Life Island for the last eight years, hosting meetings in VR with as many as 50 people at once. Scaling and adapting for the TechSoup Forums could build engagement and grow revenue in ways we haven’t imagined.

The next VR could benefit collaboration across sectors, borders, and cultures. Thanks to long nights with media theorists like Annette Markham and Sherry Turkle, I’m no stranger to the misgivings of MUDs and MOOs. But there’s something different about Second Life. This metaverse is a new frontier. With innovations like Oculus ready to change the way we work and play, geography and gender barriers could be less of a distraction, freeing up time for more creative pursuits.

“What humans do is create spaces,” Altberg says. “We create spaces and we come together in those spaces, and then we communicate and socialize within those spaces.” I wonder who we’ll be, what we’ll create and how we’ll explore this new frontier of future worlds.

The Sun Is Always Shining by Claudia Biçen

Scientific research suggests that everything about human awareness (sight, sound, even time itself) is all a construction of the mind. So what are the pitfalls of treating these constructs as objective truths?

According to Mahāmudrā Buddhist teaching, explored by clinical psychologist Daniel Brown in this video by Claudia Biçen, the more enamored we are of our selves, the more fixed we are in our own “realities,” limiting the possibilities of our awareness. (Aeon)

Facebook Down

Pre-internet studies show how people tend to shut up about policy issues when they think their views might not be shared. This is called the “spiral of silence.” In 2013, the Pew Research Center polled social media users after Edward Snowden blew the whistle on government surveillance. According to the report, Facebook users were half as likely as others to share their political views in face-to-face (F2F) settings. This sucks more than we know.