After I gave my Ultimate Potential of VR: Promises and Perils talk at SXSW, I met a third-year Ph.D. student in the field of Media Geography named Claire Fitch who wanted to follow up with me about the representation of virtual natures within immersive experiences.
I was able to book out a 2-hour slot on my final day of interviews in order to do a deep dive getting a primer into media geography to understand the dynamics between humans and the environment (in a hyphenated term called Human-Environment emphasizing the underlying relational dynamic between the two), and how the branch of human geography and non-representational geography leans heavily on Process-Relational thinkers like Alfred North Whitehead that I’ve previously covered in depth (see episodes #965, #1147, and #1183, and at SXSW in episode #1200).
We also explore the relationship between technology and capitalism, and this technocapitalism combination for we mediate our experiences of the environment and nature through these virtual experiences.
Fitch’s media geography Ph.D. dissertation is tentatively titled, “The Emergence of Virtual Natures: Human-Environment Relations, Technocapitalism, and Virtual Reality,” and so explore all of these themes and more in this introductory deep dive media geography and process-relational thinking.
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing and the structures or forms of immersive storytelling. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So, continuing on my 24-episode series of looking at different immersive experiences and people and happenings that were happening at South by Southwest, today's episode is with a third-year PhD student in the Department of Geography at UT Austin named Claire Fitch. So this interview came about because I gave a talk at SXSW called The Ultimate Potential of VR Promises and Perils that happened on Sunday and hopefully I'll be able to either post a video of that at some point or at least the audio as a podcast. My episode 1000 was kind of like a three hour Exploration of this using the interviews from lots of folks But there's a deeper synthesis that I wanted to do in this talk to be able to show not only all these possibilities But also a framework for understanding all the different ethical and moral dilemmas and the perils of XR as well and so I gave this talk and then talked with a couple of people afterwards and I got this email from Claire and who said that she's doing this PhD looking at the role of VR in the context of techno capitalism and climate change. And so she also had mentioned that she's very much into process philosophy, which in the context of my talk, I talked about how process philosophy has been a big, deep inspiration for myself, and that it gives a lot of deep insight for not only understanding the underlying metaphysics of experience within a virtual context, but also the process relational dimensions of the nature of reality itself, which is within itself a pretty significant paradigm shift that I'm arguing that virtual reality has the potential to help people have a direct embodied experience of this type of process relational paradigm shift, which I explore in great detail with my conversation with Andrea Ayon Katsukaru, where we've explored more of the philosophical dimensions of that. but also in my previous episodes that I did with Matt Siegel back in episode 965, which was the introductory primer to process philosophy back in December 10th, 2020, and then in episode 1001 and 83, my second conversation with Matt, which is about his book that's coming out on April 22nd, looking at an organic view of reality and how process philosophy helps us understand how we can see the nature of reality in more of this relational context through the lens of this white Hadean perspective of the philosophy of organism. And then in episode 1147, did a deep, deep dive with Grant Maxwell, diving into 13 different process relational thinkers throughout the course of philosophical history that gets into the problems of opposites and what Maxwell's calling the constructing a mythical dialectic amongst all these different thinkers. So I'm really into the ideas of process philosophy and how that could be used to help understand virtual reality. And here at South by Southwest, I started to attract other people who are also into process philosophy, and to break that down. And so I was very keen to talk to Claire to see what is media geography, I have never even heard of this, but the relational dynamics between the world around us and people and our mediated experiences. And so How can the mediated experiences of virtual reality have us be connected to the world around us, which is the essence of some of these ideas of media geography, which is what Claire is looking at. And so her PhD dissertation is around the emergence of virtual natures, human environment relations, that human environment is hyphenated, and it's all connected between the relationship between human environment as a relational entity. So the human environment relations, technocapitalism, and virtual reality. Yeah, we do a deep dive into media geography, all the different process relational connections that are inspiring both her work and reflecting on this human environment relationship in the context of virtual reality. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Claire happened on Wednesday, March 15th, 2023 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:04:00.456] Claire Fitch: My name is Claire Fitch. I'm a third year PhD student here at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Geography and the Environment. So what I do is geography, I think, has some sub-disciplines. There's physical geographies that are studying, you know, map-making, cartographies, environmental phenomena, and then there's what's called human or cultural geographies. that is more focused on human-environment relationships. And so within human geographies, there are also folks that focus on media, media geographies they call them. This is thinking about the way that technologies or media of any sort modulate that relationship between the human and the environment, mediation being the focus of what is happening between the body and the world, to create experience, to create a sensory mode of being in the world. So I focus on virtual reality, I think because to me it represents sort of the dream of the apex of control over this relationship. So once you're able to design a virtual environment, I think a lot of the hopes of VR is thinking that that relationship between the body or human cognition or the psyche and the environment are now designable, are now programmable. And digital space opening up all sorts of potentials for what that relationship can be, how it can be reconfigured or redesigned. So I approach VR with a lot of fear and skepticism about the power mechanisms at play in constructing and controlling that relationship, but also a lot of excitement and hopes about how it can provide new sensory experiences of being in the world. play with what it means to be a body experiencing space. And that's why it's been very exciting to be in this room here and see how everybody's approaching that entirely differently with different hopes, different approaches, different methods, that none of them felt very similar to me in this really exciting way.
[00:05:51.911] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into being in relationship to VR.
[00:05:59.428] Claire Fitch: Sure, yeah. So as an undergraduate, I actually studied sociology and environmental studies. So I was really thinking more environmentally focused. And then for my master's, which was at the University of Amsterdam, I was surrounded by people that were thinking a lot about technology. A lot of my professors, they were thinking about techniques. And so I think also just being young and watching my friends that were environmentalists be both cognizant of climate change and have this sort of deep-seated fear, anxiety, feel of precarity in their relationships to their environments, at the same time spending more and more time in digital space. And the rhetoric that I found people speaking of this was sort of this dualistic thought that there's a digital space and a material space, the physical world versus the virtual world. So I became really interested in, with a lot of other media geographers, in thinking about trying to move away from that dualism. have a new way of understanding our mediated relationships to space is something that is more porous than that. And a lot of that means attention to materiality, rematerializing the virtual or the digital with an environmental ethic. So thinking that the mythos of digital worlds or virtual worlds as this sort of disembodied, dematerialized space does a lot to make it difficult for us to imagine the material implications, the environmental impacts of its existence. So there's definitely a drive underpinning all my work that is to bring materiality back into focus in discussions about the digital.
[00:07:34.350] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot of immersive stories that we're at, if a doc lab this year, that we're really interrogating this question of being in right relationship to the earth around us. And what's the environmental cost of having these devices in terms of not only the devices themselves, but all the cloud servers and everything else. And so for me, I've never even heard of media geography. I've heard of like, maybe media ecology or other people like Marshall McLuhan, who I think is more of like a media theorist. So it's interesting that there is this contextual relational dynamic or more ecological approach of looking at the relationship to the earth and humans, but also this cultural aspect of human geography was one of the things I saw that you were studying specifically. So I've also been getting a lot into process philosophy, which does actually look at the more ecological approach of seeing the world through the lens of more of a metaphor of an organism rather than as a discrete objects that are Autonomous and not in relationship with static and not changing or not dynamic and those objects have properties but moving from that perspective into more of a dynamic process relational approach of seeing how there's this contextual and relational dynamic of the nature of being rather than sort of this object-oriented way. So yeah, I'd love to hear if it was through that lens of that environmental perspective that kind of led to this, both the humans and then the cultural aspects of what you call media geography.
[00:08:58.815] Claire Fitch: So, I mean, geography is a discipline, I think, you know, it's ripe with problems and that in its originary phase was used as an imperial and colonial mechanism of knowing the world, right, mapping the world. And so a lot of geographies, more recent geographies in the past 20, 30 years, have been thinking about destabilizing the representation, right, to take The representation of space, not as a stable object, but as something that is coming to being through processual relations, through interchange between humans or environments, objects, non-humans, thoughts, ideas, concepts, as well. And so process philosophy has been very important to me and a lot of other geographies in forming an idea of relational space, right? So that thinking about this relationship between the body and the world is something that is unfixed, something that is fluid, open to radical change constantly. So I think about power, force, and energy being this sort of aspects of relations that I find it really important to attune to. Thinking about like actor network theory or assemblage theory as these theories of relational space that a lot of geographers have used to think about the sort of constellation and networks of relation between different bodies, different entities, things that create an experience or a phenomena of space together. I think that there's something about process philosophy as well that agency becomes really fascinating to attune to when I'm talking about the force, the power, the strength, the intensities of relations. There is something there that is, it is mutable, right? Like these, the sort of balance between these relations is always shifting. But if you put thought about relational space into a process philosophy, then you're able to sort of pay mind to the dynamic shifts in these relationships and see how space or place cohere, how it concretes, how it becomes as concretized. mechanism if you think about like the built world right or built environments is something that feels inescapable because of its concrete nature because it's something that we're always having to interact with in a way that feels like we might not have agency as humans to reorganize and has been organized to facilitate the proliferation and the success of certain types of bodies and certain types of subjectivities that there's something very interesting about virtual reality to me in this possibility to have a momentary experience of a space that is organized differently. So thinking about the process of subjectivity coming to be, being something that is always becoming, there is something very fascinating to me about virtual environments as a sort of, you know, in its worst moments maybe an escape from those relationships or those structures, but its best moment is an escape that can catalyze different attention to the world after you exit VR, different attention to the things that we've taken for granted, the background of life, right? And think instead about being able to question those structures and infrastructures.
[00:12:01.076] Kent Bye: It's so awesome to hear you say all that just because, like, it resonates with me a lot in terms of my own, I guess, frustration with, say, like, the analytic tradition of philosophy and the substance metaphysics orientation and went to the American Philosophical Association in 2019 kind of searching for, OK, what are the other emerging philosophical frameworks that can help me understand what's happening in virtual reality. And I came across a number of different process philosophers as this alternative mode of looking at things. But really, I guess, leaning heavily into this Whiteheadian approach to process philosophy, at least for my lineage of introduction to it. And there's lots of different philosophers. I know a lot of humanities, there's Deleuze and Deleuzian thought that Deleuze had influence from Whitehead and you know just in terms of like the environment and the ecology that Whitehead in some ways went out of favor but then there's folks like John Cobb from more of a theological perspective was thinking about Whitehead and from Charles Hirschhorn carrying on that theological thread but then from there expanding out into more ecological and environmental concerns that the work of John Cobb has been working on. So I don't know if there's any lineage that you have tracing these ideas of process philosophy back to different theorists and I'd love to hear a little bit more of that transmission so I can understand. Because for me, media geography is something that's brand new. So I would just like to know where it's coming from. Yeah.
[00:13:22.601] Claire Fitch: So I mean, I think what got me about Whitehead at the beginning was this idea of the world as medium. The world can be conceived as a medium for the transmission of influences. So when you start thinking about media theory and expand it out to encompass the world, the planet that we're living in, you get a very different idea about what subjectivity within that omnipresent, always there medium is. What it means to be a person, a mind, a body, a mind body in this space becomes much more about recognizing and attuning to the ways that you're affected with resonances from the world that might always not be easily felt. So this, I think, in media geography or relational space, Process philosophy in my mind I think leads to an idea of phenomenology or post-phenomenology that is thinking about human-environment relationships. When I say that I think of human-environment as this sort of sentence. What is a human-environment relationship? And I think that what I'm trying to do and what a lot of others in my field are trying to do is populate that dash as an active space. I'm not thinking about human environment as two separate entities, but instead thinking of their conjunction. Donna Haraway did this a long time ago with the word nature cultures, right? Starting to think of these new vocabularies with which we can think about the middle, the middle space as the space of becoming. which is what Deleuze also, you know, really won my heart over with, was this constant attention to starting in the middle, starting in the fold between two things, between two entities. And in doing that, the boundaries of the entities become blurred and unfixed. Back to Whitehead again, I think, in thinking about You know, he talks really well about the way that cognition is always about the interaction of things that are the not-self, things that you would consider the not-self, maybe an object or a plant or an atmosphere or a song. That this is the only way that subjectivity is arising, is this sort of thing that you can't claim ownership over anymore, which I think for geography particularly, it becomes an incredibly important political project of de-centering the human and destabilizing anthropocentrism that you can no longer claim really I am something separate from the world. I am living through the world. I am living by means of the world So I'm always involuted in the medium of the world and so this I find a really as ambiguous and maybe abstract as it can be philosophically it can have Really wonderful effects to think about the way that we think about human relationships human environment relationships so that it's no longer so much a of a process of thinking about, I don't know, not even thinking about the relation as something that is like separate from the two things on either side, but the relation always being exterior to the terms. The relation always being something else, and that is what constitutes the world becoming, that is what creates things. together. And so just one last thing I'll say is that I think when you get, you know, from process philosophy, relational space, and assemblage theory, actor network theory, post-phenomenology, the sort of human-technic environment relationship, there's been really interesting work since the 90s. with this man named Nigel Thrift, who started a field of geography called non-representational geography. And as I mentioned previously, this sort of destabilization of the representation of space being something that people are really interested in now. Non-representational geography does this great thing of saying representations matter. It's not non-representational. Some people say it's more than representational. It's thinking about how the representations come to matter and thinking about that happens through an attention to process and practice. And so it is thinking about all of the different relationships, assemblages of humans, tools, thoughts, circumstances, situations, contexts that come together to allow something to cohere. And I think the nuance that is added to this in a really particular way that I also goes back to Whitehead and thinking about the nonsensuous, thinking about the affective, thinking about experiences not just being about sensory stimulation, but also things that are not quite felt. Affect being an incredibly useful tool then to think about beyond emotion, beyond feeling, beyond sensation, but to think about the resonance between bodies. Affect theory is always asserting the radical openness of the body to be influenced, to be informed. And Simenden's another really big influence to me, and was to Deleuze as well, is this idea of information, right? This informed process where you're getting away from hylomorphism, form, matter, distinction, and thinking about information, the transduction between bodies being a process that is multi-directional, that is always an exchange and has no end.
[00:18:20.811] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I'd love to hear a bit more context as to your PhD that you're working on and how that ties back to virtual reality. Because we're talking about all these process relational dynamics kind of in an abstract sense, but in terms of what you're specifically working on in your work and how it ties back to connecting the dots between the virtual reality, this kind of process relational thinking, and media geography, and how humans are interacting with the environment.
[00:18:46.493] Claire Fitch: Yeah. My dissertation particularly is interested in the emergence of virtual environments within the context of techno-capitalism and climate change. I pick these two contexts or situations as a way of thinking about the force of capitalism in asserting human-environment relationships based on domination, extraction, subjugation of particular bodies and environments, and the support of the creation of others. I think about climate change and virtual reality as, you know, in one way, this really easy way of thinking about the fears of escaping our Earth, you know, the hope that we can have any sort of space we want to live in in virtual reality and not have to care for our physical environments because of that. I think that, you know, South By has been like a particularly, you know, part of my research is thinking about the way that techno-capitalism is envisioning the role of VR. I sort of came to South By thinking that I would get a lot of this sort of techno-capitalist orientation towards dematerialized world and extractive relationship to our environments that is just sort of materializing differently with digital tools. But what I've come to realize here, I think, is that there's a lot more complexity to the way that techno-capitalism operates. It is something ineffable, in a certain way to me, in this current mode of capitalism. It's oriented towards this sort of idea of the frontier, always. The idea of expansionism, the idea of limitlessness. Some call it techno-liberal ideologies, this idea that the ultimate freedom of the self will happen in the digital world. So I think when you look at tech-centered ethos and capitalist ethos, those mesh really well into a sort of frightening situation of this sort of hope for ultimate freedom. being something that is at times very individualistic and under capitalism will always involve exploitation and extraction and limitless growth, right? So, yeah, the other part of my dissertation, though, is looking at artists making work in VR who are sort of thinking about the capacities of virtual reality to reorganize our relationships to each other and to our environments differently. And I've found a lot of hope in these. I'm looking particularly at, you know, I would sort of categorize into four sections where there's those that are making more than human or human non-human relationships in environments that we've seen some of these today in the forager experience and the symbiosis experience, thinking about giving VR users a sort of different relationship to their environment where they become a non-human or they sense the world from a non-human perspective. And then the next category would be what I call like cultural expression in VR, people that are using the medium to affirm their own narratives. to have sovereignty in the way that stories about self and space are told. There's a lot of indigenous VR creators doing incredible work in 4th VR with this. There's a lot of Afrofuturist work that's incredibly impressive. All this sort of, yeah, the sovereignty of being able to retell a narrative, retell a history in a way that it has maybe been invisibilized or silenced in the past. There's also a lot of feminist and queer virtual reality projects that are thinking about ethics of relation differently outside of the way that our current world allows us to relate to each other. How could we envision this differently in VR? And the fourth and final is the one that got me excited about VR in the beginning, which is experiences of sensory alterity. So thinking about just really tapping in to new modes of sensing the world, not sensing the world, being deprived of certain senses, having to focus on different senses. And these are ones that get back to, I think, Whitehead and a more philosophical approach that is like, you know, the question always being, do we believe that our senses are trainable? Can virtual reality do something to sort of make us aware of our habitual modes of sensing and think about what happens to us and our idea of relation or subjectivity if we destabilize those habits?
[00:22:59.069] Kent Bye: Yeah. Actually, your description of these different projects is really interesting to hear that through your lens of the relationship of people and the Earth and their identities. Because I think that I've noticed that a lot of the experiences are trying to that I've seen over since like 2016 going to all these different film festivals and the environment does tend to come up quite a bit because I feel like there's something about the virtual reality that creates this virtual space but it's able to, you know, I think of it as like the platonic realm of ideal forms where you're able to establish like a visualization of relationships that maybe you can overlay on top of reality or look at things that are maybe hidden in different aspects of the way that things are produced or just like if it's out of sight it's out of mind and VR has a potential to create a more holistic experience of something that sees what appears to be a discrete object but looks at the relationality of that object into other aspects of either people or places or things that allow you to walk away to see a fuller picture of what's happening in terms of the full ecosystem of relationships when it comes to either the environment. And so that's been a consistent theme over time. When I see these different immersive experiences, Marshmallow, Laser Feast, and all of their pieces, whether it's Through the Eyes of the Animal or Sweet Dreams, which is more about the sensory experience, but also like We Live in an Ocean and Air or Evolver, each of these are directly interrogating our relationship to the world around us and trying to blur the lines in terms of the permeability of what constitutes ourself when you look at it through the lens of the air that's coming into our body or the water and how it's being exchanged with the world around us. And so, yeah, I felt like, you know, over time, seeing how that process relational approach fits very nicely for how I can start to understand what the affordances of the medium are for virtual reality is that it is allowing us to build up this broader context. And, you know, I guess in my talk here that I gave at South by Southwest, the ultimate potential of VR promises and perils was trying to, in some ways, create this taxonomy of different contexts that are going around. And, you know, I think from media geography approach, I'd love to hear some of your insights, because I haven't necessarily come across like you know, from academic tradition, a similar approach of trying to map out as complete as possible, given, like, griddle incompleteness that you can never fully be complete. You have to deal with certain inconsistencies. But, yeah, I'd love to hear your perspective on the aspect of context and how that plays a part in trying to map out the influences of things like techno-capitalism.
[00:25:26.331] Claire Fitch: Yeah, context is a tricky one because it is, you can get yourself into a hole if there's limitless ways of thinking about context. Some thinkers of situational analysis, which comes out of grounded theory, more anthropological and sociological approach, I think we're trying to sort of trouble the idea of context because I think there's something about context sometimes that assumes relations. It assumes a strength of relations that have influence what situational analysis does in an interesting way is trying to think of Context and an event as also in reciprocal relation and an interchange so that you can think you know of an event like South by Southwest instead of thinking of it in the context of techno capitalism or in the context of of Austin or in the context of tech development or Bitcoin or a bank crash. You can think about South by Southwest also as the context for techno-capitalism. You can think about these interchanges where the event is not defined necessarily by the context. The context is also being defined by events that are always processually coming into being, right? And so that I think is like, this is a really dynamic way of thinking about the way the world is in a process of becoming, that contexts aren't stable in my mind. I really, I mean, I really love the way that you framed, you know, there's this one model you have of all these sort of, like, imbricated circles of different contexts from, like, Earth being the largest scale, right? And you move through these scales of context. But I think that I get limited by this idea of the circumscription of a context, too, and want to see these, like, more as dotted lines or more as a flow in between scales of context. scale is like a really big thing for geographers as well. And a lot of people, a lot of feminist geographers particularly start with this idea of the embodied scale versus the global scale being a dynamic we should trouble. To instead think about how is the global happening in the body and how is the body happening on the globe? How are these things occurring in a way that you don't necessarily have one that is like hugged by the other, circumscribed by the other? but that there's a flow between them and that at certain moments, one can be more powerful than the other. And so I think, you know, situational analysis, I think the method of it works in this really interesting way of like, I've had it described to me as like, think about the thing, the event you want to think about, and then try to just free write every single thing you can imagine being a part of constituting that. If the event is a shoe, you know, think about the materials of the shoe, the fashion of the day, the laborers who compiled the shoe, the process of shipping the parts of the shoe across the world, advertisements, who's wearing a shoe, what we understand to be a foot, what we understand to be walking, or what our relationship to the ground is. You sort of compile this like wild list of everything that's a part of it, and then you start to draw maps of relation between them. So in doing this process of drawing the relations out, then you can start to figure out which ones are recurring a lot, which ones seem to be having the most force in constituting this context or the situation, the world as it is becoming. And as a researcher, as a thinker, also finding yourself within that sort of constellation of agents that are composing the event, thinking which ones am I more attuned to, which ones am I capable of addressing, which ones are important to me, or what is my role in sort of explicating this event, this context, this situation. I can't do it all, none of us can do it all, but if we can sort of each take our own interests, our own capacities for thinking about event, and hunker down in that, and not ever want to sort of claim that we can do everything, but to admit like there's a wild multiplicity to the world, right, and to any perspective on a context, that the more voices you have, the more perspectives you have, and sort of trying to elucidate the details, the textures of this, the better idea we can get of how it's operating.
[00:29:21.200] Kent Bye: Yeah, as I'm hearing you talk about this, I'm realizing that when I'm giving presentations, I'm creating 2D images of something that takes something that's a natural unfolding process and quantizing it into a fixed object and some way of thinking about it. I've done a number of different interviews in different contexts, like I went to a math conference and I was looking at the philosophy of math and there was one talk that was talking about symbols and how you have different symbols to represent different mathematical ideas and that there was actually a really complicated symbology that had been developed to develop these different relational dynamics, but it was limited by the typesetting. that they literally couldn't typeset it. So because of the typesetting, the symbol for a math object actually got reduced down into more of a linearized language. And so you can kind of think about just the letters on a typewriter, how that is a way of communicating in a linear form, but that the medium of VR itself could start to be like, oh, actually, to visualize this event of South by Southwest, you could see it as a dynamic process and visualize it in a virtual context that has a spatial dimension that you could visualize it in a way that is, I guess, a way of symbolically representing something that goes beyond what you could if you put it just on a 2D map. So the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry is written by Joanna Seidt, who's not a Whiteheadian, but is just more of a generalized process philosopher who's trying to give a broader spectrum of the full diversity of the different approaches to process philosophy because there's a lot of jargon and specific metaphysical presuppositions for Whitehead that not all process philosophers are fully bought into. She's trying to map out that landscape. I was just looking through some of her work and came across one of the articles that she said that The geometric structure of process is mereology, which is this concept of the wholes and the parts. And so you have something that's an individual entity, but it's also a part of a larger whole. Arthur Koestler would call it the holon, which is language that Ken Wilber has picked up. But this concept of mereology is that there are this some sense nested hierarchy in a way that there is the broadest context of the Big Bang and then you can cut down to like for me the biggest context on earth is maybe the earth but we're also in relationship to the Sun and so it's actually you know you could like expand it out into other solar flare influences that are coming even beyond the influences of the earth but if we're humans on the planet situated on the planet it's a pretty good bet that most of stuff that may be coming in from outside the Earth. We can say that that's the broadest context, at least for right here. Part of the reason why I started to say, OK, well, then you have the Earth and you have the culture, and the culture is driving the laws, and the laws are driving the economy. But there's also economic systems like cryptocurrency that may be outside of those systems. Everything doesn't fit nicely into it. But as I start to look at these different relationships, this is mostly from Lawrence Lessig. From Lessig, the culture, the laws, the economy, and the technology architectures that are being built, for me it does feel like there's the broadest context of the earth, then the context of the laws, then the context of the economy. And so within that context of the economy that these systems are being built, that's at least how I start to map out when I think about these different ethical frameworks of like Is this a problem that needs to be addressed by the law? Is this a problem that could be solved by technical architecture? Is this something that is a problem that is like harassment in VR that you couldn't pass a law about because it's more about how people are relating to each other? And that's not something that you can legislate, but you can have technical architectures to mitigate that. But there may be other dimensions where you just have to have a code of conduct and think about how do you actually cultivate a community of relationships in a way that you have people that are nice to each other that goes beyond what you can engineer from the technological perspective. As I've been digging into the virtual reality ethics, that's helped me orient how to think about these ethical issues and how to address them at these many different layers. But from your perspective of media geography, is there other theorists or other ways that you conceive of these relationships between the culture, the laws that are passed, the economy, and these technologies?
[00:33:21.562] Claire Fitch: The first thing that comes to mind is thinking back to Gautier's three ecologies of the mind, the social and the environment, which, you know, I wouldn't say there's only three, but I find this something interesting to think about media ecologies, which has become sort of hip or the way ecologies has been applied to a lot of schools of thought. in a way that, you know, it's relational in a very interesting way I really like. I think it can be sort of co-opted by like cybernetics and finance to sort of like naturalize or like give like a little like air of organicness to phenomenon or something that I think was really interesting. But to think what three ecologies did in a nice way that I liked is that to set these all in a sort of like similar plane of influence, to think about a context of relation as being something that is can occur in many different ways. And I entirely agree with you that I think it's really important to think about any scale of problem about VR within its larger context and not be focusing just on the body or just on privacy or just on security or just on the economy, but always be understanding it as being influenced and influencing multiple different contexts. I think that there's something about thinking about environmental degradation that actually is like a really simple way to think about how context can sort of limit our idea of exchange or force. To think about the context of capitalism being smaller than the context of the planet or the ecology or the universe or physical laws, that we've seen capitalism change the planet but remain stable in its ethos, right? And so that the context our planetary context is remaining the largest one, but it's also being diminished and rearranged and degraded by the smaller context of capitalism. And so I think maybe that's just like a simple way to think about the way that it might not be so easy to understand scales as stable or nested in a stable way that the nesting can sort of turn its head on itself. that something that seems like a smaller scale can actually end up being more powerful and influence the largest scale in a way that its power, its influence over the smaller context is diminished in some ways.
[00:35:37.577] Kent Bye: So yeah, that's the Anthropocene. The idea that these scales that would normally happen over geological time is actually happening with humans impacting the geography around us. So like, even though the Earth is the largest context, that there's actually a disproportionate amount of power that's shaping the contours of the Earth and how it continues to evolve from a geological perspective.
[00:35:57.020] Claire Fitch: Right, yeah, and some argue against the Anthropocene, saying that that's actually attributing too much homogeneity to Anthropos, to the human, and argue for, instead, the Capitalocene, to think about, OK, not all humans have been affecting with the same force our relationship or the figuration of the world. Capitalism is what has done that more than anything else. And so you have to sort of, like, attribute agency where it's due, they argue.
[00:36:27.527] Kent Bye: Well, I first came across you through, I think, after my talk. I had a brief interaction, and then you sent me an email. So I was presenting here about the ultimate potential of VR, the promises and perils, which was, for me, trying to distill down more than eight years of work of asking over 2,000 people these questions of what the ultimate potential of VR is and what it could enable, and trying to distill that down into a 50-minute talk I did my episode 1,000, which was a much more spacious exploration, hearing from the people themselves, exploring all these different themes. But for me to just give it into a one talk with some sort of structure that covers as comprehensively as I could all these different issues of what I find both terrifying and inspiring and hopeful about this medium. And so, yeah, I'd love to. You reached out to me wanting to connect more and other things that you wanted to either bring up or ask or talk about.
[00:37:18.793] Claire Fitch: Yeah, I think, OK, so I think the problem that I deal with is really uncertain in my mind, thinking about VR all the time, is thinking about what Simenden calls the milieu of individuation, being the environment of this assemblage, this complex network of relation in which subjectivity unfolds with the environment. And so this is a problem for me always that I'm thinking about. Is being in a virtual environment this place where we can individuate? I think when I go into VR and I have a potent experience, or even when I go into a film and have an important experience, or when I encounter anything, I think that everything we encounter, everything that happens, does shift us in some way. But there's also a part of me that wants to say that the milieu that a virtual world provides you is not the same because it is programmed, right? You are not able to be influenced by a non-human or by something ephemeral or by something sort of intangible in the same way that you are when you're encountering the chance, the happenstance of the real world. There's a thinker, Brian Misumi, who I really love, who writes that The digital actually has a very weak relationship to the virtual in a delusion sense of potential or possibility because of the way it systematizes the possible. He talks about this as a bracketing of potential. So if you're creating a virtual environment that is saying, this is virtual, anything is possible, you can do anything here, but you're always programming parameters into that, there's always a design, there's always code underlying that, that is sort of limiting that, no matter how much interaction you give the user, there's constraints of the hardware and the software involved. The sort of, I don't know, I would love to hear what you think about this too, is that like, do you believe that virtual spaces are places that can change us or affect us in a similar way as being in a physical environment?
[00:39:13.037] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've got two answers to that. One is from my own experiences of that, and one is from more a speculative philosophical perspective on some dimensions of that. And also, actually, a third part, which is more of the nature of reality itself. So I'll start with my own personal experience. I'll say yes, because it's happened to me in terms of experiences where, specifically, the Collider was an experience by a group where it was exploring the asymmetry of power. And so it's an installation where there's two people going in. One person's in VR, and the other person's outside of VR. One side is going to be in VR. And they're going to be the one that has an asymmetry of power of being less powerful because they don't have as much information. The person outside of VR is going to have more power because they can see more that's happening in the physical reality. And so the person that's going to be in VR is asked to think of a memory they've had someone else have power over them. And then you go into the other side, and you have to invoke a memory where you've had power over somebody else. So then the person who has less power goes in the VR experience and starts moving around. The person outside the experience has these controllers and starts moving the controllers. The person inside of VR is asked to puppeteer and follow what the other person is doing. So the person outside of VR sees that they're controlling this other person, but the person inside of VR doesn't know that that's happening. And so then there's this opportunity to open up a drawer and it has all these objects that you could potentially torture this person. There's feathers, there's other things that you could, you know, based upon whatever your relationship is and what the ethics are, like if you know the person, maybe you like start tickling them, but if you don't know the person, what are the ethics of messing with them while they haven't necessarily fully consented or, you know, there's kind of like just the possibility of these objects that are there. that you have to decide what you're going to do. And this is more of a VR installation piece where people are together in physical reality experiencing it, but one person's in VR and one's not. So then you come outside of VR, and then you're asked to unpack what happened in the experience. And I had a chance to do the experience twice from both perspectives. And what was interesting to me was the ways in which those stories were connected to talk about those deeper relationships between my own experience of boundaries and my own experience of power. And the stuff that came up within that was really quite powerful. So if you think about that in terms of there are these realms of potential, that means that you are going through a story and immersive experience. that you have an opportunity to engage with those potentialities in a way that is independent as to whether or not it's virtually mediated or in physical reality. So I think because of that perspective, then, of course, then you can have experiences that are going to sort of change your experience. Now, the more philosophical approach is what David Chalmers has talked about in his book Reality Plus, which is he's arguing that Virtual experiences are genuine experiences meaning that they're just as real They're just as meaningful and that's coming from when you look at just even the presence research Mel Slater has called it the place illusion and the plausibility illusion and it's couched in this illusionary terms that goes all the way back to Descartes which is like this evil demon that's controlling you and it's an illusionary world and because of that then it's fake and not real and And so even in the mainstream academic research, there's a philosophical presupposition of substance metaphysics that's saying that these are illusionary experiences. And that's from the mainstream academic VR. But from a process relational perspective, you can start to break out of that illusionary language and say, well, there's just these qualities of presence, from my perspective at least. There's mental and social presence. There's active presence. There's emotional presence. And there's embodied and environmental presence. And so when you start to look at it through those lenses of presence, then you can say, well, I can have just as much agency, maybe even more agency in these virtual experiences than in physical reality. I can have just as meaningful social interactions and have my mind stimulated or think it's just as plausible as any other reactions. Those two are pretty much checked off. both at least equivalent or maybe even, in some ways, more expansive in the virtual spaces. The emotional presence, for sure. There's been a lot of experiences that have been deeply moving for me. The thing that is the biggest difference is the embodied and environmental presence, because that's the thing where your touch, your taste, your smell, your haptic experiences, and all the hearing, the sight, you have ways in which that the virtual reality experience is this kind of mimicking aspects of the reality. And then so, to what degree is it Tapping into your you know predictive coding theory of neuroscience, which means that you have this expectations of your priors of your experience meaning that you've you've had embodied experiences and that you have memories of those experiences and the virtual reality sort of stimulating those memories that you have and so you're invoked into that sense of plausibility through that Embodied experiences that you've had in your life But to some degree, there's always going to be some difference to how much is the environment that you're in kind of simulating a dynamic processual reality rather than a sort of more static virtual representation of reality. To what degree is the dynamic nature of the unfolding of reality going to be able to be simulated in that context? And the embodied experiences, where you have things like the virtual body ownership illusion, where with things that you can evoke with fully body tracking, you see my preceptive movements, and you're able to really believe that your virtual body is your body. And that you have things like phantom touch, and this embodiment that you have that you plausibly real, and it's indistinguishable for you, the virtual embodiment versus the physical embodiment. But the embodied and environmental presence is the thing that's the differentiation for me. But all these other qualities of presence are just as meaningful. So then the third part that I would say is, so to what degree can you start to mimic the natural processes of the unfolding of reality? I think, actually, just from more of a speculative philosophy perspective, I think this may actually require something like quantum computing, which has something that's more of a probabilistic nature for how the computing itself happens. So are there ways in which that, if we move into some more quantum computing paradigms, and there's been lots of research for more of the, frontier science of organizations like the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Global Consciousness Project that have shown that when there's peak events that happen around the world that these you know quantum random number generators that are supposed to have an equal number of ones and zeros when there's sort of a collective consciousness all focusing on one thing at the same time they've seen statistical shifts and these quantum number generators and So there may be some dimension in which that our collective action or individual action or intentions or from a process relational perspective that if there's a quantum realm that's being constructed out of from moment to moment and the space-time is emerging from that, if the final cause of our intentions are somehow interfacing with the computing process, to then more directly go into that virtual reality of simulation, then yeah, then there's going to be, at that point, no differentiation. But I think we're kind of limited with the silicon that we have right now, which is more bounded and bracketed. But I think in the long term, and this is all, like I said, speculative. Like, if you talk to any quantum experts, it's not been established from the mainstream scientific paradigm that there's any consciousness relationship to these quantum processes. But there's like Stupart-Haimeroff, that have theorized that there's these microtubules in our brain that have these quantum processes. But that's more speculative in terms of, hey, what would it really require to take something that's more static to be really dynamic? The other thing I'll just throw out there is that we have this process of generative AI, which is, in generative AI, you give it a prompt. And the prompt is taking a random noise sample moment to moment. So each time you give that prompt, it's going to give you a different answer. So is there a way that when you give a prompt to generative AI and it uses this process that's very statistical to diffuse the noise down into a concrete object, is that process of diffusion that happens in that moment, is that somehow representing the more dynamic nature or the processual nature of the nature of reality that's coming through? Are there like formal causations or final causation, like the formal causations being the blueprint of reality, the archetypal potentials at that moment, or the final causation of your intention of what you're intending to do with what you want to generate from generative AI? So there's things like, you know, the Whiteheadian perspective of like, pan-experientialism or pan-psychism or the ways that look at less of a bifurcated aspect of the realms of the mental and the physical, that if they're more tightly coupled, then are there ways in which that some of these more frontier processes of generative AI and the future of quantum computing, are we going to be moving into these simulated environments that are going to feel more alive and dynamic and generative? So anyway, that's sort of my answer to that.
[00:47:47.823] Claire Fitch: I mean, it's fascinating that I feel like your inclination towards thinking about the hopes of what a dynamic virtual reality could be about, it is all about shift, and it is something that theoretically you wouldn't access the same experience, or two people couldn't have the same experience twice, which so much of what I've seen here in VR is about narrative VR, storytelling in VR, and these things. And so it's very interesting to think about people sort of ceding to the possibility of giving a VR user an experience, like an experience, to instead say, this could be something entirely unique that will never happen again, which may be what life is. You know, what being in the world is, is something that can't be replicated or can't be reproduced. And I really like this sort of shift away from like, you are not simulating a thing or you're not simulating an event. or a story or something singular, but simulating or doing just for the fact itself, for that process itself, is something that gets you away from being able to think about VR experience as singular, as static. I think the trouble that I have thinking about this is like, thinking about VR in general as something that is usually so individually experienced, and I found in my experience really hard to communicate with people about, even if they've done the same VR experience, but especially if they haven't. When I've left South By and talked to my friends after this, and no one's interested in VR, has seen the VR experiences, no one cares. It's very, very hard to convince someone that it matters. And so this idea that the one thing or that have been changed by the experience, that it was actually moving to me. It sounds like silly to most of them, I think. And so the idea that, you know, the one thing that could be easy to talk about a shared experience about VR is maybe if you have a very different bodies or different minds or different people, different experiences, but you have the same input, like a film would be or reading a book would be, you can have these sort of points of reference. then how do you start to communicate with others about what VR is doing? Because I think when people talk about like empathy VR or like VR with ethical purposes, the thing I always kind of, I think I do believe is that the limit is about it being an individual experience and that we need to establish communities and practice and off-boarding experiences where you're drawn back together to discuss or figure it out or be in a situation where you can process the experience with other people or else it just becomes something inside that you can you can go and donate or you can do something on your own but you can't form a way of relating around that experience unless you're able to speak about it. So there's something challenging to me about this idea of how do you transfer a potent experience, a meaningful experience in VR back out into the real world in a way that I don't actually like that I said that.
[00:50:41.014] Kent Bye: But transfer it. In the physical world or the world of actual entities?
[00:50:45.978] Claire Fitch: Right. How do you have it impact the way you're able to not just make decisions on your own, but with your community or with other people in a way that's not saying, I know what to do now because I had this experience. I know what it's like to be this thing, or I know what it's like to experience this thing differently that a friend might not have had. I do believe that change happens in the world through communities of practice, right? And it needs multiple agents, multiple actors and minds to make change, to all offer their own skills and capacities to shifting the world, to shifting the organization of things as they are. So that, yeah, I don't know. I don't know if you've seen any, like, practices of this way of people coming back together in VR and actually doing something together with it.
[00:51:34.400] Kent Bye: Well, there's a number of, you know, as you're saying all these things, a number of things that come up in terms of, like, it's a challenge to have an experience and to share your experience, which I think you're having a multi-sensory, fully-bodied experience, and then you're resorted to communicating things back down to language. And I think from a Whiteheadian perspective, he thought that there would always be a gap between that direct embodied experience and what could be captured in the language that we speak. And so I think in some ways, if we look forward, the process of creating VR to create some metaphoric experience of your experience so that other people could go into VR and experience what you experience. I think that's the thing that I've seen that has been really powerful is that people that have been able to translate a very specific experience that they've had and put it into VR and then walk out of it understanding it. Or even their thoughts and dreams. There's a piece called Future Dreaming that was at Tribeca, I believe in like 2019. by Sutu, Eats Flies, and it was a piece by these aboriginal teenagers who had created this depiction of their lives five years in the future, ten years in the future, and twenty years in the future, and you get to embody their dreams, and you walk out and explore what their aspirations are, like the deepest part of their essential character that they want to be. And I have an unpublished interview that I did with them, but what I found was like the conversation that I had with them could not even approach the experience I had of who these people were from the VR experience that they had created. And so they were working with a master VR artist guiding them to how to even create and make these experiences. Aboriginal teenagers that didn't necessarily have the tools or skills or knowledge to be able to create that without the aid of Someone who was so deeply steeped in the technology He had done comic book projects with them before but you know that experience that I had of like wow that was a moment was like the potential of this medium to have that full ability to express the nuanced experiences of yourself and I think a forager where there's trying to like recreate this Really deep visceral experience of being underneath the earth by seal your roots of the mushrooms and they're like you're laying down on this haptic chair and there's like these smells that are blowing over you and you're like It sort of transports me into this other mode of being it's like, you know these low frequencies that are like rumbling and I hear them and it's just like I don't know how to quite describe it other than this deep sense of embodied rootedness of that moment in that they're trying to like project out the experience of a mushroom but it was just like the power of the VR itself to be able to communicate these things so I mean that's what I'm focusing on on that front but there's also the other question that you know you have in terms of like the social dynamics that happen in these different VR experiences and there's been some early inclinations of, you know, there was a piece at Venice called Mandala where it was like a live theater piece and it was about the Monkey King and so like this Buddhist story, but the way that they're telling the story is very much a Socratic method of asking these questions and engaging the group, but there's certain moments where You have to make a decision, but how do you make a decision with six people? Well, what it was was that there's people from three different colors and six people so two of each color in order to have a vote that passed you would have to have one of each color vote to make something happen. So you have this sort of deliberative process where the story would change based upon whether or not the people in the story would either comply or revolt. So there's a number of different moments where you're putting agency within this group of people to dictate what is unfolding over the process, over the story. Or things like Alien Rescue, which is more of like an immersive theater piece where you're one person, but you're in, you know, with three immersive theater actors, but you have all these, like, I-bots that are there that are able to fly around and they're not really have any narrative agency, but they have the locomotion agency to move around and observe. So they can, there's different characters that break apart and do different things. So as an individual, they can decide what story they're going to follow. So I feel like in just even platforms like VRChat, where there's things like the Prefabs community that have been creating these open source tools to basically make these worlds even possible. And so there's like this gift economy of open source sharing of these resources that they're creating so that other people that are coming in can have a pool table in their world. And so there's like this. trying to get outside of the normal modes of capitalistic exchange and saying that, what's most important here is the experiences that we're creating, so let's create the best experiences we have. Then there's this commons that people can draw from to start to create these different immersive experiences. I think that's what's exciting, is that you can have the opportunity to Replicate and share without the normal constraints of production. It's more of a knowledge production That's going into it But you can share it without having to draw from other aspects of the earth and that because of that there's new gift economies that can start to emerge and so I think look into what's happening in VR chat to see how These communities are co-creating these worlds together and sharing knowledge in a way that is getting outside of this normal capitalistic exchange and so Those are just some examples that came up. I don't know if you saw any experiences here that had more of a social component, but there's one immersive theater piece where you're kind of going around in a group. And then at the end of it, you have a shared experience. Or even like Symbiosis by Polymorph, they have like six different characters. And I've done three of the different characters because it came to Portland, Oregon. And so part of what they wanted to create was a different journey for each of them so that when they came out of it, then each person could share from their own individual experience and try to find the different commonalities Being inspired by different aspects of some of the work from Donna Haraway and talk about some of the different themes or whatnot So to what degree that that off-boarding process where people are given a space to talk about it like the experience with Collider You know after you get done with that then you're sitting together with the other person and they give you a set of questions to ask each other to sort of Debrief each other and pack different things and be able to talk about the thing that you just experienced from each of your perspectives Like what were you experiencing? What was I experiencing? So it's an another opportunity to tell the stories of what was happening in that So I know that hopefully that gives some insight for what you were talking about
[00:57:48.272] Claire Fitch: Yeah, absolutely. I was volunteering with the symbiosis people yesterday so I was helping them like dress people in the suits and everything all day and there's the moment at the beginning where everyone has to choose the character they are and polymorph, you know, says figure this out on your own. You have to, you know, rock-paper-scissors if you need to but you need to come to an agreement. And watching this happen like 10 different times was so fascinating. It was like my favorite part of the experience is people either having like a really strong idea about what character they wanted to be for no reason. They don't know what the character's experience is going to be like, but they're interested in a slime mold or whatever. Or most of the time it was people really being unwilling to negotiate or just feeling awkward about this, feeling strange about what it means to look at a stranger and have like some sort of influence over what their life is. And this is something we do all the time with every action we have is, you know, constrain or enable the actions of others. And so it was really interesting to watch this unfold in real time is what sort of negotiation was or was not occurring. And I think that that's something that, as you mentioned, onboarding and offboarding of it, we're not taught. you know, we're taught in our world to relate in really particular ways, and when you're thrown into a VR experience that is asking you to relate in different ways or experience in different ways, I think there needs to be some sort of recognition of the fact that that's not an easy transition to have, that you need to provide some sort of structure, framework, or tools with which people can learn how to relate in new ways. And I think, you know, another thing about Symbiosis I like is that There's this hunger I saw in some groups afterwards of, hey, what did you see? What did you see? Really wanting to know that these were strangers talking to each other and having to relate just because of curiosity. And I think that that is something new that I'm walking around South by and I'm not going up to a stranger and saying, what did you experience here? What's going on? I mean, maybe you are better than I am. But it's hard to, right? It's hard to find a way of opening up these sort of relationships that I think there's something that really excites me about this idea of creating questionnaires, creating practices or even projects you have to do together, ways of relating before and after VR experience that can begin to sort of weave the thread between the virtual and the material world through the body, through the person, right? So that you're not just confined by the delineation between the two worlds, because there's having the headset on and having the headset off. There's something going on in the way that you're understanding your own experience and reflecting on it with others, that you're able to create this thread between them and weave this way of being that I think necessitates relations with other people. If you're doing it on your own, living in this blended world between the virtual and material, that's not something that you're going to be able to make change with, with other people that haven't had VR. And obviously access and distribution of VR is like incredibly unequally distributed. You know, those are the sort of gaps that you need to be thinking about. It's okay if you have access, this is experience, you have bodies, and how are you going to use it to sort of push forward into the material world, into the present, through relations? It's excited me, I think, yeah.
[01:01:00.238] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd be curious to hear a little bit more elaboration on what you had kind of alluded to earlier, which is that you came into South by Southwest with a certain idea about your thesis that you're writing for your PhD, and then if there's things experientially that you're seeing that changed it, or, you know, I guess from my perspective, when I think of the term techno-capitalism, I think of like meta and these big major corporations that are driving the industry, and I think of what's happening here, where the artists are creating stuff, almost like fighting against the influences of what Meta One, which is a lot of gaming, and I've been covering these immersive stories for years and years and years, and it's, for me, a great tragedy that some of what I see as the most exalted potentials of VR are not being distributed because of the economic reasons or whatever, I don't know what, like there's an idea that folks at Meta have that what VR is is Ready Player One, inspired by science fiction, and it's going to be all this gaming all the time, and that's what's going to drive the industry, whereas the really deep, meaningful stories that are being told here either need to be optimized and eventually distributed, or even when they are, not always put at the same platform as some of these things that are kind of like more How's it like candy crush ask devoid of deeper meaning Let's just say like not to the fact that it's like trying to addict people but more of just like Empty in a way that doesn't connect to me personally that I don't find it as interesting It might be a fun game mechanic, but it's not speaking to me the way that these projects are, and the difference is that I think these projects are connected to what's happening in the world, and they're telling stories of what is happening in the world in a way that that's not always happening in a way that feels a little bit more escapist fantasy with what Meta is focusing on, what they want. So when I think of this dimension of techno-capitalism, I think of the tragedy of what the potentials are from what I see and what the artists and the creators are doing versus what the big major corporations are putting up on a pedestal for what they want to show people what VR is.
[01:02:50.187] Claire Fitch: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, I think meta meta's and the metaverse is understanding and horizon world sort of understanding of relationship to land I find deeply troubling in this way that is about Purchase right? It's about territoriality. It's about carving out a slice of the world for yourself and buying it that I think is
[01:03:12.782] Kent Bye: Horizon Worlds, you don't buy anything. You don't buy anything? No. Not on Horizon, no. OK. You have other things like cryptocurrency, but everything on Horizon is not bought. It's exchange. No, it's just free. OK. So you don't have to pay anything for Horizon. At least, there's other things like crypto voxels and other metaverse worlds that you have to actually buy and sell land. But VRChat, Rec Room, or Horizon Worlds are all kind of like people create whatever they want. And you don't have to buy anything to have that space.
[01:03:39.643] Claire Fitch: Okay, well that's very cool, but also you do have to buy a VR headset, right? And you have to, there's certain things that I'm thinking about this, I just think about the territory of it being, I mean it's really interesting to me that like the idea of the virtual space is about some sort of freedom or ability to exist because you have access to land and you have the ability to terraform, right, to design and control. And we've seen this happen in Roblox and Minecraft and all of these experience areas. People are doing wildly creative stuff with their relationships to land in this way that's really fascinating to me. But at the same time, with Meta particularly, like you have Zuckerberg purchasing like massive swath of land in Hawaii that like cut off access to the coast for people that, for indigenous people particularly, to whom the coast had been a really important means of existence and had cultural and social meaning for many, many years. And so you have, like, when I look at MEDA and think about the ethos that Zuckerberg is materializing through the company. His is one that, you know, is fearsome to me, for sure. When I first started getting interested in virtual, I wrote my master's on virtual reality natures, and my big critique was the natures that were available on Oculus. And I found them sort of falling into these different categories, where it was either a nature for exploration, right? Go to a mountain that you couldn't go to in the real world, or go see this jungle that you couldn't see in the real world. has a sort of idealized version of what nature should be, right? What nature is and what nature isn't. Or there was like meditation experiences, which is, this is also an idea that nature is relaxing and it is not human and it's not filled with strife and you don't see pollution, you don't see a degrading tree, you don't see oil spills, you see this sort of relaxing, calm nature that is different from our non-calm world. And this sort of ability, I think, to terraform or to create a beautiful experience of nature that doesn't show the realities of what techno-capitalism is doing, it does feel dangerous to me, right? That you can have that potential of preserving nature in the digital world without having to really ethically relate to it in the material world. However, what I've seen here, particularly through Forager and Symbiosis, through Once a Glacier as well, and also the program that was about the plant that had radiation.
[01:06:01.778] Kent Bye: Oh, it was Spring Odyssey.
[01:06:03.459] Claire Fitch: Spring Odyssey, yes. You find these different ways of envisioning what nature is. In Forager particularly, you see the city at the end, you see trash in the forest, things like this. That you are, and in Spring Odyssey, you're seeing contamination, right? You're seeing these different ways of envisioning the complexity of what nature is. That I think this is really challenging. What I'm most afraid of is this sort of idea that the only relationships to our environments we want are ones that are for the human in a pleasurable way, for us to express ourselves. ourselves or experience our own lives in a way that is not about finding this sort of relationship of reciprocity between the self and the other, the self and the non-self. So I think the thing that I still struggle with is thinking about the fact that a lot of these programs are still happening with particular hardware that is created by particular people and with particular software created by particular people. That there are some sort of constraints that do necessarily involve any artist in techno-capitalism just by means of how the industry is now. But I also think this is a capacity that has always been there when we see people's relationships with technology is for subversion and for using any technology to an ends different than it was designed for. There's this wonderful geographer named Sarah Elwood who talks about this as the glitch politics of resistance, that there is always a way to hack a technology to ends that become out of the control of its producers or become out of the control of those who are trying to profit off of it. And that really excites me. I think explicating the nuances in artists' negotiations with these limitations is really fascinating to me. I mean, talking to artists about, like, when do they find themselves butting up against the technology, either the hardware or the software? When do they find themselves sort of reaching a limit to what they want to do because of those constraints? Or when do the constraints become enabling, become them learning new ways of creating things that they wouldn't have necessarily done for themselves? And how do they find ways around it? How do they glitch it out or hack it in a way that allows them to create in the way that they want to?
[01:08:10.220] Kent Bye: Yeah, one immersive experience that comes to mind as you're talking about depictions of nature, one that I really appreciated was called Gondwala, which was at Sundance last year, which was a 24-hour experience that was spanning like 150 years. So they were recreating aspects of the Amazon rainforest in a simulation that's on this constrained space that you can explore around. But you can go into it, and they had recordings of the wildlife that was there. So as time went on and as the nature degrades, then you have like a soundscape of that wildlife that gets much more diminished based upon what they would project for which species would be still around. So you go from a contrast of seeing a fully flourishing Amazon rainforest into something that's dead and dying and much less of an ambient sound source. So over the course of 24 hours, and so it's one of those things where maybe I would have liked to have seen it in a much more approachable way for people to really get that sense of that change, like on a human scale of like, you know, maybe an hour or a half hour. I think 24 hours is a lot, but this idea that you could depict more of a dynamic changing of environment. So one of the questions I had gotten was around sound and spatial design. And I think eventually, as we start to have more of the same approach of, say, physics engine with simulating the virtual spaces, what about the audio engine and being able to dynamically produce sounds? And so creating soundscapes that are really rich, I think, actually is going to be a really good way. Because our vision is very, we're very dominated by our engine. But there was something really powerful by just focusing on the sounds and a sound design that's much more dynamic or changing. that could start to maybe have that more ecological experience of immersing yourself into a space and trying to feel the kind of relationality of the world around you based upon the sounds you hear, which is a lot of ways that we also experience nature. We don't always see the bird that's making a noise, but we'll certainly hear it. I like that as an idea. But there's this documentary that I saw at Sundance that was narrated by Jason Momoa. It's called The Deep Rising, which was just the idea that we need to have this revolutionary movement to protect the sea because we have deep sea mining that's wanting to have these machines collect these little nodules that have cobalt in them. So in order to have the quote-unquote green energy revolution with electric cars, you have to explore and extract more of the metals in order to get the metals that you need in order to actually facilitate those batteries to be able to provide those electric cars. And so there's a number of experiences at IFADOC Lab that we're talking about our relationship to the world around us. And one was Okawari, where I was talking to the creators. And their conclusion was, we don't know if we actually have the carrying capacity to have everybody on the planet have these headsets, especially with how fast they're changing and how many of them that we need. We don't know if this is necessarily a good idea. And from my perspective, as a VR creator, it's like, well, maybe these technologies could help us sort of have a paradigm shift so that we can actually be more in right relation to the Earth. And so for me, it could be like an argument to say, we should pursue this, because there could be a transformative potential for people to have the cultural values that maybe you're asking for something different. But at the same time, you're kind of fighting against this extractive nature of capitalism. You've mentioned that a couple of times. And I feel like there's this. argument that you can make, oh, well, VR will have us have less things that we want, and so there's less of a resource demand on the Earth. But what Okawari was saying is that every time you have, like, more renewable energy, it doesn't mean that the consumption of the energy is going down. We still are consuming more energy, so we're still actually using all these polluting energies. And so even though we have the perception that we have all these renewable energies, for the demand that's there, it's actually, like, not actually keeping up to what the demand is. This is the idea that even if you have a cup and it's not full, that you will always fill that cup up to the brink and that you'll still always be expanding and growing. I'd love to hear some of your reflections on that, because that seems like a lot of what you're focusing on, that extractive nature and that infinite growth nature of capitalism.
[01:12:12.947] Claire Fitch: I mean, I think you're entirely right that there needs to be a cultural shift. There needs to be a paradigm shift about consumption and about what we've been trained, you know, for so long to understand as a model of development or growth or more, you know, that is always about, you know, always does involve extracting more and having more of an influence on the environment. And I think that is what You know, going back to the philosophical ideas of VR is that, you know, you can say, OK, you can have environmental education in VR. You can have an experience of an ecology in VR. You can do all these things of knowing what it's like to be a non-human in VR. There's that part of it that I think, you know, there's interesting dynamics that we can't predict of how that will affect our relationships to our environments. But I think on a more embodied level, there is something really fascinating about what VR does to push you into this state of recognition that your experience of the world is not your own. That by putting this thing on your face, right, this is like literally in your hands, it's this very obvious sort of awareness of the fact that we are always involved with other tools, with other non-humans, whether it's a technology or the materials that the technology is made of, whether it's cobalt, whether it's something from the earth, all of the VR headset is from the earth. So that in putting this onto your body so intimately in a way that is rearranging your sensory experience and your emotional experience, I think there is an opportunity there for feeling this boundary between self and world sort of deliquesce, where you feel this sort of blurring happen, where you're no longer able to say, my cognition is the superior thing or human, sensory experience is the way of knowing the world or any of those things, you have to say okay there's a lot involved with this the same way every time I wear glasses or take Advil or anything I'm always modulating and mediating my relationship because I am becoming composed by the not-self, by things that are outside of me. And so I think VR does something very cool in that way of saying, hey, you're experiencing with the world, with the technology, with all these earthly components, with these materials, with all of the humans that designed it, that had the ideas about it, with the software that was working to operate it. You're becoming with a whole host of things that are not what you might define as you, if you understand yourself as some bounded subject. And so I think on a philosophical level that, you know, it's hard to measure the impacts of this. But I do think you're really right that this can lead to some paradigm shifts and just understanding, hey, what sort of networks of relation am I imbricated in that are allowing me to do what I want, to feel how I want, to be who I am? And I think once you start to think that way, it becomes really, really hard to be human centric. It becomes really hard to think that there's something superior about us that leads us to an ethic of domination over nature. Instead to think of yourself as thoroughly entwined and enmeshed with all of these non-human components. How can you then say we have to, you know, we want to extract to the degree we are to create VR headsets. I think there might be some ethic that comes in there and saying, hey, like, you know, there's limits, there's moderation that can happen, that we can still have these wonderful experiences, but it doesn't need to be premised with this idea that it is okay to degrade everything that is not for human purposes. Human as a soul thing that is separate from everything else.
[01:15:45.960] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I wanted to also invite you again if there's other questions that you wanted to ask me in terms of your work and your dissertation and other things that you're looking at from that media geography perspective.
[01:15:57.297] Claire Fitch: Yeah, I'd just be interested. I know you've been talking to so many people this week and for many years about this. How are you feeling right now about what's going to happen with the metaverse and meta's sort of control over VR as it stands right now? I know there's obviously other companies. that pose competition to Meta and the Havis, but looking at the lineup of talks here this week, there's so many about the Metaverse and much fewer about VR without the Metaverse. I found that a really interesting dynamic, and I'm interested to hear in your conversations with people if there is a sort of still energy for VR that hasn't just been totally bogged down by the bummer of Meta that I think a lot of people feel.
[01:16:45.018] Kent Bye: Well, South by Southwest is an interesting conference for me because There is a bit of a sense of, like, it's a tech conference, but it's really also tightly coupled to, say, pop culture in a way that maybe other conferences aren't as susceptible to the latest hype cycle of the moment. Like last year, I remember there was a lot of crypto excitement, and I was more of a crypto skeptic. We're here a year later, and we just had some of the biggest banks starting to potentially collapse. And some have had nothing to do with cryptocurrency and more of a run on the bank for venture capitalist firms that are connected to tech investment. And others, Molly White and Web3 is going just great, where she's tracking the relationship of cryptocurrency to the broader culture. And she's naming that there's a number of different banks that used to be the outlet for cryptocurrency to even exist. So you have these things where these hype cycles that naturally happen. And also, the metaverse has had this thing where it's been around for a while, but there was a bit of a glomming on from both the cryptocurrency perspective, but also there's VR, but there's also basically anybody can sort of declare that they're doing a metaverse if they're doing some sort of virtual world component. So it's kind of a diluted term that has, for me, lost a lot of meaning. I look to the metaverse standards forum because it's those companies that are defining the standards that will, for me, shape what the metaverse actually is because they're working at an infrastructure level. of open interoperable standards like GLTF, like OpenXR, you know, these sort of at a foundational level, the protocols that are defined at that level is actually what is going to be a driving force of how the metaverse unfolds with sort of other aspects of like unity and other spatial creations. The economics of the metaverse is still fraught. The new business models of this new paradigm have yet to be fully determined. Susanna Zuboff, with The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, was naming that there's this new unprecedented paradigm shift into this new form of capitalism that's more about behavioral surplus than it is about the surplus of labor. There's this shift like, are we going to move into this dimension of the metaverse? All the things I was talking about in terms of privacy and Nita Farahani's book that just came out yesterday, The Battle for Your Brain, which I did an interview with her, diving really deep about that, trying to establish a new human right of cognitive liberty. You have this shift of, how are we going to preserve aspects of our human rights in a way that has to ripple out, not only from the international law level, but then down to things like the European Union, their regulatory bodies, but how that gets defined as a human right. how that is binding different corporations who are asking for consent to individuals. That individual informing consent model is essentially a loophole, in some sense, where they can do whatever they want, regardless of what some of the human rights obligations are saying. There's no enforcement of those human rights. You can declare a human right, but then you have to enforce it mostly through some sort of regulation, which is what the EU is doing. Things like the AI Act, which is in the process of being deliberated. The AI Act and how that's enforced and how GDPR is being enforced will shape how these companies are interfacing with the future of these online spaces. So the Irish Data Commission made a ruling that they said, even as how Meta has decided for how to comply with GDPR, which is basically just disclose to the user that we're tracking LSA, they're like, no, that's actually not good enough. This is a regulation that you have to have these certain ways that you treat the data. You can't just have a loophole of informed consent to sit and do whatever you want. So, they have a $400 million fine against them. That's currently going through the appeals process. Depending on how that starts to play out, then you have this regulatory regime. To what degree can they enforce it is an open question. The European Union is 5, 10, 15, 20 years ahead of where the U.S. is in terms of regulation. It could be that either they're going to shape how they do all their architectures, or they decide to go with a bifurcated architecture and say, here's what the metaverse is for these people, and here's what the metaverse is for our people. Then if the metaverse is trying to be agnostic to those, then you're basically taking something that wants to be kind of like a global metaverse jurisdiction and say, it's going to be fragmented across all these different laws. And so their vision of the metaverse, I think, is going to be dictated by how some of these different regulatory regimes play out around the world, especially around privacy, because that's their main business model. And then the other thing I would just say is that in my talk I was talking about this Simon Wardley model where he has this process relational way of thinking how tech evolves in these discrete evolutionary phases where there's an academic idea, then it goes into this custom bespoke enterprise application, and then it goes into a consumer application, and then you have mass ubiquity. Well, because Facebook missed the mobile revolution, or they're still relatively young as a company to really jump onto it, all of their business is being dictated by Google and Android and iOS and Apple. Anything that they want to do with people interfacing with phones has to go with some of their deepest competitors. When Apple had this do not track type of decision they made on their platform, because a lot of what Meta is actually doing is tracking people across these third-party sites. When you stop that third-party tracking, you essentially are cutting off tens of billions of dollars from Meta's revenue. Meta has a desire to own their own platform. They're still on Android, so it's not like they've completely escaped the decisions of Google. They're trying to come up with their own sovereignty to own their tech stack. and find ways that they can have complete control and do whatever they want, regardless of things that Apple or Google are doing to dictate what they are able to do or not do. I feel like there's a lot of ways in which Meta has wanted to supercharge the consumer space of VR, because they want to get ahead. The systems that have the early adopters means that you have this Metcalfe's Law effect of The networks that's more valuable are the ones that have more people. And the value of the network's defined by the number of nodes squared, essentially. So people go to where the big networks are. And so if all of your friends are on one platform, then you're more likely to go on that platform. So they see this dynamic of consumer technology. And they're like, we need to invest billions of dollars so that we can get ahead of the game to get these systems out there. But the thing that Meta has neglected is that they've taken this top-down, hierarchical engineering approach and been like, Giving an extraordinary amount of money into like these triple-a game studios that have like these games are gonna be like the silver bullet whereas if they would have said let's create a vibrant ecosystem of independent developers that to just like support them and and really Understand and let's support the enterprise rather than they were late in creating their enterprise offerings they created and then they killed it off and they still haven't relaunched it and so you basically have them say at some point to these companies, if you want to use our platforms, you have to have your employees abide by our privacy policies, which is basically antithetical to most enterprise companies. Basically, Meta has ignored and actually been antagonistic to certain aspects of the enterprise market. There's certainly a lot of enterprise folks that have worked around it, but you can't have it in education because of FERPA. You can't have it into medical applications because of HIPAA laws. You can't abide by these regulations from the United States. Basically, what I see it as, they've metaphorically just skipped over the enterprise market, when that would be the thing that would allow organic slow growth. They're trying to supercharge their growth by investing all this capital into it to get a hold and get it out there, while it's not creating a sound foundation to allow it to organically grow. They want to supercharge it because they want to get ahead of all their competitors because of all these network effects. The end result is that they're really terrible at experiential design. It's taking a lot longer than anybody expected. And they've made a lot of really questionable choices for how much money they've given to these big companies, whereas if they would have given that same amount of money to a flourishing army of independent developers to support folks like here. So for me, there's this tragedy of all the lost potential for what could have been had Meta taken more of a relational approach. But they haven't. They've taken more of like, we're going to own this, and we want to own the Metaverse. And so because we want to own the Metaverse, their experiential design is terrible. Like, the experience of Horizon Worlds is nowhere near the experience of, say, even Rec Room or VRChat, because both of those systems were organically grown by game developers who were going from a more grassroots and bottom-up, rather than the top-down engineering with the design intention of wanting to own the Metaverse. So I feel that when I'm in their worlds. I feel like this is soulless. This is just terrible. And then some people from the outside will look at that and be like, oh, the metaverse is just all hype. There's nothing there. So anyway, that's my sort of elaboration on all that.
[01:25:18.953] Claire Fitch: It's a really interesting moment because I do feel like most people I talk to, there is this sort of laughing about the metaverse because of all of the publicity about what meta is doing in it. And all of their failures are, you know, just not inspiring, I think, to say the least. But maybe there's a possibility that when they eventually do really fail because of all the things that they've skipped over and this wild sort of misguided investments and not supportive generating this ecosystem as you're saying that that will be a space where people can look at it and say that's how you fail right and then this is what we want this is what you weren't able to give us that you know I think they might provide a good model for failure then and when I think any failure allows you to point the finger what went wrong and say like what happens when we do it differently and because of the nature of an emerging technology Hopefully right there will be opportunities to see it done differently. I think the thing that is a little like I'm nervous about is How do you like revamp? Excitement about the cool parts of it the exciting parts of it But I think that's exactly what artists are doing and seem to like, you know, I saw so many really like homegrown projects here, particularly a body of mine that was like a group of friends that were like, we built this in our house and we built this, the physical installation in the backyard of our Airbnb and we dragged it here and like on our backs, you know, like there are people that are still putting in the work and finding ways around the limitations that corporate VR has put on the industry in general. So, you know, it could be an exciting combustion in the future that opens room for new energies to come in and influence the world of VR, I think. Hopefully, but yeah, it's an interesting moment to try to track these shifts And what is taking shape that I think the process philosophy orientation towards it is the way to sort of yeah watching it unfold is endlessly fascinating
[01:27:07.275] Kent Bye: I think one person said to me, you can imagine these executives looking at a spreadsheet, and that's how decisions are being made, rather than being embedded into the experiences and making decisions based upon the people and the experiences. I was talking to a number of different, whether it's Jessie Cullen as a PR rep, she knows if she wants to represent a project based upon just interacting with the creators. I feel like the curators that are in the space and people that are funders and stuff, there's a way in which that there's just like that in Hollywood. You go and make these pitches, and it's a lot about these embodied connections. But it's mostly about the relationality of people. And just even with VCs funding companies, it's all about the team that you put together and the way that they cohere as a team. And so I feel like there's a spirit of the independent developers that have always been a huge part of the VR industry and innovation. I remember being at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference 2014, which is the first conference I covered, May 19th and 20th of 2014. And Denny Unger from CloudHead Games said, you know, it's going to be indie developers that are going to really be driving innovation. And that's a huge checkmark. Yes, absolutely. And that Oculus at the time is going to be really dictating what happens with the industry and that's also come to pass and so I feel like really understanding how The true innovation is coming from this grassroots like just a handful of people some of the biggest experiences in VR have been from Extremely small teams that have like been able to create something that has completely changed the world like three people created Beat Saber it's like Just think about that. That's like the biggest VR game of all time. So I feel like VR is still like that. There's still room for people to come in and just in a small footprint be able to have a disproportionate amount of change, which for me is why I think it's so exciting and why I continue to be involved with it. But yeah, I guess I sent you lots of other presentations and talks and interviews. And you saw my talk here. I'd love to hear any other feedback from your perspective of media geography, which I'm just getting introduced for the first time from you.
[01:29:05.947] Claire Fitch: There was one thing that really interested me in your model of different types of presence. And we have the four elements, right? So there's active, and then the embodied, environmental, the social, and then what is the fourth one? Emotional. That there was another chattered, is his name? Is that his name? There was another model that you showed me that was like, or that in one of the talks, you showed that it was similar for a model, but it was different names. One of them was affect, emotion, and you sort of tracked them.
[01:29:34.965] Kent Bye: So Dustin Chertoff was a presence researcher who was looking at experiential advertising and so they were looking at things in terms of like what are going to be the ways to connect to the audience and they were looking at say like affective and sensory and cognitive social and active. They weren't explicitly using the elements, but it sort of matches over very closely. And so Chertoff have already written that, and I was already talking about presence through more of a hermetic elemental approach. And so Chertoff came to the same conclusion in some ways. And there's been other things, like Carl Jung talking about it in terms of the intuitive aspects of the fire, or the thinking, the sensory, or the emotional. So it doesn't Chertoff was doing that yet.
[01:30:18.024] Claire Fitch: I found this really fascinating. I really loved the way you tracked it into this sort of elemental way of thinking that felt, you know, it really like resonated with a lot of geographic thinking about the elemental for me. And the one thing that it made me wonder about was this notion that some people, you know, there's obviously like the four elements in the way that we understand it, but there's also, you know, other models and other cultural traditions of understanding, you know, different elements, fifth elements, sixth elements. other elements. And then also the idea of alchemy, right? This idea of, instead of thinking about a stable element, thinking about phase shift. And I think that in my mind, this is very like relational or processual way of thinking, about thinking of how elements combine, recombine, change through time, or are put into different configurations that don't really allow them to be the same sort of like stable, delineated elements, right? That instead, to focus on alchemy, to think about the space between these interactions, where you have earth and wind and fire, all sort of like put into different collaborations with each other. I was wondering if you thought about these four divisions that you have as things that you do sort of feel yourself able to feel like a blurry space between them or the middles between them or the overlaps between them in a more like alchemical mode of thinking. The embodied presence and the emotional presence, the active presence, these things can, or you see them combining and uncombining or shifting in different ways in VR that they're not necessarily siphoned out.
[01:31:47.805] Kent Bye: Yeah, I mean, I think my orientation is like pluralism, meaning that there's not going to be any one master taxonomy, but that there's a fundamental incompleteness to any one of them. And so, like you can do a four element approach, which gives you some lens and we have some embodied intuitive metaphors for, you know, this dialectic between hot, cold, wet and dry, which comes from many different traditions around the world have actually adopted that kind of elemental approach. And so it's in the spirit of me coming from more of a Western culture where Empedocles elements and that's been a part of the Western tradition. But in the Chinese tradition, there is a five element with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. So they have a different configuration. But I'm not as familiar as to how to make those jumps. I think someone from a Chinese culture may be able to understand how to make those. But for me, it's also not just the quality of the experience, but it's also the context and the character. So there's all the dimensions of character. And there's the story, which is how it unfolds over time and the story structure of that. And so the dynamics of the process as it's unfold, and to what degree is it kind of branching on a linear narrative. And so realizing that there is going to be a fundamental incompleteness, and there's going to be a plurality of different perspectives as to what even artists or creators are thinking about when they're creating it. You were talking about earlier how thinking about the nested context of the economic context within the context of the culture, but yet has a disproportionate amount. And so thinking about how those are relating, that just the same there's this mapping of the intersectional aspects of domination and oppression, where you could just look at from how women are oppressed from a feminist perspective or for how people of color are oppressed and through the lens of racism or through a decolonization lens. And so I feel like by looking at people who have been oppressed and just using that as a lens, there's an experience called gnomes and goblins, which my wife absolutely loved. But there was an element where they tried to create these androgynous characters, but they were all male-presenting. And so there was no female-presenting characters at all, but they weren't necessarily truly androgynous. They were more male. So she just felt like, I'm in this world where there's no females. I don't feel like there's any representation. And so her experience of that and what that felt like her and her body, she was telling me this on a walk. And I was like, you know what? I don't think I'm going to be able to represent your perspective. I just need to talk to you, and you need to share your perspective. because there's a part of my perspective that's incomplete where I can't have that because I haven't had that lived experience. And so embracing that pluralism of saying, okay, well, you share your perspective and then you're able to identify what the relation dynamics are that you experienced and you're pointing out that I didn't see. And so there's a way of like sort of embracing that I feel like is kind of inviting this pluralism of like allowing people that have experienced different degrees of oppression or different degrees of power dynamics That are able to elaborate on that in these experiences. There was a piece here called the MLK now as a time which was all about how people of color have either lost aspects of voting rights or have housing discrimination or Police brutality or so you have these three little vignettes that are being extrapolated from MLK speech that he gave and You get this embodied experience of like wow, okay So this is a dimension of reality that I may have not experienced but they're able to show a direct experience that's able to recreate some of the different tensions of, even in the simulation, this feeling of being looked at or the injustice of the redlining or the frustration I had of not being able to vote. So creating these embodied interactions that are able to then connect to a deeper level of this lived experience that they have. There's gonna be things like that where it's not necessarily tied to any lens of the elements per se But there is an elemental of like how much agencies you have how much embodiment you have but their decision of their design decision Maybe I want to create this feeling of frustration of not having people vote and it just so happens that you have this embodied interaction and agency and it's the taking away of the agency that is the thing that provides the emotion so For me, I feel like the elements are kind of like the first baseline of the experience that I have, and almost like my memory path of like, oh, this game, this is more of a game, or this is more of a film, or this is more of an embodied experience, or this was more of a social experience, or this is more stimulating to my mind and challenging me to solve something or to think about something. You know, there's kind of a center of gravity that these have. Like those are kind of like experiential ingredients, but you can also look at it through the lens of character, which is like, I want to have truth or beauty or goodness or justice and like have that as the primary design element. So I think there's lots of ways that depending on where you start, then you start to expand from there.
[01:36:19.773] Claire Fitch: I love thinking about this too. You start with these elements and putting that in a combination with your ideas about context is then thinking about all of these multiple levels of immersion that happen when you're in a VR experience where it is wonderful for thinking about pluralism because you're a person, you're a person waiting in line, you're a person in a virtual world, you're a person in a headset, you're a person coming out of the headset. There's a whole lot going on. But also here, we're a person in this stark expo room, and then we're a person in the Fairmont Hotel, we're a person in South Pie, in Austin, in an economy, in a politics, in a world, in a state, whatever, all these multiple levels. And if what VR allows you to do through your, or what you allow us to do through the framework of these different types of presences, then I think you're entirely right, is attuned to the balances and imbalances of when you're allowed to have agency in these different contexts. or when you're allowed to feel pleasure or excitement or creativity or autonomy in these different contexts, that I really like the capacity of VR for then sort of allowing you to leave one immersion, you know, enter a different level of immersion or a different context of immersion and think, all right, so within Austin, what am I allowed to feel? Within Texas, What am I allowed to feel? What am I allowed to do within this day? You know, this day of the week, on a Tuesday, on a Wednesday, what am I allowed to do within a certain political regime? What am I allowed to do? Who am I capable of becoming? What sort of limitations and capacities are given to my own perceptual sort of process? Yeah, the process of becoming. That is, you know, it's a really lovely way to think about the capacities of VR, I think, for just differently sensitizing you to the ways that these are always variable arrangements of agency, constraint, creativity, practice. Yeah.
[01:38:07.858] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I've learned so much about media geography. And I'm so appreciative of you taking the time. And I guess, as we start to wrap up, I'm curious what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable.
[01:38:21.006] Claire Fitch: I think the potential that excites me is virtual environments being a place of reflection on our habitual modes of relating to each other and to our environments, and also a place of potentially rearranging what those habits are, trying to do things differently. I think that As I mentioned, this sort of blurring of the self and the environment through the tool, I think that VR, as a media geographer, I'm biased, but I think it allows us to attune to the processes of mediation that are always occurring in our relationships and to think about what is going on with how that's arranging subjectivity, what that allows us to become, and yeah, really just have it as a space of reflection and a tool with which we can think differently about the ways that any technology any system, any infrastructure, any context, is arranging these human-environment relationships to different ends and imagine them in new shapes.
[01:39:19.447] Kent Bye: Beautiful. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?
[01:39:24.948] Claire Fitch: You know, there's one thing I do want to say to VR people, which is just to keep making art, I think. It gives me hope. It gives me a lot of hope.
[01:39:34.081] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Claire, thanks so much for reaching out. It's a real pleasure to get a chance to meet you and hear more about your work and to see my own intuition for how process philosophy is connected to VR. And just glad to hear how you're applying it. And I continue to see a lot of resonance there. And just really, I have a lot of hope that as VR continues to progress, that other people may get catalyzed into these new modes of thinking. in terms of these processes and relationships. Because I've had that experience by myself. I've had Andrea Katsakaro talking to her last night, kind of having this shift that she's gone through over the last number of years, now kind of more fully embracing the process relational approach. So I think there's some hope there that this can be at a larger scale. So again, thanks again for taking the time and sharing your perspectives, and looking forward to seeing where you take it in the future.
[01:40:22.065] Claire Fitch: Thank you. Thank you, too. Thank you so much.
[01:40:25.513] Kent Bye: So that was Claire Fitch. She's a third year PhD student looking at a branch of human cultural geography called media geography, and she is working on her PhD thesis called The Emergence of Virtual Natures, Human-Environment Relations, Technical Capitalism, and Virtual Reality. So I've under different takeaways about this interview. Is that first of all, well, I love when stuff like this happens, which is I had no idea what media geography was. I have this collision at my talk and then email followup. And then I ran into Claire the following day and then followed up with her and was able to book out a two hour time slot after all of the immersive exhibition had finished. I'd basically scheduled like seven hours worth of interviews from 10 AM up until 5 PM chatting with folks on the final day of South by Southwest. And one after another, I was just talking to these people. And so I was able to meet up with Claire and have this deep dive with I was wanting to learn more about media geography, but she was also doing this other research for her PhD. And so she had other questions that she wanted to bring up. And so I just gave her also an opportunity to ask me some of these different questions that I thought would be interesting and insightful to share with the broader community. So Yeah, really quite fascinating to hear about this aspect of media geography. I had no idea that such a thing even existed. You know, when I think of geography, I think of cartography and mapmaking, but there's this whole movement on non-representational geography that she talked about and how the relational dynamics between the world around us and the maps that we make that have historically been used for propagating different aspects of colonialism. And so with this more decolonized lens and more process relational dynamics between space and place and humans and nature and humans and this Idea called human dash environment. So human environment, which is stemming from this Donna Haraway idea of nature culture all one word So combining these two different concepts with that hyphenate of human environment human dash environment that there's a relational component to that so Yeah, super fascinating to hear how process philosophy is influencing looking at more of the relational dynamics of all these things and how she starts to think about context and the way that she was breaking up, how she's categorizing different immersive experiences through these different lenses of the relationship to the environment and nature and these non-human representations and to not be so focused on the human perspective, but to say that humans are actually embedded within this environmental context and are actually in relationship to the world around us. And so to avoid taking too much of an anthropocentric perspective on all these things, there's the Anthropocene, which is the idea that humans as a collective have had such an impact on the world around us that we have to name a whole geological era around that because it's so drastic that the people in the future will be able to understand the ways of techno-capitalism has been interfacing with the world around us in this extractive nature. And she's critiquing that in the sense of like, hey, there's, it's not just all of humans, it's actually the subsection of technology and capitalism and techno capitalism, that has really been the driver of a lot of that extractive influence on the world around us. And so the capital is seen rather than the Anthropocene. So ideas like that of trying to understand all these different relational dynamics, but also to be looking at the role of South by Southwest into the development of these different technologies and this confluence of all these different dimensions of technology and culture and pop culture and music and film and immersive experiences. And yeah, just this interaction that's happening there at South by Southwest and Yeah, the Southwest Southwest immersive exhibition is a confluence all that. So to what degree are these different immersive experiences representing nature? And you know, just the way that she's looking at this investigating, I thought was super fascinating. So yeah, just glad that she finds the work that I'm doing to be helpful. And certainly this process relational lens, I think is also something that I deeply, deeply resonate with. And so I'm just really happy to see that there's other lenses that folks are looking at this as well. Also ran into another person Daniel Stratt from figural bodies That's also been looking at process philosophy and how it relates to virtual reality as a medium in general So yeah I expect to see more this process relational thinking continue to be revealed over time just because I think it's such a Unique and canny fit to be able to describe with a solid metaphysical foundation of this process relational metaphysics but also into just more this relational being of a understanding how we go into these virtually mediated contexts, and it may be revealing different dimensions of our relationships to ourselves, to other people, to the world around us. And that, you know, what Jaron Lanier says is that once you take the VR headset off, that's when the actual VR experience really takes place in that. idea that it's just blazing new neural pathways into our mind and that these immersive experiences are able to Change the way that we perceive the world and hopefully the way that we relate to the world Ideally that we're in more right relationship to the world around us So I think that's the heart of both what the media geography is trying to emphasize and the work that Claire is doing and this kind of interrogations of taking a little bit more of this Skeptical or like cautious look to you know, hey, maybe let's not go all in metaverse especially if it means if it's escaping and being out of right relationship to the world around us and to always look at the dimensions of techno capitalism that are driving these immersive technologies and to understand that there is a real impact onto the world around us as we create these different experiences and that we are ultimately trying to be a ourselves with each of our individual actions or behaviors coming into more relationship to the world around us, especially mediated or maybe catalyzed or inspired by some of these immersive experiences. But that's not a sure bet that that's how things are going to turn out. So things can go in this other escapist way of creating an idealized representation of nature that doesn't represent all the true darker sides of the extractive nature of technology and humans and techno capitalism and its impact on the environment around us. So Anyway, really super fascinated to dive into this and yeah, excited to come across more media geographers and also just folks that are looking at through this process relational lens as they apply it to virtual reality. So that's all I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast and please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a necessary part of podcast. And so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening