#784: Elements of Culture & Cultivating Community with Jessica Outlaw

Jessica Outlaw is a culture and behavioral researcher who released a qualitative study of the experiences of 13 women in social VR in October 17 2017, and then on April 4, 2018, she released a survey of 600 users in social VR getting some robust data on how much harassment that people have experienced in the early days of social VR. I recorded a Voices of VR interview with Outlaw on the day that she released her survey results in 2018 where she had mentioned to me The Elements of Culture from Andrew Brown’s 1995 book on Organizational Culture.

Outlaw expanded upon these Elements of Culture in a presentation that she gave at XR for Change in New York City on June 17th, 2019. I had a chance to sit down with her afterwards to expand on all of these elements of culture, and how they’re related to cultivating a community:

  • Heroes, Archetypes, Mascots
  • Stories, Myths, Origin Stories
  • Ceremonies, Rituals, Symbolic Acts, Rites of Passage
  • Symbols
  • Language
  • Artifacts
  • Taboos
  • Jokes

How to create safe online spaces is not something that can be purely technologically engineered, but something that will require a holistic approach. There are certainly technological architectures that will help, but because human beings are involved with relating to each other, then there are certain aspects of human behavior that can’t be completely controlled and modulated with technology. As a culture and behavioral researcher, Outlaw is advocating that there are ways in which you can cultivate and shape an online culture by focusing on these elements of culture. The intended goal is to create a culture that can be more self-policing. We talk about the onboarding process into a culture, and how these elements of culture could start to subtly shape the aggregate of individual behaviors in order to foster the type online communities with the culture that reflects the values of the creators. We discuss the scalability limits of this approach, and the tension between the top-down architecture and cultivation of cultural practices versus the emergent behavior of the individuals in a community.


Jessica is currently writing a series of articles on cultivating social norms and the nine steps to building a strong culture, and here is Part 1 and Part 2.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So on today's episode, I'm happy to have Jessica Outlaw back talking about the elements of culture. So back in April 4th of 2018, Jessica had just released a survey looking at different behaviors from a behavioral scientist perspective of what happens in VR, but also documenting the extent of harassment and sexual harassment that happens in virtual spaces. And so she's been really thinking about, well, how do we address this problem of harassment within virtual environments? And so she, as a behavioral scientist, is looking at other methods to be able to cultivate and create cultures that can be able to be more nurturing and regenerative in certain ways. And so one option to handle this problem is to monitor everything that ever happens within these virtual spaces and to then start to add all sorts of engineered technologies like artificial intelligence in order to monitor everything that is said and done, and then have AI tried to be the moderators and mediators of these different experiences. But yet there's so many different trade-offs of your privacy and your freedoms, and I'm not necessarily convinced that that's going to be necessarily a great solution. So then you're left with this problem of if you are going to have these public virtual spaces, then how do you ensure that people are nice to each other? And maybe that just gets down to something that is a human condition and that maybe there's larger things within that community that can start to cultivate and foster the different types of human interactions that we actually want to create. And can you do that at scale? Can you create the different types of cultures that you want to be able to influence it and subtly cultivate it in some ways? to have these large-scale interactions with lots of people that are following essentially your set of values and your ethical guidelines that you want to be able to cultivate within this community, and how do you actually do that? Well, Jessica is turning to anthropological research of the different elements of culture, and so she's going to be breaking down what she thinks are some of the primary fundamental components of what it takes to cultivate a culture and to foster communities. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Oasis of VR podcast. So, this interview with Jessica happened at the Games4Change conference, specifically the XR4Change, that was happening on June 17th, 2019 in New York City, New York. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:35.392] Jessica Outlaw: So my name is Jessica Outlaw. I'm a culture and behavior researcher. I'm based in Portland, Oregon, and I have a research lab there at Concordia University called the Center for Immersive Behavioral Science. And the focus of the lab is on user testing, immersive experiences. It's connecting creators of XR to expertise and helping them identify what are the right tools that already exist in social and behavioral science. that they can use to build better experiences. And then the third pillar of the center is about promoting the creation of VR and AR, and introducing new people to the technology, and helping everyone become a creator in this area, rather than just focusing on being consumers.

[00:03:19.615] Kent Bye: So maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into immersive technologies.

[00:03:26.186] Jessica Outlaw: Sure, so my background is behavioral science, and I was on a path to become an academic researcher focused on judgment and decision-making, but I decided I wanted to do industry research instead. So my first job out of grad school was doing UX research for Nike. I did that for a while, and then in 2016, I did my first VR demos, and I saw the massive potential of this technology and how small things in the creation of the environment, even if it's a virtual environment, can affect behavior inside the experience and after the experience. And so I got really fascinated by that and I decided I wanted to focus all of my work on immersive media and how to help people design and build experiences that would leverage what we know about how humans behave in the physical world because I actually believe that there's no such thing as like real world or not the real world. It's all part of our reality and you're able to actively construct every aspect of your reality using VR.

[00:04:27.959] Kent Bye: Well, it's a very powerful statement coming from a behavioral scientist because in some ways you're studying human behavior. And then what you're saying in some sense is that the human behavior that you would expect in the real world is also happening in the virtual world, but maybe it's amplified or modulated or changed in some ways. But maybe you could talk a bit about that in terms of what behavioral science research was like before VR and what you're able to do in terms of behavioral research now using VR.

[00:04:58.471] Jessica Outlaw: So I think that if the question is about like how do you study human behavior, I think what I would say is that the first like seminal study that I did was in 2017. It was qualitative interviews with 13 women who had no experience in social VR. And so I brought them into my office. I gave them demos of either alt space, rec room or Facebook spaces. And all I did was just observe them. So it was 30 minutes unfettered, they could ask me questions if they wanted to, if they didn't want to, that was fine. And then I spent 30 minutes with them afterwards saying like, what was that like for you? And how did that go? And it turned out that like, what I observed and what they reported is that they felt extremely uncomfortable in these social spaces, and they didn't feel like it was built for them. And so they reported behaviors to me, and also I observed these behaviors as well, like they wanted to choose really neutral avatars because they didn't want other people to know that they were female. They would intentionally choose not to speak because they didn't want to reveal who they were. Another behavior was that they would walk along the perimeter of groups because they didn't want to attract any attention. And so one of the key insights for me from that experience was those are all behaviors that women perform in the real world in order to not attract attention. And so the whole idea that this is a virtual space where people are not actually in physical danger, technically, they were still performing the same aspects of their gender identity that they were performing in the physical world. And so for me, I felt like, well, like that was the first study where I did where I was like, I don't really perceive a difference between the physical world and the digital world because humans are gonna be influenced by the things around them. And so what are the different ways that we can use virtual reality to build these entirely new worlds that can create entirely new social codes, that can create entirely new behavioral norms, and we can like unleash our imaginations and we can leave behind all of these notions that we have about what does it mean to be female or what does it mean to be a certain age or what does it mean to be a certain race. I have a friend who says she's a former gender studies professor and what she says is it's an act of courage to go out in public if you're not a white man because there's a threat of violence that's associated with not being a white man that's inherent to many people's experiences. And one example that I think about in this context is there's this commercial for a VR headset, and at the very end of the commercial, a helicopter comes in, and it's like the person helicopters out of this amazing pool party. And then that's the end, and the whole idea is that, wow, this person is so cool, they rode a helicopter out of a pool party. But the thing is, is that if you belong to an identity group where you're regularly policed by helicopters, or you belong to a group that regularly protests on the street, or maybe you are a veteran with PTSD, or maybe you had to be rescued from a disaster area, your associations with like helicopters coming in could be entirely different than whoa, this is my escape hatch out of the pool party. And so I think the thing is, is that there's all of these narratives that we have about like, what is this object for? What does this mean? There's all of these different associations that people have with them. And so what I'm trying to do in my role is just to, you know, kind of raise my hand and say, has anybody thought about what helicopters might mean to multiple groups of people?

[00:08:38.448] Kent Bye: Well, so this was your first study in 2017. And so what was the next study after that that you did in terms of looking at the behavioral research and VR?

[00:08:46.910] Jessica Outlaw: So the first study in 2017 was very small. It was only 13 people who I interviewed. And in 2018, PlutoVR came to me. And they were really curious to learn what were people's overall social preferences about social virtual reality. And so with their support, I recruited 600 regular VR users. And so this was in 2018. So we required people to be on a HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Windows Mixed Reality, or PSVR at least two times a month. So that way we could be able to like talk to people who are like, you know, knowledgeable and be able to elicit their preferences and also ask about what were the experiences that they had already had in social VR. So we got 600 respondents and some of the things that we learned were that a third of men have experienced some form of harassment in social VR and about half of women have experienced sexual harassment inside of social VR. And so what it meant was that what some people called social VR was actually like having their friends come over to their house and giving their friends demos. Like that was one of the most like social activities that people did. So as more hardware is coming out and perhaps proliferation of devices, like that will change. But it was interesting to me that people categorized giving demos to friends as social VR and it was like their favorite thing to do.

[00:10:10.707] Kent Bye: Well, I think in that study, I talked to you soon after that came out, maybe even actually the day that it came out, there was a lot of information about the extent of harassment that had been happening. Up to that point, there was a lot of anecdotal evidence of it, but this was maybe the first comprehensive survey that put it at that degree or level, at least that I recall seeing in that, I think for some people, they're like, oh, wow, that seems like very high. And then as you say that, there's sort of a voice in my head that I can imagine people saying, oh, well, what's it mean to get sexually harassed in VR? Like, that's not real. But maybe that's part of the problem is that people don't think it is as real as it is in real life. And so they may actually behave in ways that if they were to behave in that way, then they could potentially be arrested. And so there's this interesting liminal space where people are acting in ways that would be criminal face-to-face, but yet it's still an environment, a context where people are actually doing that. So just curious to hear a little bit more from you unpacking that as you've been digging into this of what's happening from a behavioral science perspective there.

[00:11:16.256] Jessica Outlaw: Yeah. Well, I would say as someone who has been sexually harassed inside of social VR afterwards, like I had intrusive thoughts about the experience. And so that is actually one of the markers is like intrusive thoughts about the experience, which also frequently occurs in physical assault. And so I think the thing is, is like, well, it's not real. Like, well then how do you explain things like intrusive thoughts or other symptoms that other people might bring up? And like, Even in the 2017 study, you know, there was that question like, well, how did that feel to you? And they were like, oh, it's like this social VR platform feels like my entire life has felt to me. Like they really felt under attack. And so I think the thing is, is that if you want to create a space that's going to be welcoming and actually be widely adopted, then I would just suggest that you test the experience with other people and get a larger sample size. Because I mean, I don't think that my advice would ever be like, well, just like create like an empathetic experience so you can feel like what it would be like to be under attack. I don't think that would genuinely be useful, but I think you could listen to other people's experiences. The other thing that I would add about that is that there were, like, many, many respondents inside of the survey who said, like, oh, it's just a game. And I think that's fine. I think there will probably always be a group of people who will be unconvinced by the research. I think, like, as a result, like, these additional subcultures will form where they have their own cultural norms about like how it's okay to behave and then there'll be other spaces where people will act in other ways. So I think it's fine to like set your own standards and norms for behavior. I think you should just be like very transparent like these are the things we believe and this is how people in our group act and if you want to be part of our group like this is how you act.

[00:13:10.185] Kent Bye: And I think that kind of leads us to the talk that you're giving here today at XR for Change, which is looking at how do you actually create these code of conducts or these cultures? Because in some ways, in the industry, there's a couple of ways to really address this issue of harassment, either to create AI overlords that record and document everything so that there's an objective track record, and then create some implicit social score on people to be able to say how much you trust people to then essentially get to the point where if people have a violation of this code of conduct you ban them or revoke their access of their membership to these communities. But at the same time, that doesn't seem like that may necessarily be a good, viable, scalable solution. Or maybe, to me, it takes back to like, should we have these groups that are that big? What is the role of having these groups and the difference between public and private space? Should we only have private interactions? But maybe we do need to have these public interactions, but then the whole issue of harassment and how to deal with it. So this seems to be like on the front lines of a lot of issues today and harassment So I'm just curious what your take on it is and what you were trying to present today here at XR for change

[00:14:23.619] Jessica Outlaw: Sure. So my talk today was presenting techniques for forming online cultures because I want to empower people with the tools that they have in order to create these brand new realities. So I think that what virtual reality has really highlighted to me is this potential for these new worlds that people can visit and like really build lives inside of. And I think there's also the potential for us to leave behind all of the associations that we have with the physical world. Like, you can even get rid of physics. Like, it's on such a basic level that you can construct your realities from scratch. And that also means that you can construct your culture from scratch. And my talk was on these nine elements of culture that anthropologists use when they arrive at a new place. They will just, like, make a list of, like, these nine things, how does this culture represent them? And how do they act them out? And if you can understand those nine things very, very clearly, you can understand and analyze a culture, but you can also influence an existing culture, or you can build a culture from scratch. And these are very general, like you could use this to change the culture of your family, you could use it to change the culture of your school, or your workplace, or, you know, your country. Like, all of these are extremely generic, and what I tried to do is customize those principles to a social VR audience.

[00:15:47.439] Kent Bye: So, let's dive into the principles. What are the nine principles then?

[00:15:50.694] Jessica Outlaw: So the first ones are about who are the heroes, the archetypes, and the mascots. So these are the people, or like the symbolic people, who represent, this is the type of person that gets celebrated. So an example of a hero in a social VR platform might be someone who helps onboard new people, creates really interesting worlds, is this like fabulous artist, and whoever that person is would be celebrated as a hero. You know, in contrast, there's science fiction heroes like Snow Crash, or for example from Ready Player One. Like, I've run into people in social VR worlds who call themselves Wade Watts from the book. And I think it's really interesting to think about, like, all right, so there's the heroes that come from science fiction, or there's other types of heroes. And I think when you're building a culture, you're transforming a culture. Who is celebrated tells you a lot about who gets respect, who gets status, who gets prestige, who gets resources. And then oftentimes heroes also have nemeses and you can also find out, you know, who is not being celebrated and who is being denigrated. And so if you can identify who the heroes are, then you can subsequently figure out like, all right, this is what that culture appreciates and this is what they don't appreciate.

[00:17:11.778] Kent Bye: As you talk about different online communities, there's first-person shooters, then on Twitch there's the big stars, or these different people who are exalted who actually end up getting a lot of attention. So would you consider those people to be kind of like heroes within those communities?

[00:17:25.635] Jessica Outlaw: Oh, yeah, I would think so. Yeah, if they have like status, then absolutely, like anybody with status. And so the thing is, is that when you are, let's say you're an app developer, and you want to decide, like, you can influence who the heroes are, and you can decide what is celebrated. So if you only want to celebrate the people with like the most viewers on Twitch, like that is one particular choice that you have. But let's say you want to celebrate the person who onboarded the most members, like that could be another thing. Or you want to celebrate the person who created the best 3D art every month, like that would be another way. And so you can both look at who's already being celebrated and amplify that person, or you can try to elevate people based on other values.

[00:18:10.433] Kent Bye: It also reminds me, within the VR community, how we have Blake Harris's History of the Future, which is really putting Oculus and Oculus founders Palmer Luckey, Brendan Arabay, Nate Mitchell, and Michael Antonoff, you know, the big co-founders of Oculus, they get featured quite prominently within this piece. And in some ways, it's through the lens of the market, because they sold it for $2 billion. So that is a form of status. But yet, As you read the book, it's like their story and they become the heroes. But yet, when I'm covering the same space, I'm more interested in what's happening in the community. Who are the people who are like Cloudhead Games and Danny Unger innovating and trying to create locomotion systems within VR and different creators, different experiences, different community organizers, people that are often behind the scenes who aren't necessarily at the forefront and are not included within that story. Have a different role to play which is like facilitating this community that has been gathering and being I guess kept alive By the energy and time that they spend so a lot of what I try to do on the podcast is focus on those people but it's like a different approach one approach is like the exalting of the hero's journey of those people who go on those quests. And like, my approach is a little bit more of the prospeography, which is like a community of people and trying to look at what is happening and who are those heroes within those communities who are creating those experiences and doing those things. So I think even within VR, there's different ways of looking at that level of status.

[00:19:37.990] Jessica Outlaw: Oh, definitely. Yeah, I mean, you can think about who is being represented. So even from like, the space race, NASA perspective, or is it the astronauts and the engineers that are getting the majority of the attention? Like, has that been the story of NASA and the space race? Because two years ago, they made a movie about Katherine Johnson, called Hidden Figures that was all about like this black female mathematician, that actually was instrumental in the space race. And so I think it's all about that representation and whose story matters. And for example, how would the culture of NASA be different if Katherine Johnson's contributions had been celebrated at the time of it instead of so many years later? And so I think I've got a good sense of the hero.

[00:20:21.653] Kent Bye: I mean, these could go on and on, I'm sure, to breaking down. But I'm curious to hear some of the other areas as well.

[00:20:28.271] Jessica Outlaw: Sure, so another one is around the stories. Like, what are the stories and the myths? So what is the origin story of that? What's really sticky about it? So I think one really great story is about how Altspace was going to close down, but then Microsoft saved it, and then the community really rallied together. Everybody wanted Altspace to continue, like the regular users there. It's like this whole story around we thought we were going to lose this community and now it's back. And so what does that mean? It's like, I think one of the meanings people could take from it was like, oh, like we valued this community so much and like we almost lost it and now like I'm going to value this community even more because that threat of a loss just elevated people's like love for that experience. Another thing could be around For example any land like I know that any land is really one of the more difficult platforms to use in social VR But as a result people are massively creative and they're massively collaborative Because they're always like interested in like learning from other users And so you might think like oh you should always strive to have the best user experience and make it like as easy as possible to use but from a any land perspective You might actually, by forcing your users to work so much harder, you might actually get a stronger culture because they're so interested in helping each other build.

[00:21:54.605] Kent Bye: It's interesting. Yeah. Cause you know, part of the going back to the stories is the shared experiences. So there's shared experiences that everybody goes through and then that becomes a point of like either you were there and you experienced that or you weren't. And so there's this being able to look at your own experience of how you went through that event. Like I remember when Oculus was bought by Facebook and, I was surprised. Everybody was surprised. But looking at what was happening on Reddit, it was almost like the story of IOI and Ready Player One, which is essentially like Oculus kind of represented this upstart and this indie underdog that then all of a sudden gets bought by the corporate master that then a lot of people were completely furious. And so there's a lot of shared experiences of people that were there to see that transition point of that moment. So I think there's something to be said about shared experiences and how that creates an in-group, out-group effect of if you were there and you experienced it, then that's something a lot different than someone who wasn't there and can't really fully understand the full depth of that. So I think that's part of those stories is that Maybe in telling those stories, people can maybe get some sense, but it's going to be difficult for people to really know for sure. But there seems to be this boundary of whether or not you have that shared experience of being able to participate within that culture or not. That creates this weird in-group, out-group thing that may seem like an arbitrary barrier, but actually can facilitate deeper, stronger community in that way.

[00:23:19.482] Jessica Outlaw: Yeah, so the sociological term for what you just described is called collective effervescence. And what collective effervescence means is like, for example, you go to a concert, and like you share this amazing experience with those people. And then you connect online later, even if they're strangers, and you're like, oh my gosh, this concert and like what it meant to me. And so that was how the term was coined is because it's a very common experience to have. And the other part that I would bring up about the shared group is that that's another element of culture, is getting together for these ceremonies, these rituals, and these symbolic acts. And so regularly it's important to have these ceremonies. where you call out who your heroes are and then you tell the story of why they're heroes and you talk about I'm gonna give this person like a certificate for like doing this behavior that I want and so by bringing people together for those experiences of collective effervescence it's a way of generating brand new stories and it's a way for you to perpetuate the culture that you want And it's a way to teach users, like, this is the behavior I want to see. These are the heroes who I'm going to celebrate. And it's a way to invite people to understand what your culture is. And then they can choose to join and be part of it. But by having those ceremonies and these rituals, it's an important element to any particular culture.

[00:24:45.176] Kent Bye: So I guess as people are thinking about, as they're creating products or trying to gather people, they can start to think about, like, what are the rituals that they want to do? What do they want to focus on? Because, you know, a lot of people, they'll create a piece of software, but it's like, they want to create a community. Well, what's it mean to actually create a community? Well, you have to think about different rituals you have. Like, in the United States, there's the Super Bowl. That's a ritual that we have as a culture. There's rituals around, like, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in terms of what we do to celebrate the turning of, the year or there's birthday rituals that we have that where we celebrate people's birthdays or anniversaries. And so there seems to be ways in which we're marking time that we have a certain amount of predictability for that, like anniversaries and birthdays that we get around and celebrate. But also there seems to be an element of recognizing people within the community to take the people that were otherwise invisible and to show that this is what they're doing behind the scenes to make this work and to feature and celebrate them in some way, but then to encourage other people to want to then contribute, be a part as well, to potentially also be featured as well.

[00:25:50.418] Jessica Outlaw: Right, right. And like you were talking about how you try to invite like a wide array of experts to speak to you when you go to conferences. And I've discovered so much about the VR community from your podcast, because I'm learning about the range of projects that are being seen at these festivals that I never have access to because I don't travel all that often. And then I understand like, oh, this industry is so much bigger. Like I will never ever meet everyone who's building experiences in VR. Whereas sometimes I feel like I'm actually capable of doing that, but I'm not. And so I think like this whole idea of being able to promote like the wider range of things is actually like one of the ways that I would say, like you're building the culture of your podcast and you're letting your listeners know like, oh, if you only want like the latest hardware updates, do not listen to my podcast, or listen to my podcast every few weeks or every few months. But in a way, you're setting the tone of your own work to be like, these are the things that are interesting and could potentially help build the ultimate potential of virtual reality.

[00:26:57.932] Kent Bye: Yeah, the podcast has gotten to the point where it's kind of beyond me in certain levels and it's humbling to see how far it's gone. But there is a sense that I hear from people that it's a bit of a rite of passage in some ways to be on the podcast, just to be interviewed and to have the interview be aired. There's a certain amount of I'm doing a certain amount of trying to listen and show up to these conferences. I try not to schedule or plan much of anything So I'm relying upon these serendipitous collisions and then just hearing what people are doing and trying to notice what people are creating what they're making and what either ideas they're contributing or what type of communities they're cultivating what type of experiences they're doing and I Yeah, it's just trying to have that opportunity for conversation because part of what I've been thinking a lot about lately is a lot of creating community is having a shared experience, but that shared experience is then to be able to facilitate conversations after that. So whether that's sports or eSports or whatever events that you're having, then you have an experience that everybody can go through where there's a beginning, middle, and end. But then at the end of it, you're able to have people connect to each other by talking about whatever it is that they experienced or what they're taking away from a conversation.

[00:28:13.751] Jessica Outlaw: Yeah absolutely and I think the other thing that I would add on is that rites of passage are extremely important and getting back to this whole idea of like how do you how do you transmit your culture to other people is that you give them these rites of passage and you force them to work like the Inyiland people are forced to work and there's massive benefits to working And so this whole idea of inviting people to go through an experience and then at the end of it, like they get a marker for it. So there's some type of like commemoration that becomes an artifact. It becomes symbolic. It's what's sacred. It's what signals your belonging to the group. And so one of the most basic artifacts could be like the Amex black card, you know, if you're like, If you have the right level of status, you have all the right experiences, you have the right credit score, you get the Amex black card. And so if you're in like a certain social group of people, that's really, really important to signal your belonging. And so what are the things inside of a social VR world, like what are the artifacts that you want people to get after they go through a rite of passage? And what is the symbolic meaning that you want each of those artifacts to have? So one example of a symbol could be people's avatar and how they're representing themselves. And so this whole idea of what is the meaning behind each of these objects, it lets people know what is sacred, what is not sacred. And it gives people an idea of like, all right, well, this is like the group that I belong to. Or you know what, like this group isn't for me. I'm going to go find another group. And I think by being really explicit about what these elements of culture are and what they mean to your community, you're going to be able to attract more of the people who you want to attract than the people who just don't want to be part of that culture will choose not to.

[00:30:04.130] Kent Bye: So in my rough calculus of keeping track of the nine different elements of culture, it feels like we've covered at least three, four, or five of them. What are the other ones that we haven't talked about yet?

[00:30:13.258] Jessica Outlaw: One of the most important ones, I'll put them together. It's language and jokes.

[00:30:18.322] Kent Bye: Are they usually two separate, or is it the same?

[00:30:21.224] Jessica Outlaw: Oh, they're very different. Yeah, because you can tell jokes without using words.

[00:30:25.388] Kent Bye: OK. Yeah. OK. So you were combining them. I just wanted to make sure. OK. So let's address both of those, the language and the jokes.

[00:30:31.055] Jessica Outlaw: Sure so if you've ever like joined a new company and you have like the first day on the job or the first day of the new school or you arrive in the place and all these people know all these acronyms that you don't know and they think things are funny that you don't understand why they're funny like I think everybody can really relate to that of like arriving somewhere and being like I don't understand what anyone is talking about. And so this whole idea of like how do you use language to signal your belonging is a really important element of culture. The other thing that it does is your choice of vocabulary can affect the way that decisions are made and it can affect the way that behaviors are evaluated. So in the social VR example, there's a tendency to call harassment griefing. I hear a lot of people call it griefing. And to me, evaluating behavior that's griefing, I take that less seriously. It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. it's kind of a funny word, it's a made-up word. Whereas when people call the exact same behavior harassment, then I'm like, oh yeah, we really should do something about that everyone. And so that's an example of how just like what you label a behavior can get you more of that behavior or less of that behavior. This has been studied extensively in the legal system. So if you're like a lawyer who's trying to argue in front of a judge, you know, if you're on one side, you're going to call something bad that happened like an incident because you're trying to like sway the judge to believe like, no, like my client's not guilty, like blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so this is how there's so much evidence that suggests that the way that you use vocabulary affects the weight of how the behaviors are subsequently evaluated.

[00:32:18.773] Kent Bye: Yeah, in language, there's a big part of acronyms and 6DOF, 3DOF. I mean, I think there's no lack of jargon that happens within the VR community. And what I find interesting, what I'm seeing a lot is I see that VR is turning out to be like this interdisciplinary melting pot. Like it's really opening up an opportunity for people from just about every discipline to start to collaborate. And the challenge is that you have these different communities that they have their own silos, and in their own silos, in their own culture, they've cultivated their own sense of language and linguistics around what things mean. And in some ways, there's conflicts between what some person is saying in one community versus what other people are saying in another community, and those have completely different semantic meanings and histories of language. And that in some ways, the challenge is to find a common language amongst these different people. And so in some ways, VR is not only tearing down the barriers between the silos of these different languages, but also creating entirely new silos. Because in order to be a part of that immersive community, you have to sort of learn the linguistics and the lingo. I think that's part why I get a lot of feedback from people who are able to listen to the podcast because they're able to listen to the conversations and you're able to hear it in the full context and you're able to kind of pick up on those linguistic concepts and you're able to fill in the gaps. Like we just understand what people mean when they're saying it in the full context and then you start to pick up the language and so it's almost like becoming fluent within a culture means that you have to immerse yourself and to not only listen, but also to speak it and to be a part of that in that way.

[00:34:00.495] Jessica Outlaw: Yeah, that's a really, really useful point. I mean, you're also speaking to the value of having a shorthand, because when you and I have a shorthand and we can talk about the clipping plane and sick stuff, and we can talk about, you know, is the collider on or not? Like, that only makes sense to us, but it gives us the shorthand so we can be really, really efficient back and forth. And you can describe VR experiences that you've had to me very, very quickly when we use that. And so, yeah, use the shorthand, help people onboard to the shorthand, and then be really thoughtful about what are the phrases, like what are the slogans, like what do you want people to repeat about, like, we're a place for artists, like that could be your slogan, and that could be one way to get more of that culture that you want, because like, oh, we're artists, that means I'm self-identifying as an artist, that means I should be creating, that means other people will be looking to me to create and so by giving people language and labels you will actually start to influence behavior.

[00:34:59.595] Kent Bye: And moving on to jokes, I think one of the interesting things about jokes is, and I don't know if it's explicitly connected in this framework or if it's considered to be separate, is the connection between jokes and taboos. Because in some ways, the taboos are things that you don't explicitly talk about. There's things that people will talk about and the things that people won't talk about. And I find that there seems to be a connection between the things that tend to be in the realm of the taboo, people often make jokes about it. So in some ways, the taboos are revealed through the jokes that are being told. And so just curious to hear a little bit more about that connection between the jokes and the taboos.

[00:35:36.355] Jessica Outlaw: So I would link the taboos more closely to symbolic acts, which is another element of culture that I talked about in the context of ceremonies and rituals. So a taboo for Americans would be like herding a bald eagle, or a taboo for somebody in India might be like herding a cow. And so this whole idea around taboos, it's like you're performing a symbolic act. So last year, a social VR company hired me to come and give a bystander intervention training. So that way, if someone witnessed harassment happening inside of their social VR platform, they would have these techniques and tools for knowing what to do in that situation. And so, the symbolic act that that company came to do was bringing me in and paying me to do the training. And maybe like 3 to 5% of the entire platform actually came to my talk. But it was that symbolism of saying like, this is what we value, this is what we think is important, that got broadcast to 100% of their users.

[00:36:41.072] Kent Bye: Well, I think of taboos as a little differently in some ways. A couple examples, there's a taboo around death and talking about death and suicide is another taboo in terms of if somebody dies by suicide, like, what do you say? UFOs is a topic that is couched in taboos. And there seems to be a lot of stories about UFOs have been happening in news and mainstream media that is in some ways breaking that taboo, but the taboo is still there. And then I've noticed, even within myself, I've been tweeting about these and doing this big, long, tweet storm about UFOs. It's a topic I've been interested in a long time, but it's always been on the fringes, but now it's playing with the taboo. And I noticed that, and people are very interested in reading about it, but they don't retweet it or they don't tell other people, but they're also interested in it because it's a taboo topic, whether it's psychic phenomena is another taboo. It's like, It's stuff that if you get associated with that in your professional career, then it could be harmful for your career because people will quote-unquote think you're crazy, which I think the way that we use crazy is a way that has all sorts of mental health taboos. because there's elements in which that we will call people crazy to discount them, but we'll also call people crazy who have mental health issues. So, I feel like there's all sorts of issues that is almost like the unconscious shadow that we're not willing to look at. There's something about taboo we're kind of dancing around, but then we sort of project it out onto them in unconscious ways by dismissing it. So, I feel like it's more of the gnat than what I would think of a symbolic act.

[00:38:14.481] Jessica Outlaw: I see. Yeah. So I think that what a society labels as taboo versus what it is celebrated, what is being celebrated, which could be like a massive exit from a company, like that's what's celebrated. And then what's taboo is talking about these other like psychic phenomenon. I mean, I think that it would be up to us to like transform that culture to make these topics less taboo. And so I think what could happen is you could use these nine elements of culture to start talking about grief and death and suicide and all of the other topics that you just listed. And so I think that there's a lot of things that I would want to change about like how American society handles grief or handles conflict, for example. I think, like, the political polarization is not really useful for democracy. And so I think if there were things that I could change, it would be something around that and, like, transforming the culture through that. And, you know, what I try to do on a day-to-day basis is just, like, really try to interact with people who do disagree with me and never dismiss people as, like, oh, they're dumb or they're stupid, because that has not been my experience.

[00:39:24.276] Kent Bye: Yeah, this real thing for me right now is that there is this confluence of these different threads of culture that are coming together. And I just recently went to this Awakened Future Summit, which was looking at the intersection between psychedelics, meditation, and immersive technologies. And these are different communities I've been involved with to different degrees for a number of years, going back to being involved with exploring meditation and different things that would be considered in the New Age community. that at one point was super fringe, but then over the course that I've been involved in that community, it's now become all but mainstream. And the same thing that's happening with psychedelics is that there's a certain element where there's a psychedelic underground that came up in the 50s and 60s, but then had a lot of laws that are pretty strict, where the taboo comes from what the legal system is, is that there's actually a good reason to not talk about it, because you could actually get yourself into some sort of legal jeopardy. Or it could have you lose your job. So there's certain things that if you were to talk about openly your explorations and different psychedelic experiences, then that would be a huge taboo and could have some real consequences. And so it was fascinating and surreal for me to be at something like this Awaken Future Summit of Consciousness Hacking to see at the intersection of psychedelics and meditation. And these immersive technologies is because you have these people who have these shared experiences that are starting to come and find what those common grounds are. But there's been this huge amount of taboo around psychedelics. People that don't want to talk about it or are afraid because they don't know what the reaction is going to be of people. The ways to shift that, in some ways, is to have peer-reviewed science from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies that does this peer-reviewed research to say, oh, actually, there's all these legitimate therapeutic use cases. Especially when you pair psychedelics with therapy, then you're able to do all sorts of amazing stuff with PTSD and trauma and grief. And so, yeah.

[00:41:17.315] Jessica Outlaw: That reminds me of something that I heard on Kara Swisher's podcast. Apparently someone was trying to organize a day in Silicon Valley where all the Silicon Valley executives who regularly use hallucinogens would come out. It was going to be the hallucinogen or LSD or MDMA coming out today. And the idea was to really try to destigmatize it and show that these were normal, successful executives who regularly used hallucinogens. And the whole idea behind that was actually to transform this culture and just say, all right, you know what? These people could be the heroes, or these could be the mascots, and this is what their story is. And having that special day, that would be like, a ceremonial day and it could be repeated like year one, year two, like more people come out and that would be a way that people were trying to change the conversation around psychedelics but you could do that with like any type of thing that you're trying to de-stigmatize.

[00:42:17.782] Kent Bye: Yeah, and also being from Portland, Oregon, there's quite a lot of people within the community who are into polyamory or different kinks that I feel like that has a whole other level of taboo as well that can be a part of the shifts in culture. But if we look at that as an issue, there's a religious and moral issue there around what you should and should not be and what marriage means and what relationship means, but that When you start to play with the boundaries of relationship and love in that way, then that within itself forms its own taboo. There seems to be like a moral issue there, like people having like different moral judgments and ethical frameworks for how they make sense of the world. And sometimes when it violates that, then it becomes a taboo topic.

[00:43:00.120] Jessica Outlaw: Right. I would also just add a lot of people could be afraid of like losing their jobs or like what if you work at a school and like you're worried about the moral judgments that parents might have about you which you know goes back to like queer culture and like how some people try to ban people who are not heterosexual from like working at religious schools and so I think like what would it be like to adopt that type of like Coming out day like hey, I belong to this culture. I mean, maybe that would feel safe for some Maybe that would be the right thing for like Silicon Valley Hallucinogens like maybe that was what it would look like the other thing is is like maybe people will just stay closeted in their Subcultures and like be around the people that they like and hide that part of their identity So I think it's like those are the choices that people can make

[00:43:48.690] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's very rich because it's a good point that taboo, there's certain parts of that that are exiled from the mainstream culture, which then in part creates this boundary that makes people become even deeper part of those cultures because they feel like they now can identify people at an even deeper level. So embracing those areas and really pushing it in some ways could actually cultivate really intense community out of that. And I'm just curious, do we cover all of them? Do we have any of the other elements of culture?

[00:44:16.439] Jessica Outlaw: The last one was jokes. And so the example I gave today was the joke, don't mesh me bro, is like such an inside joke. It's not even a very good joke. I'm sorry to the person who like said it first. It's not even a great joke, but it really, really signals like who here understands what that means. And it's a way for me to instantly sort a room. to identify who gets that joke and who doesn't get that joke. Like, who's in my industry? Who's not in my industry? And so it's a way of, like, if you know what people think is funny, it'll also tell you more about, like, what is taboo. But it could also be a way to really quickly identify your crowd and build that stronger culture together.

[00:45:00.986] Kent Bye: So we need to have more like open mic comedy nights to really develop the culture and have people make jokes about what's happening. I guess it already happens though. People within the culture, they're already naturally do it. Yeah.

[00:45:14.300] Jessica Outlaw: Yeah, so there was one joke where it was like somebody was like bringing their Magic Leap device through airport security and he was getting like pulled aside and the TSA person was like, what is this? And I think the person was like, oh, it's like a spatial computing device. And the TSA person was clearly not happy with that. And so the person tried again and was like, it's a VR headset. And instantly they went through. And so they posted that on Twitter later. I was like, this is my experience going through TSA. And it's just like, it's just a joke. Like, how many people actually understand the difference between a VR headset and a spatial computing device?

[00:45:55.070] Kent Bye: Well, so in my talk today here at the XR for Change, one of the big points that I made is thinking about the experiential design frameworks where there's a sense of a quality of experience, a context of experience, the character of an experience, and the story of an experience. And the context, I think, is where there's the most overlap in terms of what we're talking about here about the culture. Because I said, OK, here's all the elements of what I think of when I think of shared context. It's a shared experience, shared language, shared history, shared values, shared worldview, shared beliefs, shared sense of causality. So why do things happen? And your sense of your worldview of the cause and effect, the shared heroes and enemies. And by the way, I did reference the elements of culture because I feel like there's a lot of things on here that creates a certain context where when you have people that have these shared elements, then you can have that shared context and shared experiences. But I think there's also a dimension of the culture that you're from, of being in the United States or other countries. Geographically, your age puts you in a certain context, your gender, your level of ability, education, race and ethnicity, your country of origin, religion. I mean you could probably go on and on and on in terms of all the different levels of context and I feel like in some ways when you do an immersive design to try to account for all the context seems pretty impossible because you're essentially asking for AGI, the artificially general intelligence that's able to understand all the different aspects of context and common sense reasoning there's a certain amount of lived experience where you go through your entire life, where you just kind of pick up on these things and it becomes invisible and unconscious. But us humans can pick up on these things very easily, but they're actually very difficult to program and to codify because they are so invisible. They're embedded in language, they're embedded in how we behave with each other, they're embedded into these jokes and these taboos. And so to really pin it down, it feels like it's difficult to really define it, but it feels like with these, different elements of culture, you start to have at least a cartography where you can look at these specific things and start to work around it or put things into artifacts of the culture and to be able to understand it a little bit more. And other things like urban dictionaries, one example, where it's just like translating different definitions or I think of memes and meme culture that has like the Know Your Meme, meme encyclopedias. So there's memes that get transmitted and those are communicating the jokes. But to understand what the meme means, sometimes you need like a whole encyclopedia to trace back the whole history. And so there seems to be like aspects of internet culture that have started to develop and to support people through Urban Dictionary or Know Your Meme or the different ways of looking up Wikipedia would be another outlet. But to really define what that culture is, in that context seems to be like the big challenge of what is facing all these immersive creators.

[00:48:57.158] Jessica Outlaw: Right, like building a culture is hard. Changing an existing culture, especially if there's a lot you want to change, that's even harder. And I do want to acknowledge it's not easy to change these. It's going to take testing, refinement. But at the top of the podcast, you brought up, well, what about using building AI and programming it and being able to record every moment and being able to do that type of AI moderation? Honestly, doing the culture work seems a lot easier than building the AIs because the thing about if you build a culture, it's going to be stronger. you can get your users to buy in, and you can get your users to enforce it. So if you just say, this is a place for artists, and you get your users to keep repeating that over and over and over again, that is going to get you more of that artistic behavior, it's going to get you more creativity. And it's going to be a way of like monitoring and enforcing behavior in a very, very light way. Like it's going to like let you attract people who are interested in doing artistic pursuits. Whereas if you don't build these elements of culture, they will spring up organically without any influence from you. or maybe with some influence. I would guess that it would probably be whatever your employee work culture is like, is gonna be the user culture that users have inside of a social VR experience. Because in a vacuum, where you're not being thoughtful about these things, a culture will emerge. There will be jokes, there will be heroes, there will be an origin story. And my question is, do you wanna influence that? Do you wanna be able to get more positive behaviors or behaviors that you want to valorize? Or are you just going to let it form organically and it might get out of hand before you actually realize there's these tools that are available to you?

[00:50:51.911] Kent Bye: word that comes to mind is the architecting and constructing and cultivating of the culture. Maybe cultivating is a better word than architecting because it is a bit of like surrendering of not really being in control because it really is the aggregation of a lot of individuals that are collectively deciding to participate in this culture because you can only do so much, I think. Otherwise you'd just be able to like shift culture at a snap of a finger. It'd be easy to do it, but it's hard because you actually have to get buy-in from people to adopt it and to do it. And so I guess in some ways it's a challenge of trying to architect or cultivate a culture with something that is ultimately kind of out of your hands.

[00:51:30.754] Jessica Outlaw: I don't think it's completely out of your hands. I think that who you show up with as a person, and how you interact with people, and who you value, and who you celebrate, that gives a tremendous amount of information. And I think the thing is, it could be a lot harder to build a culture using these nine elements rather than not doing it. But if you do it slowly, if you engage the community, if you create working groups, like, all right, let's just start. We'll just think about who are going to be the heroes, the archetypes, and the mascots, and just start there, then that would give you some building blocks. And it could be slower, but as long as the users are on board, then I think that you're going to get more and more buy-in. I think there was an example where a game asked for input on what the code of conduct should be. And as a result, the Code of Conduct was followed to a greater degree than it ever had before. And so it wasn't like, write it from scratch, it was like, do you want it to be A, B, or C? I'm not sure on all of the details, but the thing is, by giving people this opportunity to buy in, they're doing that effort, it's gonna lead to more collaboration, you'll have stronger connections. The last thing that I would end with is that I think that there's no way to build up good social VR culture if you don't have a good employee culture. Because I think that as people are thinking about what are these elements of culture, like these are the exact same ones that I would use to build a company and be really thoughtful about like what is the founding story? Who are the heroes? What is the right language that we want to use? Like are we going to call it griefing or are we going to call it harassment? And then also, like, how are we going to manage conflict? Because I don't think that you can have, like, a really, really functional VR or AR or XR app if you don't also have, like, a functional relationship with all of your employees and the company that you're pulling together. So I think that these are really, really general principles that are extremely useful and people should apply to all aspects of their work.

[00:53:36.511] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was a part of a startup called Puppet. I was a content marketer. And it was a startup where I was an employee that was less than the Dunbar number of less than 150. I don't know if it was like 128 or something like that. So I came into a company where I was able to functionally know all the different people there. And then it went through rapid growth, where it went to like 300 to 400 people over the next, year or so that I was there and I saw the shifts in the culture that was there and how it got fragmented because it was hard to maintain with that accelerated growth. And so I guess my hesitation is knowing where that scalability limits of that of like how far can you scale a culture where is it really come down to being able to know people and Remember their names because once you get up to be too large like Facebook could be considered that there's a certain culture there But they have to take a whole other approach because it's like 2.7 billion people or whatever it is over over 2 billion people are part of that Community that network, but I don't necessarily feel like I have a connection to a majority of them I mean it's billions of people and So I feel like any platform that you're creating, there becomes a point where you have what is referred to online as the eternal September, which is when you have this flood of new users that are coming in, but they're coming in so fast that they can't acclimate to the existing culture, and then they kind of fragment and create their own cultures.

[00:54:59.970] Jessica Outlaw: unless your culture is so strong that you get other users to onboard your new users for you. And so the value of using these tools is to build a very strong culture where you are very specific about what type of behavior you want, and you're very specific about the types of behavior you don't want. And then if people violate that, there is a conflict resolution process that happens more like a restorative practice where the person who did the injuring connects with the person who was injured and then everyone in the community could be part of that and create these restorative practices. And those would create a strong enough culture that you can get your other users to do the onboarding for you. So that way it's no longer the job of the company. So yes, setting up the culture is hard. But it will offload a lot of the work eventually to the other users because they want to propagate the culture. Like, they're going to like the culture, they're going to stay, they're going to get other users to follow the culture.

[00:56:05.275] Kent Bye: And I guess if we look at things like Reddit and Discord and Twitch channels, if they get big enough, then they end up having moderators who come in and help to do a lot of that emotional labor of the managing of the community, but also have that whole scalable ecosystem to be able to manage that. So yeah, it seems like it's definitely possible, but I think probably even more possible within VR, because you're having these real-time interactions that may be easier to build up these different types of relationships. And just to kind of wrap things up here, I'm just curious to hear from you, like, what are some of the either biggest open questions that you're trying to answer or open problems you're trying to solve?

[00:56:43.121] Jessica Outlaw: Well, the vision of VR that I want to help create, it's going to be one where there's many different versions of what it means, and the hardware is just there to facilitate it. So I think it would be amazing to have the travel experiences, but also have the experiences that push what I believe is real and what is not real. and be able to, like, break out of, like, some of the assumptions that I have about, like, oh, this is what physical reality is like. What's it gonna be like to be able to have embodied experiences in entirely unimagined worlds so far? So I'm really excited about just the storytelling aspects of that. And then just from a more practical perspective, just the whole idea of being able to visualize objects and, like, be able to interact with the virtual space in entirely new ways. I think that could potentially open up new ideas, new solutions, and I'm very optimistic about the future of VR and how it could potentially help human problems.

[00:57:51.959] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of immersive technologies are and what they might be able to enable?

[00:58:01.643] Jessica Outlaw: I think being able to get immediate visual representations in virtual and augmented reality of digital objects changes thought. So there's this example of the way that they discovered that cholera was waterborne in the 1850s was that one physician mapped out where the cholera break was happening in London, and he identified everybody who got sick got water from one particular well. And it's an example of how by visualizing data, this physician was able to have the insight that cholera was a waterborne illness, which subsequently saved so many lives. So what the city of London did was they immediately shut off the well. And then that knowledge was propagated. And then anytime there was another cholera outbreak, they looked for what was the water source. And so you can imagine the millions of lives that were actually saved as a result of that type of insight. So when I think about the ultimate potential of virtual reality and being able to access information in new ways is Going to lead to new insights, which will lead to new solutions to problems Okay, great.

[00:59:15.120] Kent Bye: Well, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. So, thank you.

[00:59:18.404] Jessica Outlaw: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks Kent

[00:59:20.733] Kent Bye: So that was Jessica Althoff. She's a culture and behavioral researcher based in Portland, Oregon. She has a research lab at Concordia University called the Center for Immersive Behavioral Science. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, the very first time I had this conversation with Jessica back on April 4th of 2018, talking about these elements of culture, it was really striking to me. Because I really feel like there's something key in trying to look at these elements and try to cultivate and foster the different types of culture that you want. Now, I think my biggest hesitation to this concept is, well, how scalable is this going to be? Once you get past a certain number, or if you have this huge influx of new users, then how do you actually gate them through the different types of experiences so that you actually are able to maintain these different types of culture? My sense is that there's certain amounts of continuity that happens with the frequent and regular gatherings of people that are involved in these different spaces over time, and that when the culture is small, then it's a lot easier to have these different influences on it. When you look at something like Facebook as a network, that is like over two billion people. And so when you're working at that large of a scale, can you implement and maintain a certain amount of culture? You have the terms of service, but even at that, there's been a lot of news lately that's been happening with like Casey Newton's done a big article about some of the moderators and the traumatic effects of what it means for the people who are these human moderators who have to view all of this hate speech and violent content. And there was a documentary that was at Sundance a couple of years ago that I've talked about quite a bit on this podcast called The Cleaners, which was showing the psychological impacts of what it means to have people that are responsible for making sure that there's not content that violates these different terms of services. So I guess it gets to like this question of like, how do you maintain and cultivate these different elements of culture? And so let's just go through some of the different suggestions that Jessica has by looking at these anthropological research. So you have the stories and myths and the origin stories. And so what are the stories that people tell to each other and what the founding of something is? And so really talking about the history. And I think those stories help you connect the present moment to the past and the original intention for why something came about. And then your relationship to that story. And so whether you were there, you were able to actually experience that. So you have this shared experience. And so having the stories that are being told are in some ways marking those different experiences that are worth talking about for other people to get a sense of like these big turning points in the history and evolution of a specific community. the heroes and archetypes and mascots and so who are the people who get celebrated and who are the people who get respect and status and resources and This is something that you know, there's usually some element at any conference that I go to there's like an opportunity to have an award ceremony that really are trying to exalt the different either experiences or people that are really contributing to the community in a way that needs to be recognized and to have some opportunity for people to have that moment of being appreciated within the collective community and that gives them something to strive for. So Jessica, a number of times was talking about Anyland in terms of actually takes a lot of work to be able to figure out how to actually operate all the different tools. And so sometimes that can create a barrier that prevents people from becoming a part of that community. But for the people who do become a part of that community, There tends to be like this oral tradition that has to be cultivated in order to teach other people. And then the process of you having knowledge allows you to have that sense of power and status within that world where you're able to create things because you know how to use the tools. Then you're able to then share your power and wealth and create these opportunities for this kind of mentorship opportunities and moments. So there's usually some work required for people to be able to, you know, get to the point where they're contributing something into the community where they're recognized to be one of these heroes. And there's also the anti-hero, so the enemies. And so the people that are regarded within the community as someone who is not a hero. So I think that's also something interesting as well. You know, when you go into these different social VR experiences or any culture or community, I think you start to see all these different artifacts of culture. You start to document all these different elements. And that gives you a sense of the shape of a culture, because it's actually very difficult to pin down and objectify and to really codify these things because it's really an emergent behavior from a bunch of individuals. And so by looking at these different cultural artifacts that are being presented, then you get this sense of what's valuable and what's important for any given culture or community. And so, uh, what are the ceremonies or the rituals or the symbolic acts or the rites of passage? And so whether that's a yearly conference or an opportunity to get initiated and to achieve something, so you get to get a right of passage. And so these again, are opportunities to have a shared gathering for people to come together and to see what is valuable. And, you know, anybody who does go through those rites of passage then gets to have some sort of artifact that comes out of that and to be able to share back into their community as a, I guess, a marker or proof that they've been able to achieve something within their journey. And so the symbols are really about like what is considered to be sacred within any community. Jessica talked about the bald eagle in the United States or the cow in India. And so in some ways there's certain actions of like, why are things considered to be sacred? What are things that are really valued by that community? And I think that's also in some ways connected to the taboos because going against that something is sacred can be a taboo. But it's super fascinating to really do a deep dive into taboos because I think that's very rich to think about all the different things that are not being said, whether that's death or suicide or grief or UFOs or psychic phenomena or mental health taboos or sexual preferences, gender identities. I mean, these are all things that over the last 50 years or so, there's been a lot of shifts around the culture and being able to openly talk about a lot of these different things and some of them even being illegal to the point where you could get arrested or to lose your job. So I feel like there's all these things that are stigmas within a culture and a community and that can help you understand You know the things that aren't being talked about are kind of reflecting other aspects of like the unconscious shadow of that culture of what's being ignored or what's not being looked at or maybe it's allowing you to get the sense of what the values and the ethics are of that community because it's just something that violates their sense of moral reasoning and Also, the language is a huge thing. And so I've found that by going to many different cultures, that there's a certain amount of language that you have to be able to become fluent and to know what different things mean. And that when you start to speak in that language to other people within that community, that's a signifier to them that you're a part of that in-group and that they can start to then open up a lot more because if there's certain concepts that you just don't get, like in VR community, if you don't. understand the difference between six degree of freedom or three degree of freedom where you know the six degree of freedom is that you have the full range of motion of being able to have your body fully tracked within a virtual reality experience and then three dof is just being able to essentially have a mobile vr where you're able to just get your head rotations and looking up and down left and right but that's it you don't get to be able to move Through space, you know, just be able to say it's 60 off versus 3d off it sort of encodes all that extra additional information that then becomes a shorthand to be able to hone down and speak efficiently to each other and I think coming up with those languages and linguistics and what you decide to call things also carries a lot of weight and value and so linguistics is something that has been coming a lot for me just in looking at philosophy and the philosophy of mind and and There is so much about the words that we use form these category schemas in our mind, which then in some ways have a direct impact for how we perceive and view the world. It's described to me like wine tasters, that if you're able to put very specific names to the different flavors of a wine and you're able to differentiate that by drinking a lot of different wine, then that actually changes your experience. It actually creates a much richer experience because you're able to appreciate so many different, more subtle dimensions of the experience of tasting wine. And so just the same, I think that as people go into these virtual reality experiences and they start to have very specific language to be able to talk about their own experience and be able to test it against other people who have gone through the same experience, it's this harnessing and cultivation of this phenomenological language that I think in some ways is going to help amplify our direct experiences that we have in these immersive environments. The more that we come up with those ways to be able to talk about these different experiences with each other. And that's something that I find super fascinating in that I'm very interested in like thinking about those different ways to be able to talk about these different immersive experiences. But just in the terms of interacting with different communities, there's all the different jargons and phrases and slogans and labels and All of that are ways that actually are influencing behavior. And so being very mindful about that, but it does create this in group and out group. And the more that I look at the process of creating communities, there is a barrier. A lot of times for you to become a part of a community, it's like you have to, in some ways, at least at a minimum, understand some of the language that is being spoken so that you could start to converse with different people within that community. And I think. If there's anything that the Voices of VR podcast is really helping to do, it's just sharing these different hallway conversations that people within the VR community are having. And I've certainly heard from a lot of different people that have been able to just listen to the podcast and be able to start to bootstrap themselves into the VR industry because they're able to be familiar enough with the language and the different hot topics that are happening within the community. So the artifacts are just different markers that you're a part of a group. Uh, so that's just some sort of token or a badge or, you know, in some experiences it's, you know, being able to have a very specific piece of clothing or a specific avatar that gets unlocked. And so these can be different things that once you've gone through these different rites of passage, then being able to show that to the rest of the community, to be able to indicate to them that you've achieved a certain amount of respect or status within the larger community. So the jokes are interesting just because I feel like there's something about memes and meme culture that if you start to study different very niche communities online, they'll often start to cultivate their own meme culture. And then if you're not from that community and you start to look at these memes, you're like, I don't get this at all. But if you are a part of that community, then often those jokes are able to say that, you know, you know enough information and context about what this is talking about that you can find the humor of what is funny about this. And so the jokes, I think in a lot of ways are also pointing to the things that you don't want to talk about. So I think there is a strong connection between the taboos and the jokes, but it also is a representation of what your values are. And so there's a lot of your own moral and ethical frameworks that get embedded into what is and is not funny within a certain community. So those are the big things that I think that Jessica was talking about. Um, you look at the elements of culture posts, there's other things that are in there in terms of like beliefs and assumptions and mental models and attitudes and rules and norms, ethical codes and values. So again, I think that all of these are difficult, soft things that. In some ways, you can create a context for those to happen, but at the end of the day, you have a bunch of people that are coming together that have free will and ability to make choices. And then the question is, well, how do you enforce this type of culture and community within these different virtual worlds? And I think that, you know, there's a certain amount where what is the onboarding process? Do you have to go through a certain training? Do you have like a initiation that you have to go through in terms of getting a tour from somebody being able to pass a test? You know, I don't know what those are gonna end up being but I think each communities have that same way of trying to onboard people into their communities like if you go to a college, for example, then they have a guided tour, and there's these different opportunities to ask questions. And then they have these different rituals that you go through that try to, in some ways, give you a direct experience of the culture and values that say that these things are what are important to that specific community and culture. And so I'm hesitant to think that it's just like an easy thing to engineer culture and to be able to architect it in a way that you're able to set up the conditions and maybe give some suggestions. But I think it's very difficult to go into a group of people and say, you know, from top down hierarchical way, say, these are the heroes. These are the. The jokes, you know, I think that is something that is very much emergent from the community and then it's more of a matter of like well How do you cultivate it or shape it or draw boundaries to help inform people? What are the ways that you are enforcing the culture? Maybe it's through jokes and shaming and taboos maybe those are ways in which the culture in the community is able to subtly enforce some of these different ways of saying like this is what it's acceptable and what's not and So having that shame or ridicule aspect to be able to keep you in line to whatever the center of gravity of that culture is. So I'll be very curious to see how this evolves and develops because I do think that it's a key and crucial component that goes above and beyond what you can do from a technological engineering perspective with having AI moderators to be able to enforce all these variety of different things. And I think there is this huge difference between public spaces and private spaces and that when you have the private spaces you don't run into this issue as much just because it's a little bit more of like usually you already know people and you're inviting people into your spaces but I think the challenge there is that you don't want to have these filter bubbles and you want to have the opportunity to be able to interact and meet with people that you're not already connected with and how do you actually facilitate that without having the opportunity to have these public spaces in some ways where you can actually interact with people in these environments where, you know, there's going to be a higher risk that things are going to be not completely in your control. But I feel like these public spaces are going to be a huge part of being able to introduce people to a variety of lots of different perspectives. So I'll be really curious to see where Jessica ends up taking this research and Also, you know, just been thinking about my own Voices of VR community. Are there ways in which I can start to think about these elements of culture to be able to start to more directly engage my listeners here in ways of having gatherings and being able to cultivate the culture that we want to create? just to kind of start to even experiment with it. Cause I do think it is a bit of an open question for how you actually do that. So I think it'd be fun to start to play around with that a little bit and actually start to have gatherings and talk about the heroes and talk about myths and stories. And you know, the VR community within itself is already like, if you've been a part of this community for any number of time now, you've already gone through this kind of weird shared experience that, you know, a lot of people that I talked to on the podcast, If you're listening and you've been participating and seeing a lot of these different immersive experiences, then you have a lot to contribute in terms of the early days of consumer virtual reality and what's possible and where this is all going to be going. It's a very highly leveraged point in time in history in terms of anybody that is listening could produce an experience that completely changes the entire course of virtual and augmented reality. So to me, that is just utterly exciting and powerful. So that's a lot of the reason why I like to ask people about the ultimate potential of VR, because I do think that a big part of, if you're listening to this podcast, people are drawn to thinking about the future, to be future dreamers, to be on the bleeding edge of what is coming next, and to be a part of helping not only shift the existing culture, but to create a whole other culture by creating these entirely new worlds of things that weren't even possible before. Anyway, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and to thank Jessica for all the work that she's doing in this realm, and just really excited to see where she takes us in the future. She's currently doing a series on Medium where she's doing some write-ups based upon her talk that she gave at the XR for Change portion of the larger Games for Change conference. I'll link to the two that she's posted so far in the show notes, and her third installment of that should be coming here soon. And, uh, yeah, if you enjoy the podcast, uh, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and become a member of the Patreon. This is a listener supported podcast. And so I do rely upon listeners like yourself to become a member and donate and to help grow and sustain the sharing and spreading of all this information, not only to you, but to the entire virtual reality community. This podcast is listened to people all over the world, and it's always great for me to go to these different conferences and to. meet with the different listeners around the world is making a huge impact, just being able to help spread what's happening within the VR industry and often becomes a lot of people's main ways of getting access and information about what's happening on the bleeding edge of virtual and augmented reality. So if you enjoy that and want to see more of that, then please do become a member at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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