An open letter to the VR/AR community: post-election

Eva Hoerth
Nov 10, 2016 · 14 min read

This letter does not focus on who is right or wrong. This is a neutral collection of various perspectives directly from VR/AR enthusiasts and creators themselves, and is intended to unite the community so we can continue to build the future together.

Dear VR/AR family,

What a whirlwind of emotions. We’re all trying to process our thoughts over the election results, no matter what political views we hold. This is a big change for all of us.

We’re witnessing divide, feeling numbness, and hearing hate — and this is leaving a toll on the VR/AR community. Some are staying home from the office today for mental rest. Others are pushing through the work while holding back tears. Others feel fine.

We’re all processing it differently.

No matter where you stand in this election, it is crucial that we keep the VR/AR family together through this divided time. In the past 20 hours, many of my VR/AR friends expressed fears, questions, and feelings that I believe we need to bring to the forefront. I highlight these below.

What the community is feeling

I sent out questions online to the VR/AR community to start safe conversations around how (and if) the election has impacted their work or goals in this industry. I received responses from a diverse range of folks, and it was really eye-opening to to read what they had to say; mainly because we are on so many different emotional levels right now.

Below are selected (anonymous) responses I received and was given permission to share. I left out some that went too deep into political debate, as that is not the intent of this letter. In order to make it easier for you to digest, I sorted responses by the emotion that is expressed to the best of my ability. Each quote is contained in its own set of quotation marks:

Afraid

“I’m scared that I won’t be able to get a job in VR because of my skin color and my visible gender.”

“Absolutely miserable, I’ve taken the day off (and so has the rest of the team). I currently have no desire to put on a VR headset, but I fear that in the coming years it will be the only escape from the immersive nightmare of the real world. Perhaps this hatred of reality combined with Trump’s tax cuts for corporations will give the VR industry an opportunity to thrive.”

“I’m an American living in Montreal and I feel like our plans to open an office for VR development in the States will be put on hold for the next four years. I’m scared of how this will tarnish the fabric of my country and how innovation will be affected if the US borders are closed and immigrants aren’t welcomed.”

Hindered

“I can’t work, can’t eat, can’t leave the house.”

“It’s made me wonder how I can focus on VR when the world just got so much darker.”

“Devastated and disillusioned almost like watching the towers fall in New York. It is a major road block to innovation, progress and technology. I feel like leaving the country. The only things that make me want to stay is my family, my friends and the hope of VR (even though I’m hardly working at all on it currently).”

“I just can’t muster up the ‘we must keep fighting’ passion so many others are finding within themselves. I feel like the last 6 months or so leading up to this election have been filled with more stories than ever where people who are marginalized by our culture have been using every kind of media they can to say ‘look at how my life is, please just listen to me and have empathy’ …and apparently over 50% of our country didn’t get the message. I feel like I’m living in this bubble where I really thought these stories were reaching people and changing minds but they weren’t. I’m not going to give up on my research, but my excitement level has gone down several notches. Maybe those who need it the most willfully never expose themselves to things that could change their minds? Not to mention how much scarier both real and virtual worlds are, in general, now that so many bigots have come out of the woodwork.”

“I feel even more strongly that I have to do something that matters, but currently lacking the strength to push forward.”

“My motivation is down. But I think over time I’ll be more encouraged to do more.”

“I feel really bad. I won’t stop working but my enthusiasm has gone down several notches for everything, including my VR work.”

“I have been really excited about how VR can increase empathy by enabling people to see, first-hand, what life is like in other places or in other skins. I still think this is possible, but I am doubting more and more that those who need the message the most will open themselves up to experiencing it.”

I want to give up creating art. I see no audience here. I feel disconnected from US culture. I don’t want to make or share beauty. I just want to work in a cube, and protect those I love, and help those in need.”

But this election has also made us feel…

Motivated

“I’m still pretty shocked and despondent. Today’s my last day at my current job before I move on to a new, VR-focused gig in San Francisco. I thought it would be bittersweet but feel like a step forward, in the right direction. Today I’m feeling much weirder than I had imagined. I’m frightened for the next four years. I’m determined to move forward. I’ve decided now more than ever it’s important to do things with kindness and compassion, to stand up for people when they’re treated wrongly, and to remember at end of the day we’re all human beings. My perspective for how we build our future hasn’t changed as much as it has been emphasized — it’s important to work together, to stop, listen and collaborate, to share and be there for one another. Creators influence culture, and we have an ethical imperative to be aware and responsible for what we make, what we say in our work, what we put out in the world. It’s important to allow ourselves to feel and make genuine work, whatever that is.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the type of work I really want to be doing, and feel that now more than ever it’s important to develop tools to build empathy and connection among people.

“As game developers, we solve challenges every day. This is just another challenge for us to solve. We’ve been successful in the past, I don’t see any reason to believe we can’t solve this one too.”

“I’m disappointed. I’m also feeling more determined to mobilize than ever. I want to examine more deeply how I, or the company I work with, can do more for the community and the environment.”

“I am absolutely more resolved. I have no other tools at my disposal. If VR is the tool that will work, I will have to figure out how to use it.”

“I think it’s too early to tell. But I’m very motivated to protect everything we’ve established and built so far. I’m motivated to prevent it from being taken away or used as a propaganda tool. I’m motivated to speak out and I’m motivated to band together and I’m motivated to work toward lifting people’s spirits and intellect towards a brighter future.

I’m more determined than ever to start finding ways that immersive technologies can have profoundly real impact on politics. We have a host of new technologies and tools at our disposal with VR and AR that I think can help us when we look at the 40% or so of Americans who aren’t participating in being the change that they want to see. We have the opportunity and responsibility to be creating experiences that help bridge the bubbles that have formed around liberal and conservative groups and to start changing perspective and perception. Additionally, it has made me even more determined that I play a responsible and active role in providing opportunities for underrepresented minorities in the industry to get access to resources, and feel empowered and safe in their experiences in the industry, both in the physical world and in the metaverse.”

“I’ve re-gained confidence that we need to invest more in things (whatever they are) that strengthen critical thinking.”

“I’m more motivated to get to work on social-good related projects.”

“If there’s anything I can do to work with the system, like design VR apps for education or training, I’ll pursue it.”

VR is an excellent tool for connecting people and building understanding between people who are different from each other. We should teach this in schools and use this widely.”

“I am more motivated than ever by last nights events. For me the big takeaway is that we as a community must double down on inclusion and outreach. We are building the future. I think we should also be aware that we have a relatively long road ahead of us. Hyperbole like ‘the year of VR’ and unrealistic valuations will not serve us. Thoughtful change will take time. And we must remain vigilant as a progressively minded community. Hope this help!”

“We need VR more than ever to show people the world that they don’t know: alternate viewpoints, alternate ways of thinking. Especially those we don’t agree with, don’t understand, or could never experience.”

“I’m terrified. It’s a waking nightmare. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m horrified, and I’m in total, abject disbelief.

It also brings into sharp focus how totally, ridiculously proud, thankful, and in love I am for what I’m doing. I’m building up a tech that connects people, bringing together a community of passionate and creative people, and making games that focus on joy, laughter, curiosity, and play. My entire life is structured to build exactly the kind of future I want to live in. It’s going to be a lot of work. There is so much to do. But we’ll make it better. We already are.”

“Nothing motivates me better than anger.”

“I’m ready to kick some ass.”

Inspired

“Perhaps as a VR content creator, I’ll explore ways to cope with, and express feelings about the election results in VR; I’m not certain when that will happen.”

“The first positive thought I’ve had for the past 12 hours is that horrible reality tends to lead to great art.

“Educating and reducing the opportunities for exposure in rural areas is increasingly becoming an area that I’d like to see VR explored as a tool for assisting in reducing the education and economic gaps.”

“…we should start thinking about something akin to a ‘trusted user’ list, or a blacklist, so that abusers (by IP, by something) that are ejected from some multi-user space can easily propagate to others. If we don’t start doing these sorts of things now, building infrastructure to enforce the safety of our collective virtual spaces, we will cede them to the worst out there.”

To cope, I spent about 15 minutes in a relaxing VR experience swimming with fish and going on a psychedelic trip (GrooVR for Gear VR) before starting work. I then sent out a company-wide email inviting anyone needing a relaxing break, to stop by my desk and I would guide them through an experience as well. And a few people who took me up on the offer, it was their first VR experience too, and I love getting to share that joy. Happy music, and fun visuals can really help you forget about the outside problems for just a little while.”

“I’m offering free trips to other realities at the office today.”

“VR fam! I don’t believe we should let one individual sway our concentration because we are in dismay. We should still help show people how being empathetic towards a diverse world is a good thing! Actions speak louder than words (especially tweets).”

“This too shall pass. We must never lose hope and we should always inspire hope in others. Especially the young ‘uns.”

“The idea of having a diverse (in all it’s shapes and forms) community is very important to me. As is giving back, mentoring, and helping anyone I can to move forward with their dreams and goals. I feel for my many friends who do identify with a marginalized group and are reeling from the results of yesterdays election. I guess what I want to get across is that, regardless of who is in the White House as our president, it does not change my motivation to be a compassionate human being who looks for the good, the positive, the potential in everyone I come across.”

Empowered

“While initially dismayed and feeling like the solution was to disconnect, run and hide, I now feel more motivated than ever to connect better with my community and change these problems from the ground-up. For VR/AR, it specifically motivates me to produce content in various forms that connects and educates people in ways we haven’t been able to before. This is no longer an option. I feel it is something we must do. We cannot step back or recede. I think the silver lining here is an awakening and strengthening of a greater purpose for our work together.”

“ We have science and tech and AI and Robotics and so much more on our side. And we need to create content that will inspire and educate the populous who will readily adopt it. And we need to build online communities worldwide that cannot be swayed and stopped by any one nation’s powers that be. That can’t be stopped by the world economy. It’s time to take the most powerful tools we all have, our minds and our vision and build a Phoenix-like world out of the dust and ashes the real world has become. If I can’t find my role in that, then I’m out.”

“My heart goes out to those that are scared, hurt, or let down by this election. My hope is that this professional community can be a herald for positive, empathetic, cooperative progress for years to come.”


What this all means

We are feeling a variety of things. Some of us are fine, maybe even more motivated; some of us are in really bad spaces. Whatever you are feeling: it is valid. Give yourself the time you need to process this all.

When you’re ready, I thought of a few ways we can start moving forward. Based on my past experiences in my own VR/AR community, and considering what folks are feeling now, I hope these tips can help to an extent:

  1. Activate inclusion everywhere around you: The VR/AR community is opening doors to so many minds, backgrounds, and expertise that are not traditionally represented in tech. Many of us have worked our asses off to ensure that this inclusion happens. Through this time of divide, this is more important than ever. If you’d like to discuss how to practice inclusion, I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned from the groups I organize in Seattle. Email me at eva@vreal.io if you want to brainstorm.
  2. Design safe virtual worlds: The virtual communities we build are equally significant to our real-life ones. We have to design with safety and agency in mind. How can we prevent trolling and harassment in VR? Let’s start that conversation now, not later. For those that use or design social spaces for VR, don’t let the hatred we’re witnessing this week leak into our virtual worlds.
  3. Don’t pick fights based on differences: I’ve already heard stories about political conflicts in the workplace — and seen plenty of it on Twitter. Don’t be the person to start fights. It’s not needed right now. Small divides will quickly turn into big ones. The more we fight, the longer it takes to make it right.
  4. Lift each other up while respecting boundaries: We’re all on different levels of motivation right now (I’d like to highlight how many motivating responses I received — that’s amazing). But, some of us are going to need a longer time to adjust, and it’s not going to be easy to jump back into work right away. Be conscious of how others are feeling and respect their state of mind. The worst you can do right now is add more stress to those already buried in it. That will only slow down our advancements in VR/AR. Instead, lend an ear and talk through problems if need be. And, if you’re feeling stressed, know that you have people (like me) that are happy to talk.
  5. Remember the influence of the work we do: You know that thing called “VR” that we work with? That thing that has been referred to as the ‘empathy machine’? Not only do we have complete access to that, we are building it. As VR community leader Autumn Taylor said beautifully, “it’s our duty to fellow humans to create experiences that impact & widen our perception of the world. We can do so much to enlighten others.”
  6. Relax in VR, and invite others to join you: One of the respondents that was quoted above invited his whole company to try out a relaxing VR experience to deal with today’s stress. What a great way to remind ourselves how powerful of a tool VR is! So go out there and evangelize: a lot of us could benefit from virtual relaxation right now.
  7. Leadership/CEOs, create a safe workplace: When you’re processing big events like this, it’s not easy to focus on work. It’s especially hard when you’re expected to smile and keep a positive attitude. Those in leadership roles have to create a safe space in the post-election workplace. Some companies are bringing in counselors this week. My friend’s bosses have sent emails saying that it’s okay to be stressed right now, and reassuring employees that they are in a safe place. I’ve seen CEOs moderate Slack channels to make sure political debates do not ensue.
  8. Create: If you’re feeling unmotivated, that’s okay. But sometimes your best work can result from the strongest emotions. Venture into Tilt Brush and illustrate what you’re feeling. Prototype your newest idea. Brainstorm how VR/AR could fix the problems we’re facing.
  9. Foster and participate in safe online spaces: I recommend the Women in VR Facebook group if you’re looking for a place to share your thoughts without being attacked or judged. I am also happy to invite you to a Slack group my team and I created for underrepresented groups in VR/AR, where we foster safe spaces to discuss whatever is on your mind. Just send me your email!
  10. Hug: Because, hugs.

The fate of the future rests in your hands, not the president’s

It’s funny. We associate so much power with whoever’s in the White House, but I see just as much power in the work we, the VR/AR fam, are doing. I mean, we’re building technologies that will permanently change what it means to collaborate, communicate, work, and learn. Like one of the respondents mentioned above, “creators influence culture.” Let’s not take that for granted.

I know that optimism can be conflicting to hear when you’re dealing with the darkest of feelings, but we need to encourage each other to keep moving forward even during times of chaos. And I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t believe in the potential of this community.

Let me say that again.

I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t believe in the potential of YOU, the VR/AR family.

But I DO believe, because I’ve seen your work. For the past 2 years, we’ve been transforming not just technology, but redefining the way we live, learn, play , and interact using the magic that inhabits your minds. I never thought I would live to witness so much innovation every. single. day.

(I would have to write a separate article to highlight the hundreds of amazing experiences and applications I’ve seen come from YOU.)

You are the most visionary and hardworking people I know, and when we work together, magic happens. It’s rare to witness the rise of an entirely new technology, but it’s also rare to be blessed with a kickass community like ours.

With that said, I’m here for you, VR/AR fam. Always will be. And many others are too! We have overcome so much together already. We freaking made holograms and teleportation a reality. WE ARE AWESOME. And we must continue to be if we want to leave an impact.

Take the time you need to process this crazy world we live in. Then, when you are ready, grab your headset, find your design buddy, and go back to creating the bee’s knees of the future.

Nothing stops the VR/AR fam,

Eva Hoerth ❤


If you want to talk or share feelings, I’m just an email or Tweet away, and would love to chat:

eva@vreal.io / @downtohoerth

Eva Hoerth

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Let’s talk VR, AR, psychology, and ethical emerging tech.