The next frontier of the internet is the metaverse. That's why Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of his company from Facebook to Meta, and just sold $10 billion in corporate bonds to raise money for metaverse-related projects.
How might we learn from our experience with social media, and anticipate the harms of the metaverse before they arise? What would it look like to design a humane metaverse — that respects our attention, improves our well-being, and strengthens our democracy?
This week on Your Undivided Attention, we talk with two pioneers who are thinking critically about the development of the metaverse. Professor Jeremy Bailenson is the Founding Director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, where he studies how virtual experiences lead to changes in perceptions of self and others. Dr. Courtney Cogburn is an Associate Professor at Columbia's School of Social Work, where she examines associations between racism and stress-related disease. Jeremy and Courtney collaborated on 1000 Cut Journey, a virtual reality experience about systemic racism.
Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn is an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and faculty of the Columbia Population Research Center and Data Science Institute where she co-chairs the Computational Social Science Working Group. She employs a transdisciplinary approach to improve the characterization and measurement of racism, and in examining the role of racism in the production of racial inequities in health. Dr. Cogburn’s work also explores media as a social stressor that contributes to racial inequities in health. She also works at the intersection of emerging technology and social justice. She is the lead creator of 1000 Cut Journey, an immersive virtual reality experience of racism that premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, and is also the co-founder of the Justice Equity and Technology Studio at Columbia. Dr. Cogburn is a member of the American Medical Association’s External Equity & Innovation Advisory Group, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Equity Collective, and also serves as the Chief Equity Officer and Knowledge Transfer Director of the Learning the Earth with Artificial Intelligence and Physics (LEAP), an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC). Dr. Cogburn completed postdoctoral training at Harvard University in the RWJF Health & Society Scholar Program and at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. She received her Ph.D. in Education and Psychology and an MSW from the University of Michigan and completed her BA in Psychology at the University of Virginia.
Jeremy Bailenson is founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Thomas More Storke Professor in the Department of Communication, Professor (by courtesy) of Education, Professor (by courtesy) Program in Symbolic Systems, a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, and a Faculty Leader at Stanford’s Center for Longevity. He earned a B.A. cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1994 and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Northwestern University in 1999. He spent four years at the University of California, Santa Barbara as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and then an Assistant Research Professor.
Bailenson studies the psychology of Virtual and Augmented Reality, in particular how virtual experiences lead to changes in perceptions of self and others. His lab builds and studies systems that allow people to meet in virtual space, and explores the changes in the nature of social interaction. His most recent research focuses on how virtual experiences can transform education, environmental conservation, empathy, and health. He is the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Stanford. In 2020, IEEE recognized his work with “The Virtual/Augmented Reality Technical Achievement Award”.
He has published more than 200 academic papers, spanning the fields of communication, computer science, education, environmental science, law, linguistics, marketing, medicine, political science, and psychology. His work has been continuously funded by the National Science Foundation for over 20 years.
Bailenson consults pro bono on Virtual Reality policy for government agencies including the State Department, the US Senate, Congress, the California Supreme Court, the Federal Communication Committee, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Research Council, and the National Institutes of Health.
His first book Infinite Reality, co-authored with Jim Blascovich, emerged as an Amazon Best-seller eight years after its initial publication, and was quoted by the U.S. Supreme Court. His new book, Experience on Demand, was reviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Nature, and The Times of London, and was an Amazon Best-seller.
He has written opinion pieces for Harvard Business Review, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, PBS NewsHour, Wired, National Geographic, Slate, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and has produced or directed six Virtual Reality documentary experiences which were official selections at the Tribeca Film Festival. His lab’s research has been exhibited publicly at museums and aquariums, including a permanent installation at the San Jose Tech Museum.
4. Expensive and rare
Jeremy Bailenson's 2018 book exploring how virtual reality can be harnessed to improve our everyday lives
Courtney Cogburn's 2017 TEDx talk about using virtual reality to help people experience the complexities of racism
Technology philosopher Langdon Winner’s seminal 1980 article, in which he writes, "by far the greatest latitude of choice exists the very first time a particular instrument, system, or technique is introduced."