1500 Strong

Yesterday the Seattle VR/AR Facebook group grew to 1500 members. That’s almost enough people to fill the Moore Theater. That’s a lot of brains. If you were to connect all those brains together in a massive super brain you’d get–give or take–1,500,000,000,000 neurons.

Who are all these people interested in VR/AR in Seattle? I’ve been fortunate to have met a number of them, and what I appreciate most is the sheer variety of backgrounds, interests, and passions represented in this community. There is so much to learn, and so many people eager to share their knowledge. In the past few months I have learned about VR architecture from Simon Manning and Willard Williams, video games and UX/UI from Dr. Evie Powell, JP Chery, and Tom Doyle, 360 filmmaking from Mischa Jakupcak, Lacey Leavitt, Budi Mulyo, and Kewan Welth, community organizing from Eva Hoerth and Trond Nilsen, open-world sandbox games from Nima Zeighami, empathy from Amanda Knox, AI from Chris Robinson, international relations from Greg Howes, and the mysterious ways ideas come to fruition from Steve Turnidge. I’ve experienced ah-ha moments in conversations with Joe Michaels, Megha Jain, Eric Neuman, Ryan James, Ricardo Parker, AK, Matt Hooper, Elizabeth Scallon, Dr. Tom Furness, and many others.

This community is growing because the world is becoming increasingly aware that Seattle is where to be if you want to make a mark in the immersive tech industry. In the past week alone, I met one guy who just moved here from Miami, and another guy who is considering moving here from Nashville. I had a conference call with a gentleman in Helsinki who wanted advice on making a trip to Seattle to visit our VR scene. This reminds me of the early nineties, when a stream of  Greyhound buses was depositing a steady supply of guitar-slinging young people on the corner of 6th and Stewart, all of them lured to Puget Sound by the Seattle sound .

The anthropologist Margaret Mead once quipped, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I’ve often thought about that quote when considering the growth and development of particular cultural movements. I love the period when success is by no means guaranteed, when the band that will one day sell out arenas is rationing lunch meat in their broken-down tour van, when the coders are in the garage trying to get magic to happen in a box. Those are moments when one’s core convictions are put to the test, and when character is revealed through making it clear what a person is willing to do for what they believe in. The key is to be thoughtful and committed and to find other people who can share that level of thoughtfulness and commitment.

We seem to be in a period in the VR industry when we’re fueled mostly by optimism based on the powerful experiences we’ve all had with the medium. We’re operating on the faith of the converted, while the market, operating like an antsy parent bugging you to clean your room, frets about units moved and whether this is just a bubble, a fad. I remember working for Amazon when the company only sold books, and I heard the same contrarian arguments against e-commerce back then.

In this bootstrapping period, symbolic things keep us going more than financial gain; our sense of worth is tied more to our values than our incomes. The reward structure of a community is biased toward cooperation, reciprocation, and sharing knowledge. The 1500 people who circulate through Seattle’s virtual reality scene are creating a movement and laying the groundwork for broadly shared future success. The energy and excitement I feel at CoMotion Labs, at meetups, and in frenzied conversations over beer with VR pioneers, seems to me an expression of awakening power.