Response Assignment #6

For next week, read the following:snowcrash.jpg

  • Stephenson, Neal. (1976/1992) Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Books.

Chapters 1-5 (p. 1-44)

Blog about whatever most takes your attention. We’ll finish watching Metropolis in class next week. Also, if you have suggestions for films to watch that you think speak to many of the issues we’ve thus far discussed (or is in any major way relevant to this course), I’m open for suggestions.


16 responses to “Response Assignment #6

  1. Blade Runner
    12 Monkeys

    There’re a literally unlimited number of suggestions, but those are my favorites.

  2. Well, to start, although completely unrelated to the rest of my entry, I think Snow Crash has the best first chapter ever written. It’s riveting, hilarious, and has an endless amount of metaphors which would normally seem corny or over the top but for some reason don’t.

    I also wanted to point out Snow Crash was published in 1992. That’s a good 12 years after MUDs became popular and the idea of a massively multiplayer online game/world had come about, but still, envisioning the Metaverse/Street and the economy and foundation behind it is nothing short of amazing. Like when pre-internet stories like Neuromancer talk about massively complex global networks that are fifty or sixty years ahead of their time—even fifty or sixty years ahead of our time. The mental leap someone has to make to imagine something like that is astounding; it’s like envisioning interplanetary space travel before even the basic physics of terrestrial flight are known. Reading these books now, if you don’t take into account their publish dates and the history and progression of certain technologies, it’s easy to not realize how monumental the foretelling of a virtual second life really is.

    But my main point was actually about what could be considered the modern-day Metaverse. Just to set the record straight, Second Life is the retarded little brother of something like the Metaverse. Second Life is not the Metaverse, nor will it ever be. It is built on a fundamentally flawed system that will need to be redone from scratch before it could evolve into a global unified virtual world. Don’t get me wrong, what Linden Labs has done is good, and I don’t think their intentions are anything other than honorable, but Second Life can and will never be the precursor to the Metaverse. I’m pretty sure Google understands this, because if you stay up on your tech news and read the cards, it looks like Google is positioning itself to create something in that vein.

    Google acquires a lot of technology companies. Keyhole became Google Earth. @Last Software became SketchUp. Nobody but Google knows exactly how the pieces fit together, but if you use your imagination you can start to see possibilities emerge. If they win the 700 MHz spectrum auction they could blanket America in wireless internet and/or and open (European-style) cell phone network. With GrandCentral they could break into the VOIP market, wipe out the current phone companies and revolutionize the way we think of phone networks. And with Google Earth and SketchUp they’ve got a rudimentary framework for the world and presence, and a program to easily build structures in the world.

    I’m not the only one who seems to think so. Every couple months an article pops up supposing such a combination. Here’s an older one, and here’s a more recent one. I cannot wait to see what Google has in store in the next few years. I for one embrace our Google Overlords.

  3. What stood out for me, beyond CosaNostra Pizza, was how similar the Metaverse seemed to Second Life. We’re told about the customization and ability to buy ready-made avatars in the Metaverse which echoes the similar ability in Second Life. As far as I know, you aren’t able to purchase totally all ready fabricated avatars in Second Life yet, but I know you are able to purchase accessories to make your avatar stand out a little more. I thought it was pretty funny that even the preferred status of early adopters in the Metaverse is similar to that of the Feted Inner Core in Second Life.

    I have to respectfully disagree with Brandon; I think Second Life is a stepping stone towards the establishment of a Metaverse. Granted it might be a wayward step but it is a step in a forward motion. According tothis article, something in the neighborhood of USD$1 billion has been poured into virtual worlds in the last year.

    Now if only we could do something to get rid of that ‘what now?’ feeling that seems to settle in just after logging on.

    and just as a side note, an interesting documentary about Google:

  4. In many ways I would agree with brandon. Though to compare the metaverse with second life, while I agree with his conclusion, I think there is a deeper point.

    I think that in Snow Crash the Metaverse is actually a reference to the structure of the system. Back in 1992 EGP was the protocol used to connect the varying networks that comprised the Internet. EGP is a heirarchical top down protocol and seems very similar to the main “street” mentioned in the Metaverse description where people are connected to the main street or pipe.

    Today EGP is totally obsolete, we use BGP now which is non-heirarchial and is what allows the ‘net to seamlessly reroute around large pipe drops, such as the EBONE deactivation in 2002.

    To me this is the major flaw in concepts like second life. They attempt to maintain to much control. A person should be able to run thier own servers as well as clients. Without this the actual creation of anything actually like the Metaverse is likely never to occure as the bandwith limitations would be almost unobtainable (at least under a binary system).

    In the end it is always the open protocols that allow us to move forwards.

  5. I think it’s really interesting that the only limit to a person’s avatar in the Metaverse is their height. Why not their weight? Or IQ? These are equally pointless numbers in the scheme of things. And of course, this limit has a practical side, as mentioned by the text when it says, “The Street protocol states that your avatar can’t be any taller than you are.” (p41) But how does the Street protocol know how tall you are?

    But that’s not even the interesting part. By limiting a person to be no taller than they actually are, you force them to accept one of two points of view: the point of view which they have in everyday life, or the point of view of something/someone smaller than you. The way we view the world has an enormous impact on use a people. A man who stands six feet five inches sees a massively different world than a woman who stands five feet two inches. They fear different things. They notice different things.

    By stating that one’s avatar cannot be any taller than one is in real life, it becomes nearly impossible for a person to get a truly different perspective of the world, unless one chooses to shrink down tremendously. Even then it keeps people from getting a larger perspective than their own. After all, if you are smaller in the physical sense, you see less than a larger person would. The line of sight of an average man versus one on ten foot stilts is wildly different. The man on stilts can see further. He can also look down at what is happening around him. The man on foot can only look around him. If everyone is the same height as he is, and there’s a fight going on close by in a packed crowd, while he can hear it, he may not be able to see it. The man on stilts can see and hear it easily from any point in the crowd.

    By limiting us to a physical stature of no more than we are in real life, the Street protocol keeps us in the same mindset that we are in when we are out in the real world. It imposes limits on us in a rather totalitarian way. There is no way to break free of this mindset, and so the status quo is forever maintained.

  6. And that brings up another interesting point – how similar or dissimilar is the virtual world to the real world? More specifically, reading these older texts (1992 was 15 years ago) – how do they portray our (then) vision of virtual reality — and how close was their vision to a) our current virtual reality (discussed by Thom and Brandon) and b) our current “real” world?

    How are we beginning to see the intersections between the virtual and the real? And at what point does the line blur?

  7. I enjoyed “Snow Crash” more than any other thing we have read so far. I thought it was hilarious and extremely insightful, poking fun at the ways our advanced technologies can bring out the lameness in all of us. The fact that the pinnacle of human ingenuity basically comes down to getting a pizza in under 30 minutes is a great corollary to the real world, where the internet is the greatest collection of pornography ever assembled and our understanding of physics now enables us to destroy all life on Earth dozens of times over.

    As far as entrusting the guys at Google to be our “overlords,” I’m a bit skeptical. I understand that Brandon was purposefully exaggerating and half-joking, but there really are people who take this view, which I consider very dangerous. First of all, it’s not like they’re entirely benevolent. Their collusion with China in allowing government censorship is just one example. I mean, they’re an advertising company essentially. I’d rank advertising pretty high on my list of dangerous industries, right behind weapons manufacturers and Coca Cola. And, while I think that the guys who run Google are infinitely more decent than their competitors at Microsoft, AT&T, etc., they now work for the stockholders. By law, they are beholden to those who own Google stock. Which could be anybody (with enough cash for $600 a share). And what happens if the founders die in a plane crash? We have no guarantees that their successors will have the same philosophies.

  8. I’m going to start by saying that I’ve played a lot of MMOGs for at least a brief period of time. Their popularity is undeniable. WoW controlled the majority of the gaming community for a long time (it is starting to slip, or at least not grow at the ridiculous rate it had). These online “games” – and I put games in quotes because some are more than simply that, while others are less – are clearly the way our software is going. Bandwidth is improving rapidly (relatively speaking, it’s still not as good as I’d like it), and it’s the newest medium for conveying media. All that being said, I feel that all these games, as a whole, are a good step one towards the metaverse. The most similar is, of course, Second Life. I know it’s already been mentioned, there’s a lot to it.

    Second Life does a lot of things the metaverse does, though admittedly falling very short. The key things are that users can create their own content, and good coders/programmers can even make their content fully interactive. Laws of physics can be bent. And the content usually considered the absolute best are the most realistic things. There are zones for combat and zones that prohibit it. Of course, there are problems. All communication is still visual, facial expressions are weak at best, and Linden Labs included their own programming language which is a little easier to learn, but lacks the true power of things like C++. It’s a very small step. It does require real money in order to do much of anything, though, and that is like the metaverse in a very key way. Other MMOGs require monthly subscription payments, but don’t restrict what you can do based on real money. Second Life won’t even let you upload imagery without some real money (albeit something like a penny, but real none-the-less).

    Other MMOGs are now exploring the more interactive components of the metaverse. The most notable, which is not specifically pointed out in Snow Crash but is clearly present when the pusher is talking to Hiro, is VOIP, or basically voice communication over the internet. The MMO I currently know of to utilize VOIP is Lord of the Rings Online, which allows you to use a headset to communicate with other members of you fellowship (adventuring group). Pirates of the Burning Sea, not due out until 2008, has been allowing users to upload their own content for a long time, such as ship flags and sail decorations. However, these uploads can be vetoed by the developers due to their attempts to keep the game realistic in content. And, of course, the Nintendo Wii has online capabilities now, though to my knowledge no MMO. However, this means, in a very rudimentary way, user motion is transferred to online worlds. It’s slow in coming, but we’re definitely on our way to the metaverse.

    Also, I can’t help but think of the episode of Futurama where they enter the internet, get attacked by pop-ups, travel through a virtual city representing modern websites, and do all sorts of things mataverse-y. But that’s neither here nor there nor that other place.

  9. • How do they portray our (then) vision of virtual reality — and how close was their vision to a) our current virtual reality (discussed by Thom and Brandon) and b) our current “real” world?

    How are we beginning to see the intersections between the virtual and the real? And at what point does the line blur?

    I have to agree with Brandon—Chapter 1 of this story is amazing and hilarious. I noticed too that the metaphors seem like they should feel over-the-top but they don’t feel that way at all. And I totally know that Futurama episode Glenn—good stuff.

    I found it interesting that in Snow Crash, even in the future, it is business as usual. Stephenson talks at length about business—he makes mention of the Invisible Hand, commercialization of the CIA (now the CIC), competition between various security companies, the real estate market in the Metaverse, development in and out of the Metaverse. Advertisements are also mentioned at length, in particular when Stephenson outlines how Y.T. came to purchase her RadiKS Mark IV Smartwheels—she was drawn in by an ad in ‘Thrasher’ magazine. Capitalism is raging in the future…or is it? Large companies seem to be doing well, but individuals…perhaps not so much. Hiro is living in a storage shed, after all. Suburbs still exist, and yet of 6-10 billion people on earth, only perhaps a quarter of “a billion potential computer owners” have access to the Street. The story goes on to describe ‘most’ people, “…most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s (Stephenson 26).” Current trends could suggest this is where we are headed in the year 2007. Elite classes are jumping ahead, and the middle class is disappearing…leading to a whole lotta ‘have-nots.’ Of course, most people in the world today have next to nothing…but that’s a whole other issue. In any case, the future of Snow Crash is a far cry from the utopian future of The Hunter Out of Time, albeit Hunter occurs much further in the future. Even as technology has advanced, the almighty dollar still governs the universe in Snow Crash, in and out of the virtual world—this mirrors our own world. Still, the text treats business as absurd, (as Corey put it, “the pinnacle of human ingenuity basically comes down to getting a pizza in under 30 minutes” haha good job Corey) a perpetual ‘rat race,’ which is an outlook I always enjoy. Trust me—I went to business school, and I found it so mind-numbing I…can’t really find the words.

    Anyhoo, on the point Ben made about the limitations on an avatar’s height…I’ve seen headlines that some research suggests taller people make more money on average than people of shorter stature. I always sniff at that because I’m 5’5” and while that may be tall for an Asian person in some countries, I live in the States people! And I don’t want to see my height as a limitation, especially because I have no control over that aspect of my body. I don’t mind having to ask someone to get that dress down for me while I’m shopping, but I certainly don’t want my height to determine how much dough I’m making lol.

    But as far as intersections between the virtual and the real…the avatar’s height is one place where the two intersect in the story. I also like how ‘Reality’ is capitalized and treated as a proper noun, as if it is becoming more and more a separate idea from objective reality. ‘Reality’ here is just the tedium that is the physical world…while objective reality has changed because for those like Hiro, the Metaverse is becoming increasingly ‘real.’ In Snow Crash, the Metaverse is challenging objective reality because it creates such a strong sensory illusion…however it doesn’t quite cross the line because that pesky ‘Reality’ is still there as an anchor. The story clearly divides the Metaverse and the physical world: “…since the Street does not really exist—it’s just a computer-graphics protocol written down on a piece of paper somewhere—none of these things is being physically built (Stephenson 25).”

    The Matrix was released in 1999…here the virtual has usurped objective reality, and so reality being experienced by everyone is completely virtual and at the same time looked at as objective reality. But where they f’ed up as far as crossing the line of virtual and real is that they ventured into objective reality (Zion) and focused on that for the last two movies (boo, Wachowski brothers, booooo…).

    The only work I have ever experienced where the line between the virtual and the real is completely blurred is in the anime Serial Experiments Lain (so if anyone knows of any others please let me know!). Here, the main character Lain is a hacker-type, and many times in the story it is never quite clear, well, what the hell is going on. Is this the real Lain or the virtual Lain? Is this virtual reality or objective reality? Consequently, many times it is up to the viewer to piece together the plot. Lain is totally non-linear and confusing, and I kind of disliked it the first time I watched it. But after taking this class and re-watching some of the series, I am beginning to understand it more.

    The line between the virtual and the real hasn’t begun to blur so much (yet) in our boring ole’ lives of the year 2007. While the internet has begun to change our perceptions of virtual reality…we are still very much grounded in the real world. I don’t know of anything that is totally immersive. Although I did just read in a back issue of EGM about a device that changes the real world into virtual Pac-man—pretty sweet. A person just straps the device on their head (it looks ridiculous) and sees virtual pellets to chomp up in the real world—there are virtual ghosts too!


  10. Oh yeah…I wanted to add that the anime Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence plays on the themes of the virtual and the real…on the
    Wikipedia entry
    for the film, director Mamoru Oshii is quoted as saying, “Distinguishing the virtual from the real is a major error on the part of human beings. To me, the birth and death of a human being is already a virtual event,” the 52-year-old director told a news conference at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. “I think that accepting that what we are seeing is not real will open the doors of truth for mankind,” he added.

  11. I have to agree with Brandon on his stance against Second Life. I think the program is way too far off to be considered anything close to the metaverse.

    It sounds to me like the metaverse would be a hybrid of the Internet (general browsing, downloading, etc.) and some sort of MMO. As I recall, Hiro does his information gathering via the metaverse, and from the looks of it, Second Life is rather limited in that department. It seems to me like a Sims clone, only it’s on a global scale. It reminds me of Myspace more than anything else, though: a place to socialize within a virtual network, a place you could completely misrepresent yourself and get away with it.

    My vision of what the metaverse would be–our metaverse, not entirely the one depicted in Snow Crash–is a place where you can do literally all of the same things you could do in reality. There would be no software limitations. And certainly there wouldn’t be such god awful textures and graphics.

    And if you really look at the video games that have been released recently (or are still in development, for that matter), you’ll start to wonder why something remotely similar to the metaverse (and also realistic) hasn’t been in production yet. I understand that people have been trying to make these virtual worlds, but from what I’ve seen, they look terrible. We’ve got a video game console based on motion sensors (the Wii) and others with mind boggling graphics; why aren’t we taking advantage of them to create something that is a true reflection of reality?

  12. I really enjoyed Snow Crash. When I first read the name The Deliverator, I couldn’t help but picture some phantom pizza delivery driver, which is almost what I got. I found it interesting how the “real” world and the Metaverse were connected. Like the use of many things—home, cars, drugs, etc—the Metaverse is a way to escape into a world in which you prefer more. But as the Metaverse grows, of course companies are going to try to profit. It’s inevitable. It makes me interested in reading the rest of the book to see how that plays out. I’m also interested in seeing how the uploading of information to the Library will affect the Metaverse. Hiro talks about how uploading information at first, such as the film script, could get one paid, but now there is so much information that it’s more difficult. With the unlimited room in cyberspace, will the future be piled high with so much needless shit that no matter where you turn, your in shit, and can’t find anything? I don’t know, but it’s not hard to see it that way.
    I also found it interesting how Hiro and Y.T. both had jobs similar to city bike messengers, jobs that have employees that refuse to work in cubicles and maintain a feeling a freedom away from the more corporate world.
    As to the Mafia’s role in the “real” world, I found it very similar to the role of the Yakuza in Japan. They are the largest organized mafia group in the entire world. They are separated by region, but are all still connected, and bring in enough money to rival any Fortune 500 company. They have their hands in just about every business in Japan from bars to restaurants, from banks to the largest technology companies. I found it interesting to ponder the thought of something like this eventually having a large role in America’s future.

  13. For some reason the first thing I thought of when reading Neal Stephenson’s humerous and somewhat sarcastic writings in the first chapters was Bill Bryson’s style of writing in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America. Both authors are satarical in writing about corporate america. Anyways, I like Neil Stephenson’s style; it is fast reading, hysterical(i agree with brandon, mindy,…and others) and it is actionfilled especially with the start of the first two chapters when hiro is delivering the pizzas and being caught up in traffic and with Y.T. at his back. It is interesting in Stephenson’s language with the anticipated name for example of a delivery boy as a delivitator….The Global Multimedia Protocal Group could be a parallel to what today is the W3. I agree with Brian that the metaverse is like escaping into another world for these characters. Like a utopia maybe; hiro is a delivitator in the “real” world and is offered a job as a hacker in the “virtual” world which made him feel good being in the metaverse. For example, some people may think of second life like Hiro thinks of the metaverse. Is it utopic or could have the feeling of a utopia because it merely is virtual and not real? That may bring in the idea of death and the afterlife which is supposed to be utopic. Is something Utopic something unkown to anything real? Is secondlife or the metaverse like afterlife???

  14. “I found it interesting to ponder the thought of something like this eventually having a large role in America’s future.”

    Could not put it better, Brian.

    It seems like we are nearly finished with that path…we’re almost there. I feel that instead of Mafioso and the like, we are nearly a privatized country, controlled by massive corporations with ungodly amounts of dinero.
    “Vista Road used to belong to the state of California and is now called Fairlanes, Inc. Rte. CSV-5…Its main competition used to be…Once there had been bitter disputes, the intersection closed by sporadic sniper fire”.

    I was literally laughing out loud. It seems so ridiculous. Pure lunacy. But how far are we really away from the money of Google and Big Oil etc. controlling more than just the politicians themselves. Who says you can’t buy a road? If you have all the money you can theoretically buy and sell whatever you fucking want. And the big cats keep collecting that cash. I completely agree with Mindy on the idea that the middle class is fast disappearing. Our culture is disappearing too. It’s morphing into some bastard offspring of technology and capitalism, complete with some brain defects from all the chemicals in the air and water. Cyberspace compounds this even further. How does one determine ownership of information? The original cyberspace, the place between Bell’s early phone, and it’s counterpart over in Watson’s lab, had no owner. It was intangible. It had limits. But it was realized that place could have no limits. And Ma’ Bell was born. AT & T is one of the most powerful companies in the world…and it becomes more powerful every day. We’ve scoffed at limits before, so how far does cyberspace go?

  15. Oh my.
    Am out of my league with the second life/avatar convo.

    But i found the comments [mindy &ben] interesting.. as to the height of the avatar that is created in the virtual world. .. and the comment that the laws of physics can be broken… [glenn]

    It made me think of the point at which y.t. needs entrance to ‘white columns,’ the white people only.

    The idea [with the avatar/second life] that you are creating a virtual world in which you can live out fantasies, or fears, or anything, really…

    We can break the laws of physics, we can create a new persona [aside from height, apparently] but we are still constricted by our social standards, prejudices, and practices, whether intentionally or not, because we don’t set the standards alone, they are put in place by a host of people… A society in which we participate.. and answer to, whether virtually or literally.

  16. I have to say “Snow Crash” has a better edge of what the future is going to be. It some what like “Time Machine” but without time traveling. What struck me is they have certain Protocol Code they need to follow. It reminded me in other future movies like Minority Report. It reminded how the future would be like if we had to follow certain rules. Not just basic crimes. What if there certain rules that needed to be follow and may consider a crime.

    The computers reminded me the basic idea of the what the future would be like. It’s technology would improve by scanning a person. If someone needed to identify a person, they could scan the person. This might useful if someone was a criminal and they would be able to catch the person. Sometimes it could identify a person if has a weapon or not. Some useful technology does that already. Some people go to doctor and get x-rays. Why not use it the future? Some may use it in airports in the future. Or they can useful places.

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