Crashing the Somethingverse

I’m late on a lot of things. I’m late on having kids, discovering Zam-rock, discovering psychedelic music, saying I’m a product designer instead of interaction designer, etc. The list goes on. One of those things is reading the sci-fi classic by Neil Stephenson, “Snowcrash.” The huge irony is not only that I’m some 30 years too late on this, but that it’s allegedly already happening.

I should start by saying I’m otherwise a fan of a bunch of Stephenson’s work. Early modern adventuring in the burgeoning pre-age of globalisation? Check. Time travelling Vikings? Check. I’m a fan of a bunch of it.

In “Snowcrash” there is, that’s right, a Metaverse, but (hopefully) not the one that Facebook renamed their company after to go and make a real thing. The thing about the Metaverse is that in the book, it’s not presented as a desirable thing, or anything you would want to make on purpose. In fact, the entire story is rather dystopic. It’s like knowing you’re going to get laid off next week, but you find out on Friday that you’re likely, potentially getting canned next Wednesday so have all weekend to ruminate in despair over it. It’s clear that this future sucks, and now we’re going to have it if we’re following the naming of things.

I’ve always liked to think that I can stop reading a thing. I like to pat myself on the back and tell myself, “Damn Jim, you have the wherewithal to just stop reading something you clearly don’t like.” Which is exactly where I am with this book. I don’t want to read it anymore because it hasn’t aged well. It is tied to modes of interaction and action in a world that is the future but there are no computers everyone has in their pockets for instance. It’s a future that is interesting in it’s doomsday scenario or corporatisation and fracturing of US society, but ultimately is hard to relate to in 2023.

I should make known that I have zero nostalgia for this book either. None. It’s like The Descendants or The Clash for me. Never got into it then, and so don’t feel a reason to now. But this book drew me in for a different reason which is that it looks like it’s supposed to happen in reality. Maybe.

This is the point, the future Stephenson projects is a hellscape of the corporate disassembly of the US, hyper-marketisation and likely what amounts to the rendering asunder of anything good The Enlightenment might have pulled out of its hat. Now there are companies scrambling to make a thing like what he envisioned, a virtual world mirroring in their eyes and pitch decks, real life in 3d. The thing is, games have already been metaverses for quite a while, and Second Life was doing this stuff ages ago. And then it sort of faded away. That is actually the point, it’s scary, but whether or not it’s a non-starter as an all-consuming and wholly owned megalith of virtual experience or not, might not matter. It will fade away like everything else.

Back to the book. So I’m trying to abandon it, like a lot of things in my life, but somehow someone keeps on bringing these ideas back to life.