Snow Crash and the Somethingverse

I’m late on a lot of things. I’m late on having kids, discovering Zamrock, saying I’m a product designer instead of interaction designer and then I’ll be late with what I’m supposed to call it as of last month. The list goes on. One of those things is reading the sci-fi classic by Neil Stephenson, “Snowcrash.”

I’m a massive 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 otherwise.

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 necessarily. In fact, the entire story is rather dystopia laden and pointing to the Metaverse being fairly shit. Knowing this vision of a virtual world is coming for humanity at large is like finding out on Friday that you’re probably going to get dumped next Wednesday so have all weekend to ruminate in despair. 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.

I should give clear notice that I have zero nostalgia for this book. 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.

I need to add at this point how big of a 3d fan I am. That is not the actual dimension but 3d software and its results. Jurassic Park and all that pretty much sold me and then my erstwhile forays into learning and letting die quickly over time at least three major 3d software packages, starting with Alias Wavefront in the 90’s, that were about as easy to learn and keep current on as German over the past decades. I like it, but it was never my job, so I would classify myself as a 3d enthusiast or hobbyist maybe. But its creation is enjoying a bit of a moment now with so many 3d artists going the NFT route, and special effects becoming almost normalised to the point of being like painting, and of course games which are way bigger than the entire film industry.

In “Snowcrash,” the future Stephenson projects is a hellscape of corporate disassembly of democracy, 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 with the same name, a virtual world mirroring or in their eyes and pitch decks, replacing real life in 3d. Thing is, games have already been metaverses for quite a while, such as Second Life was doing this stuff ages ago. And then it sort of faded away.

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 the ideas back to life. And this is the point, maybe some visions of what the world or what it’s supposed to become should just not be a thing for everyone like The Clash, despite how amazing it’s supposed to be, and maybe it’s already here and let’s just leave well enough alone.