The Snow Crash Cipher
Decoding the Metaverse by looking back to the book that started it all.
The Metaverse as a concept is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things, but with already so many distinct definitions and interpretations. This noisy barrage of often competing ideas can confuse things, making it difficult to stay right-side up when discussing the topic. Here’s an idea on how to reorient a bit — why not go back to the book that started it all, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson? Perhaps finding clues to the author’s original intentions might be a way to see the metaverse more clearly now that we’re actually living through its inception. Knowing where it all started will put some corrective lenses in front of our currently blurred vision. Then, with a clear 20/20 view, we can find some relevant insights that will empower us to thoughtfully plan and build our own Metaverse ideas.
Better than IRL
“In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse. It beats the shit out of the U-Stor-It.”
Like many, we were drawn to Stephenson’s futuristic thinking and daring to dream big for what the reality of tomorrow could be. None of us know for sure what twists and turns lie ahead IRL and we are each faced with our own set of unique circumstances depending on where we live, how we grew up, the current geopolitical landscape, and millions upon millions of other possible factors. The Metaverse is supposed to be first and foremost an escape. A place very specifically NOT like our real lives where we should be able to do things there that are impossible “out here”.
But we don’t believe that the Metaverse should be entirely separated from reality either. In the passage below we come to understand the limitations of our real-life “hometowns”. Each is defined by the communities that inhabit these different locales with their own customs, ways of interacting, governing, and often different languages (a common topic explored throughout Snow Crash). And we have to go to great trouble and often expense to travel from one hometown to another. It isn’t practical or simple to overcome these challenges.
“In olden times, you'd wander down to Mom's Cafe for a bite to eat and a cup of joe, and you would feel right at home. It worked just fine if you never left your home-own. But if you went to the next town over, everyone would look up and stare at you when you came in the door, and the Blue Plate Special would be something you didn't recognize."
The worldwide web (and what we now refer to as web 1.0) brought a promise of connection. No matter where we were in the world we could send messages to people in any town, near or far. The Metaverse aims to take this a step further by improving the ways we communicate virtually, making it feel more natural and closer to how it is IRL. Would you rather sit down and pen a formal letter to your friend, or have a drink and a chat with them over a drink at a pub over a slice of (insert your regional style of pizza preference here). Imagine if you could go from an intimate interaction like getting to know someone on a first date, then after dessert and a sweet goodbye switching over to a group chat with friends to tell them all about how the date went. And once your squad was up to speed you might be ready to turn off private mode and go public for an epic dance party. This could all be possible in the Metaverse. Like a fine wine paired with a delicious meal, it makes more sense to consider the Metaverse as an enhancement to our everyday realities rather than a virtual replacement.
A Work in Progress
Just as “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, the Metaverse also has to start somewhere. But rest assured it is very rapidly developing. As we discussed in last week’s blog post these formative early years where the tech and first use cases are being defined and built are exhilarating and full of possibilities. It is a lot of fun to be one of the pioneers at a time when there is less red tape and we also want to be able to dream big; however, we must remember the first developers to put their stamp on this fresh, new virtual ecosystem will leave behind legacies. Whether decisions made now will possibly help or hinder remains to be seen, but they will most definitely impact future evolutions of the space.
“When Hiro first saw this place, ten years ago, the monorail hadn't been written yet; he and his buddies had to write car and motorcycle software in order to get around. They would take their software out and race it in the black desert of the electronic night.”
Right now, what has already been built or is in development hasn’t yet gotten close to the vibrant descriptions in Snow Crash, because these fantastical imaginings of what the Metaverse could be are all in a fictional world where several patches, updates, and new and improved versions have already been released.
"… [the Street] is the Broadway, the Champs Elysees of the Metaverse. It is the brilliantly lit boulevard that can be seen, miniaturized and backward, reflected in the lenses of his goggles. It does not really exist. But right now, millions of people are walking up and down it."
So when newcomers join a Pre-Pre-Pre-Pre-Alpha reality, it can be off-putting. This is currently one of the biggest barriers to wider adoption of the real technology. We have a duty to help each other keep perspective so we can dig down deep inside and find the patience it will take. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to see the central hub of Stephenson’s Metaverse, the Street?
Zooming Out to Downtown
As the real Metaverse evolves over decades and beyond, what do we think it will look like? While our crystal balls aren’t working right now and the outlook is a bit hazy… we’re inspired by the imagery of a place rising from nothingness.
“Downtown is before them, as high and bright as the aurora borealis rising from the black water of the Bering Sea.”
Like a majestic Phoenix rising from the ashes of its former self, it is imperative that the Metaverse is informed by what came before. We want to be a part of the early stages of developing the Metaverse, because we have learned a lot of lessons being a part of previous iterations of the web.
Snow Crash is a thought-provoking work of fiction that was released 30 years ago. While it planted the seeds of inspiration, the next wave of Metaverse ideas have already started evolving beyond the original concepts. And the builders of today will eventually be replaced by yet another wave of inventors in a hopeful and beautiful cycle of the inevitability of progress.
“Sometimes I wonder who'll come after me," he says."Oh, we have plenty of excellent people in the next generation. But after that -- well, I don't know. I guess all old people feel like the world is coming to an end.”
While it is our time, we think that we have looked behind us just long enough to learn from the past and now our sights are turned forward to what lies ahead. We hope you’ll join us.
And if you can’t get enough Neal Stephenson, hear how he is evolving his own vision for the Metaverse in this week’s Into the Metaverse podcast!
Today’s words are from Marisa Smailes with edits by Luiza Justus. Artwork from Lee Ann Holt. Excerpts inline from the book Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.
You are reading Channel Zero by NFTV. If you’re looking for a fun way to engage with the metaverse, web3 and NFTs, then you are ready to become a Tubehead like the rest of us! Stay tuned for more stories as we work to get NFTV on the air by subscribing to our Substack and following us on Twitter.