Snow Crash, the book that imagined a metaverse, turns twenty years old

In 1992, Neal Stephenson published a book entitled “Snow Crash” that in many ways predicted a virtual world like Second Life. While Stephenson’s ideas for a virtual world were much more dramatic, his terminology and vision shaped the virtual world we know as Second Life.

Terms we use every day, such as “metaverse” or “grid” or even the word “avatar” stem directly from this book. Every time you talk about “rezzing”, thank Mr. Stephenson.

Set in the distant future, the book introduces us to “Hiro Protagonist”. Hiro, a pizza delivery boy for the mafia by day,  is also a hacker/ninja warrior in the virtual world, aka the metaverse. In Stephenson’s metaverse, folks like Hiro log into a three dimensional world using a digital representation of them self,  called an avatar, to navigate through a virtual setting where information and data is stored in buildings instead of a flat webpage. Snowcrash also features a digital atlas called “Earth” that has an amazing resemblance to what is now “Google Earth”

Sound familiar? Second life creator Philip Rosedale acknowledged that some of his ideas for Second Life came from the book. A 2010 broadcast on NPR includes  Rosedale talking about how the book, a gift by his wife, inspired Second Life.

In Snow Crash, Hiro is asked by an ex girlfriend to help figure out how an online virus, called Snow Crash, is causing hackers to die in real life. Along the way, we meet bionic guard dogs that move at the speed of sound, a United States that is broken into corporations, a scateboarding delivery girl named YT (short for “Yours Truly”) and a media evangelist, L. Bob Rife, who has founded a religion (L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology?) that is housed on a floating city that consists of the former USS Enterpise aircraft carrier and 100’s of attached floating rafts and boats.

The book described how a language based on early sumarian can work as “code” for the human brain and what can happen when that code falls in the wrong person’s hands. (Go ahead and laugh, then watch somone “speaking in tougues”.)

I first read the book in 2000 and have read it about five times since. Not only is it my favorite science fiction novel, it would definitely rank high on my list of best books that I have ever read. Time magazine listed Snow Crash in its list of 100 all-time best English-language novel

Having read the book and loved it, I guess it should not have been a surprise to me that when I would eventually stumble up Second Life, I would become immediately fascinated with it.  One of my avatars is based highly on one of the books main characters, YT. All of this came back to me today when I read that Paramount Pictures has announced that it intends to make the book, now 20-years old, into a movie with Joe Cornish (Attack The Block) directing. If you have never read Snow Crash, I urge you to give it a try, espeically if you enjoy Second Life. Meanwhile, you can get a taste of Snow Crash in world at an exhibit sponsored by the University of Texas San Antonio. The exhibit, developed by Igor Ballyhoo in collaboration with Rebeca Bashly, uses a setting from the book as a way to display works by some works by prominent SL artist. The setting is the aircraft carrier owned by the Rife with dozens of attached rafts showing various works of art.

More about Snow Crash here

The UTSA exhibit “Snow Crash”

It’s Duran Duran’s Universe (and we are all just visitors)

How do you describe the Duran Duran Universe?

Take Jane Fonda from Barbarella, sprinkle in some Blade Runner, let Andy Warhol blend it all together (for 15 minutes only), give it a good run through the transporter of the Starship Enterprise and set the entire thing to a thumping soundtrack for THE pop band of the 80’s, and you have a pretty good start.

Officially opened in 2011, The Duran Duran Universe (DDU) is, according to the band’s website, the permanent virtual residence of and by the band Duran Duran. If you have not yet not been to the DDU sims, you owe it to yourself to run, not walk, and give it a visit. Although the bands music and imagery are certainly evident throughout the area, the sim is much more than just an all out tribute to a musical group. Using some really interesting visual and sound arrangements, The DDU is a virtual feast for both the ears and the eyes.

A  lipstick shaped tower-nightclub  reaching into the sky, a giant retro phonograph club, geometric light displays, plus a mountain range of snow capped eyeballs staring back at me all combined to make my avi felt like it was on acid (again) as I explored the location. My favorite spots were a tunnel of light that made me long for my Spirograph from chidhood, plus a…well, it is sort of like a…a…it is an awesome  musical light and sound thingy! (Work with me here!)  Imagine sitting in a chair and you are surrounded by circling boxes each identifying a track of a song. Touch a circling box marked “bass” and a bass line begins. Touch the box marked “vocal” and Simon Lebon is singing to the bassline. Keep adding and subtracting from over a dozen choices and you are creating your own mix of a Duran song.

A few  real word musical groups have tried to establish a presence in Second Life, with mixed results. WIth the DDU, Duran Duran is doing it better than most and seems to take a keen interest in the virtual world. Duringa recent show for the 2012 Olympics, the band used footage from SL in the background during their live performance.

Chrissy Welinder

Chrissy Welinder is the DDU Community Manager and in world face of the DDU. An admitted fan of the band, she keeps everything running in world. I really love how she has taken what could have simply been a typical “Isn’t Duran Duran Awesome” self indulgent promotional space, and made it into a real piece of performance art that any 80’s supergroup would be proud of.

Visit the DDU in Second Life

 

A machinima project reminds me of what we are capable of in Second Life.

Sometimes we think we have seen it all in Second Life. Then someone comes along like KabukFarshore who presents something to us that, at least for me, is a reminder that Second Life is limited only by our imaginations. The film is entitled “echo quietes serenata” and I wanted to share it with you because frankly, I can’t stop watching it. For me, this is so well done that there are moments I forget I am watching something created in Second Life. I found it to be both melancholy and uplifting. (I also love when the music stops and you just hear clapping!) Take a look for yourself:

According to her blog, this work was done as part of the University of Western Australia’s 5th Short Animated Film Festival: “See Wisdom”. The UWA is one of the few reaming universities maintaining a  presence in Second Life.

In her video post, Farshore says the piece is  “a film essentially about how we learn. To me, wisdom is a combination of how we handle things beyond our control (in this case, a small… apocalypse), and how we respond to the situations that we ourselves create.”

See this and more of Farshor’s work here.

The University of Western Australia in Second Life