Monday, May 08, 2006

Are you drinking the Metaverse Kool-Aid?

Over the past year, I've been encountering more and more people enthusiastic about the potential of a Metaverse in the vein of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Today, we have the Metaverse Roadmap project and an Open Source Metaverse Project. Break out the Kool-Aid because it's deja-vu all over again.

I first read Snow Crash 10 years ago as required reading for working on VZones (nee WorldsAway) and, at the time, I was struck by the dystopia that Stephenson develops in contrast to his Mardi Gras vision of the Metaverse. I was particularly mindful that what made the virtual world so alluring was that the physical world was such a economic, political and social mess. It seemed to me that people in the novel entering the Metaverse were seeking something the bleak logo-festooned burbclave reality could not offer, whether it was entertainment/distraction or connection/contacts. It was in a very palpable way a Hyperreality - an idealized imitation or simulation of reality that, through it's simulation, is better than the real thing. Disney's Main Street USA is a hyperreal vision of America. Historical reenactment is a hyperreal vision of history.

After the most recent Game Developers Conference, I felt the urge to pick up Snow Crash once again, just to see if perhaps the years had added additional layers to my view that the Metaverse was not a practical vision for wide-reaching socialization technology. I can say that the years did little to change my view. If anything, the intervening years of text messaging, blackberries, and other mobile connectivity devices that are incapable of rendering 3d polygons, but are great at simply and quickly connecting people reinforce my opinion that modeling after the Metaverse as technology, tends to blind folks to the social implications.

In other words, regardless if you want to bring people together online for economic reasons, political reasons, cultural reasons or social reasons, don't be distracted by blue technology such that you forget why you are doing it in the first place.

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