"...diverse communities do not arise
spontaneously, nor are spontaneously maintained, but instead have to be created
and urged into being."
-- Richard Sennett --
Tourism is to the vCity what sunlight is to a forest.
Without tourist interest, there would be no influx of vCitizens. Without new
vCitizens, there would be no evolution and diversity and therefore no
incremental revenue from advertisers, marketeers, toolmakers, or resellers. Our
corporation did not invent the vCity out of the goodness of our own hearts. We
did it to make a profit for our shareholders. If we happen to advance the cause
of humanity and civilization and sustainable biodiversity of planet Earth, that
is strictly a fringe benefit.
There is no such thing as a typical tourist. In the most
general terms, it is a human being over the age of four who has a PC, an
Internet connection, and web-browsing software. That pretty much defines about
one billion people today. The rest of the world, even in the year 2002, just
isn't linked yet, either because they have a lousy telecomm infrastructure, or
because they can't afford the toys, or because they suffer under the
humiliation of living in a People's Democracy somewhere.
Of those one billion people, about 90% have what we call
"skinny pipes," anathema to the internetworking industry because it makes the
most vibrant, fantastic new digitized products and services about as exciting
as watching milk curdle. A "skinny pipe" is an Internet connection over a
copper telephone wire transmitting and receiving data at 28.8K bits per second.
It is pretty good at basic things like downloading text files and e-mail. It
pretty much sucks at anything else. Well, maybe I am being harsh. I can
remember a time when I thought that 2.4K bits per second was a startling
technological advance. And we do have some amazingly efficient software
packages (our own corporation sells the Major Crunch! product for only $14.99
plus applicable sales tax) that could compress an elephant down to the size of
a mouse. But the bottom line remains that if you need to send someone a Meg
(1,000K bytes) of content, it's still going to take a minute. And if you're
trying to megaburp (send 1,000K bytes per second), that's a problem.
Anyway, what this boils down to is that our potential
effective customer base is about 100 million people worldwide. These are people
who can "speak" the electronic/ photonic language of the VR world; who can view
and interact in a vCity with ease. VRML-based browsers can support the other
900 million, but people want immediate gratification, they don't want to die of
old age staring at their PC displays waiting for megaburps.
So on any given day, we have about one million new tourists
attempting to access our SLIP/PPP Internet address. I can't swear that everyone
gets through on the first try. Think of it as getting 50,000 phone calls an
hour. Through some pretty neat network management that I won't go into here for
obvious reasons, the system senses an overflow and routes these calls to
different "mirror" sites. This is why the vCity never crashes -- because the
original clones itself in 14 different servers worldwide every 4.3 seconds.
When a first time tourist attempts to visit the vCity, we
provide him or her with some basic information and freeware if needed. We also
solicit some basic information from them such as their gender, age,
nationality, and the nature of their telecomp equipment. That's only fair. In
the world of internetworking there's a saying: "You gotta give if you wanna
Obviously one thing that most people need to properly work
the vCity is VR software. If they don't have a good HTML/VRML-browser, we can
give them one by downloading it to their hard drive in a few minutes. Make a
cup of coffee and presto, you've got 3D capacity.
How can we give away a $59.95 value? That's easy, the
technique was pioneered years ago. You give away an older version of the
package, but charge for the upgrades. It's like giving someone an old clunker
of a car for nothing, and then taunting them with flashy new models every time
they drive by your dealership. Only the strong-willed can resist the lure of
upgrading. And if there's one thing a New Millennite cannot resist, it's
With step-by-step menu-driven spoon-feeding formatting
technique -- what is known in the trade politely as the "Bite Size Shredded
Wheat (Trademark Nabisco Corp.)" philosophy of web page design -- we teach them
the fundamentals of life in the vCity: what various terms mean, how the
simulation works, what kinds of things they might like to see. We even provide
them with a little quiz to make sure that they understand what they are about
to look at. That way, if someone does not understand something, we can go over
it detail and explain it to them. All of this in fourteen different
Since people like to feel that they are "entering" a world,
just like real world tourists, we give them a choice of how they would like to
enter the vCity. They can begin their tour at the vCity International Airport,
or at the vCity Seaport. Most people are familiar with aircraft these days, so
most tourists like to enter through the airport.
Before they debark on their internetworking adventure,
however, we also warn people to be careful. It's the VR version of "don't drink
the water", I suppose. The number one lesson is caveat emptor. If they
transmit credit numbers over the Internet, that's their problem, not ours.
Information is encrypted only as long as they stay within the boundaries of the
vCity simulation; however, the whole thing works on the principle of
decentralization, so most of the City Coordinates link to sites outside
of our corporate server.
Actually telefraud and telecrime is not as big a concern as
people first thought it was going to be. Internetworking corporations
discovered ten years ago -- to their dismay, I might add -- that most people
don't purchase stuff over the Internet. Businesses do, but consumers don't.
This miffed quite a few investors, who witnessed excellent growth in mail order
business from consumers and assumed that the Internet would provide a logical
electronic extension. According to our market analysis, however, consumer
confidence in buying and selling over the Internet will not happen for another
ten years, until 2012.
Why? Why are people reluctant to transact electronically? I
think it must have something to do with instinct. This preference for tangible
wealth probably goes back to a time when mammals lived or died according to the
size of their cache or their ability to hoard food. The key breakthrough was to
substitute tokens or coins for real value -- the first step towards a virtual
reality economy. The second step proved much harder. It took forever to get
people to electronically deposit pay cheques to their checking accounts, for
God's sake. Banks built up an incredible electronic infrastructure and capital
investment to hand out paper cash to people at automated teller machines. If
that wasn't bizarre, I don't know what was.
Anyway, the solution is the New Millennites, bless their
hearts. They've never known a world without personal computing. They are the
Chairborn, and it is their destiny to rush in where angels fear to tread.
The vCity International Airport is a very cool techsimm
because it is based on work sponsored by the U.S. DOT (Department of
Transportation) in the 1990s. As a matter of fact, our corporation and a few
DOT contractors got together to design the thing. We donated the server space
and some additional software, and they put in the creative hours and the
They designed a beyond-the-state-of-the-art facility that
features highly automated air control systems, grounds and building
maintenance, environmental control, security, and baggage and cargo handling.
The entire design of every aspect of the airport is geared towards ease of
maintenance and repair, except where such considerations would compromise
passenger safety. For example, the runways are constructed of "intelligent"
silicate/ceramic inlaid concrete. Which means that cracks are self-repairing,
and the runways "sense" when they need to heat, cool, or "wrinkle" themselves
according to weather conditions and traffic use. (The wrinkles, by the way, act
as anti-skid devices for wet or icy surface conditions)
Upon debarking and/or entering the airport, each visitor
receives a small oblong token called a PIT or Personal Identification Tag.
(Harmless if eaten, incidentally) At any of innumerable PIT STOPS, a visitor
can enter information or requests for information about flight schedules and
delays, ticketing, insurance, weather conditions and other information at point
of destination, and available facilities at the airport including infant &
child care centers, medical care centers, shopping, restaurants and eateries,
exercise & entertainment, sleeping quarters, relaxation centers, conference
center facilities, etcetera. These information kiosks "intelligently" steer
people to where they need to be and offers such niceties as reminding people to
catch their flights. PITs deactivate after a while and become nice little
There is more that the average tourist never sees, because
after wandering around the techsimm for a while, they usually beam over
to City Centre or to the S & E Complex. However, for those who take the
time to explore the airport in its entirety -- and I suppose you have to be a
real aircraft enthusiast to get into this stuff -- there are some nifty
explanations of how the vCity air transportation system works.
The vCity Aircraft Transportation Information Subcenter
provides continually updated information about air traffic conditions to all
types of aircraft including: fixed-wing, swing-wing, adjustable-tilt rotary
engine, fixed rotary blade, glider, and dirigible. In short, just about any
manufactured object that flies under piloted or nolopilot control.
There are six airports, airparks, and hangars
located throughout the area, all accessible by light rail with stations located
for convenient all-weather-conditions transfer directly to gates and waiting
areas. All such facilities are constructed, managed, and operated by private
corporate consortiums (simmcorps). There is a Regional Airport, and a Light
Aircraft Airport. The vCity Helicopter and VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing)
Pad Complex, called simply the "H and V" by its users, services aircraft using
small pads only. The complex is, effectively, a huge metered parking lot that
coordinates vertical traffic in and around the immediate vicinity. The H and V
is an important staging area between Plasteel Canyon and the rest of the vCity
regions, especially the outlying piedmont and mountains where there is no light
rail connection. The H and V also serves as an important cargo staging area
between industrial sites in outlying regions, and the heavy rail cargo and
The Ultra-Light Aircraft and Hangglider Airpark is not an
airport, but really almost more of an adjunct to the Sports & Entertainment
Complex. Indeed, several of the "U and H" facilities are actually owned and
operated by members of the Good Luck Cartel. Anyway, this facility services
personal aircraft of engine- and human-powered varieties, and it is located not
too far away from the Updraft Junction, that is, the area that lay between The
Canyon and Volcano Slopes which provides the nearly constant upbuffets beloved
by personal aircraft enthusiasts. This is a dangerous traffic zone, what with
all the gliders and ultra-lights dodging each other and trying to avoid hitting
avatars and bird scapps. Finally, there is also a Dirigible and Balloon Hangar
A word about the difference between dirigibles and
balloons. A dirigible is what used to be called an "airship", sometimes is now
called a "blimp", and uses hydrogen and/or helium-filled containers or modular
structures to provide lift for passengers or cargo, and engine-driven
propellers for thrust and directional maneuverability. A balloon is a sack that
can be filled with air which, when heated, provides lift for passengers or
cargo. A balloon has no internal power and must go where the wind takes it.
Great for a tourist jaunt and sporting, but irritating for any kind of regular
From the beginning of the vCity concept, I had argued for
the inclusion of dirigibles not just as scapps, but possibly to allow people to
"fly" legally and within the laws of physics throughout the vCity. Ever since
the Hindenburg disaster, dirigibles have received a bum rap. They are
seen in the public eye as cumbersome, slow, dangerous, expensive, and (sin of
sins) low-tech. This is unfortunate, since with modern equipment they are
superbly capable of filling some market niches at low pollution cost. For
example, hauling bulk cargo to and from mountains, islands, or sea-based
platforms where running tracks or roads would either be prohibitively expensive
I argued that dirigibles, and to a lesser extent balloons,
could also be used also for advertising and specialty projects such as
providing video coverage of a selected area (useful for sporting events and
security). Floating billboards, cameras, and telecomm links. Etcetera.
The Zoning Council remained unconvinced, so I added one
other possibility: the House-Dirigible or "No Foundation Domicile". People are
familiar with the concept of the houseboat and the luxury yacht. These are
legal residences which float upon the water. Why not a residence that floats on
the air? The legal address registration for House-Dirigibles, I argued, could
be a D and B Complex.
Well, I won that one, to the delight of the DOT
contractors. As it stands now, if someone wants to live above the vCity
they can do so, provided that they obey certain civilized rules. For example, a
dirigible resident mustn't stray from registered flight paths. In the real
world, I imagine dirigible residents also would have to test their engines
regularly, keep an ear well-tuned for the weather report, avoid tall buildings,
and not dump garbage or sewage on people down below. They would also be limited
to wireless telecomm links, which would probably restrict their access to
certain kinds of information and entertainment.
I could wander around the International Airport for hours
looking at things. There is so much to click on and investigate. I must say,
these guys have really gotten into it.
"What the hell do you do with all of this stuff?" I once
asked one of the designers, an ex-NASA guy from Langley Research Center, who
still lives in the Hampton, VA area.
"Oh, we just have fun with it. You know how it is with the
cutbacks and all. The only thing left to do is virtual reality, because the
government doesn't want to spend money on real reality any more."
"Did it ever?"
"Ha! Well, listen, it's not all goofing off. We use it to
showcase some of our ideas to airports around the country. Picked up about ten
million dollars in business that way."
"Ten million?" I echoed incredulously.
"Well, yeah," he replied defensively, misunderstanding me.
"Look, it may not be much, but it feeds the bulldog."
"Oh, I'm not complaining, Jimbo. I'm astonished. How much
did it cost you to design the techsimm?"
"About $300K, plus or minus. Why?"
"Nothing. Listen, I have an idea for you, free of
"Why don't you attach flight simulator software as a
subsimm, and charge people to 'fly' aircraft around the area? I'm sure there
are some mapps of the vCity you could use, even if they were only
updated once a month or so."
"Ha! Way ahead of you," he replied smugly. "We're already
negotiating with a major game company to do just that."
"Well, no dogfighting, please," I replied sourly. "Aerial
combat among citizens is not a sustainable civilization."
"It is if you have enough air-to-air missiles."
"Maybe. But it's not a desirable future."
The vCity International Airport is not only a techsimm.
Within the larger Zoning Volume there are places where real corporations have
set up a VR shop. I notice that most major U.S. air carriers and many foreign
national carriers have established links here. Clicking on one of the booths, I
find myself in a 2D HTML-based environment -- a web page -- where I can order
real tickets or obtain information on real travel schedules and frequent flier
Oops. Back to the virtual reality, please.
The vCity International Airport is the busiest airport in
the world. In 2001 it handled more than three hundred million visitors.
Checking the data, I see that flow through has increased by 1% in the first
three weeks of June. That means we're on target for something like a 20%
increase for the year. That's just measuring the people coming through that
gateway. The seaport handles some of the other inflow.
We really don't know exactly how many tourists the vCity
gets every year. Once people have visited the vCity, they usually just
beam to where they want to go, even though strictly speaking they should
become vCitizens in order to do that. However, in the vCity world, there is no
such thing as an illegal immigrant. You either become a vCitizen or you don't.
If you do, you register your IP address and stake a claim to a Zoning Volume.
If you don't, you're a welcome guest, and as we point out in the intro, "Stay
as long as you please, and come back as often as you like!"
Not many tourists choose to become vCitizens. This year to
date, we've had about three million new residents. If tourism is up, though,
then vCity population growth is just around the corner. I'm guessing we'll top
the seven million mark this year.
How does one become a vCitizen? Very simple process. Or as
we say in the vCity business: "Five minutes to learn . . . a lifetime to
It's all menu-drivel. That is not a typo. The mapp
asks you, the potential vCitizen, where you want to live. It asks what you want
to be named. Do you want a pre-fab Zoning Volume? If yes, choose from the 64
domicile types provided for that area. Don't like any of the choices? You can
apply for a free range ZV, and design your own domicile. Don't have a VR
construction package? We can supply you with one for free. Okay, now, where do
you want to work? Don't want a job? Okay, no problem -- as long as you
recognize that macroeconomically it's impossible to sustain a civilization that
consumes more than it produces. If you don't believe us, look at the economy of
the United States after 1970. You do want to work? What are you, some
kind of nut? Just kidding.
The beauty of becoming a vCitizen is that a new customer
can do anything s/he wants to, as long as it fits within the boundaries of the
simulation, which means the laws of physics as we currently understand them and
zoning ordinances established by the Zoning Council. All we ask, is that they
be nice. That, and to contribute towards their vision of what they want the
future to become.
We do offer people choices, of course. It's a well known
phenomenon that almost nobody wants to do in the vCity what they actually do in
real life. I don't know why that is. Maybe I'm the only one in the real world
who isn't stuck with a crappy job. Or maybe the grass is brown on all sides of
the fence. Anyway we provide them with a list of 128 possible commercial or
industrial sectors; they can choose from among those.
More often than not, however, people come up with something
new -- something that they've always wanted to do, but never had the time or
the investment capital to do or build. This, of course, is one of the most
important reasons our corporation created the vCity in the first place. We
watch and we learn what is hot and what is not. That gives us a two year lead
for most product developments, and two years is all it takes to squeeze most of
the profit out of a market niche before competition arises and margins
disappear. Or, if it's a product or service we don't know how to produce and
sell, we set up a market survey for one of our transnational partners who
Why do people think I and other members of the Zoning
Council inspect the vCity on a daily basis? Because we're busybodies? No, no --
because we are businessbuddies. Here's the point: anyone can inspect the
vCity, right? So our corporation has no real advantage against any other
corporation looking for new products. The difference is that we can establish a
rapport with customers before our competitors can. We can help new vCitizens
set up simmcorps, and discuss with these new vCitizens some of the advantages
and disadvantages of their business concepts.
There's another strange phenomenon in the vCity. Some
people like to register more than once as different people. In the vCity,
multiple personality is not a disorder. Under the rules of the simulation, it's
perfectly legal; as long as each vCitizen registers and maintains a valid
Internet address, there is nothing to prevent one person from becoming more
than one vCitizen. Of course, that's a rather complicated proposition, and
sometimes can be expensive -- each vCitizen has one and only one e-mail
On the subject of names, by the way, we supplied some basic
filters to screen out the obvious English, Spanish, and Japanese obscenities.
However, we recognized even before the simulation hit the Internet back in '97
that there was no good way to prevent people from doing sophomoric things with
their names. So we got even with them, and forced them to stick with their
names. I must say, that had quite the desired effect. It may seem funny at
first to have a name like Phuck Ewe, but have you ever tried to live with it
day in, day out? People e-mailing you as "Phuck Ewe?" Ever try to send a
serious salutation ending with "Phuck Ewe?" It just doesn't work. No one who
tries it sticks with it. Sometimes there is great wisdom in laissez faire.
I know one Mole rat who, at last count, is 13 different
people of different genders, races, and income levels. This kid alone must have
built about 5% of the Belowtown tunnels. Is it fair to allow one person to vote
more than once on the same issue? No, of course not. However, we decided to
allow it on the grounds that we had no idea how to prevent it. Also, we felt
that if someone were to go through all the time and trouble to maintain
independent IP addresses and participate in the building of the vCity, they
should at least earn the right to proportional representation in vCity
One of her names is Mole Queen, I've e-corresponded with
her over the last few years. She's learned more about society and technology
than any eleven-year-old I've ever known, and knows more than most people ever
I have often wondered about kids like this. What kind of
girl spends most of her life in a fantasy world? I am sometimes tempted to tell
her to get a real life, but four things always catch me short of doing so.
First of all, it would be hypocritical -- I can see her saying to me with
baleful eyes, "You spend your time in the vCity, why can't I?" Although
I get paid for doing so. Secondly, what child, girl or boy, does not
live at least part of the time in a fantasy world? Dimly I can remember back to
my own childhood and it seems that a good part of it was make-believe. It just
wasn't electronic fantasy, but it was still a shadow world where truth could be
found if one knew where to look. Thirdly, I figure time and hormones will take
care of things. There is a basic drive, even in the Chairborn, to get out, run
around, and rut. Finally, who am I to say why my little friend has retreated to
the shadow world of the Internet? I don't really know her circumstances. Maybe
she is abused or unhappy or friendless in reality, but finds solace, respect,
and thousands of friends on the Internet. She, who has built the vCity more
than many, should at least have the right to 13 lousy votes.
I don't begrudge her the right to her sunless existence.
Mole Queen and the rest of the New Millennites will need skills and knowledge
to survive; and one day she will become a great leader of the new world
disorder. So let it be written; so let it be done.