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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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vCity 1.0
Chapter 20

" democratic countries, newspapers frequently lead the citizens to launch together into very ill-digested schemes; but if there were no newspapers, there would be no common activity. The evil which they produce is therefore much less than that which they cure."

-- Alexis de Tocqueville --

The nowlinks are in a panic, so it seems. In the eleventh day of referendum on the Exon Inspiration site, a little bit more than ten million people have now cast their ballots, and of those, three and a half million have voted yes in favor of removing it from the registry. So if the no advocates have a solid 65% voice, what's the problem?

The problem is that they don't like the newcomers. In the two days since Christine Wallach's announcement to "take back the virtual streets," almost one million new vCitizens have registered for the purpose of voting to ban the site.

This has put a great strain on the infocrats, the vBrahmans as they like to think of themselves. It is a curious phenomenon in history that people who embrace egalitarian ideals and technological innovations repudiate them as soon as they produce unwelcome consequences. One might just as well argue that the end justifies the means.

The veterans of the vCity are reacting very much as Mary Shelley's Viktor Frankenstein. He brought his creation to life but didn't appreciate its autonomous behavior. Unlike Yahweh, however, Frankenstein abandoned and absolved himself from all responsibility for his creation. Allah at least hung in there and was merciful.

But perhaps I am being too intellectual here. Perhaps this is a case of a far older, more primitive behavior which can be summed up as, "This is my territory. You are not of my clan, my tribe. You are different. Go away." A theme that seems to run throughout most of human civilization, not to mention animal behavior in general.

Fear. Fear of what? Fear of loss of control, or privilege? Fear of change? Fear of a fight? I don't know. In the five years of the vCity, I've never smelled fear like this. I've never seen calls for poll regulation before -- proposals that new citizens must establish residence for thirty days before they can "be allowed" to vote. Next thing you know we'll be needing virtual Green cards, for God's sake. Or worse -- calls for restricting immigration. Ihre Passport, Bitte.

It's like getting a waft of the counter-revolution in France in the 1790s, or the Red scare of the 1920s in the United States. A stinking blast from the wretched past.

Of course, it could also be the Chinese of the later Han dynasty or the Romans of the Justinian empire eyeing the barbarian hordes with a certain amount of apprehension.

Hmmm. The Wheel is definitely turning.

Of particular concern to our corporation is the notion, expressed in a few of the nowlinks, that the thing to do is flee and establish a new virtual city somewhere else, a new vWorld, so to speak. I have seen comments like this before. I find it interesting that people think they can run away, geographically, from fundamentally social issues. It's like trying to run away from one's own shadow. There is only one way to do this. One must stay forever in the dark.

Ironically if this happened it would be almost a mirror image of what happened to the English fundamentalists in Holland in the 17th century. There, fearing the pernicious influence of moral laxity induced by such things as a money economy and freedom of publication, a fringe group of Puritans decided to emigrate to Plymouth Bay so that they could re-impose social order upon their community. Here, fearing the pernicious influence of moral rigidity in the vCity in the 21st century, a fringe group of infocrats ruminates upon the possibility of emigrating to some other cyberspace so that they can re-impose social disorder upon their community.

So a tired scene replays itself across the theater of human discourse; throughout the realm, people peek through drawn curtains, spy "the other" moving in across the street, and wonder if they should sell the house and move to the suburbs. If it were not so sad, it would be funny.

Amidst the howling protestations of the imminent decline and fall of cyber civilization there are voices of reason. Good old MacKenzie, I knew she would stand fast while others fled the field. Stubbornness is not always a bad thing; it is the tenacity of leadership that permits a few brave souls to cry "Hold your ground, damn you!" when the rumbling terror of the tanks approach.

Her Rainforest Mac editorial rambles a bit, but the concluding points are solid.


So, democracy is not a spectator sport.

Instead of whining about fundamentalists destroying freedom of expression,

we should recognize that *we* have the burden of educating *them*

into the ways of the city.

First, get off your butt and vote no if you haven't voted.

Second, find out who the new citizens are, and talk to them.

Third, don't isolate yourself because you don't agree with someone.

Fourth, fight back. It's an open city. It's your city. It's their city.

It's everyone's city. If they ban one of yours, ban one of theirs.

They'll get the message.


I have to admit that I'm not sure I like the sound of "If they ban one of yours, ban one of theirs." Sounds like something that Peter Clemenza might have said to Vito Corleone in Mario Puzo's The Godfather.

I don't wanna no trouble in de vCity, padrone. Plenty of piazzola for everybody. Let's rajune, heh?

It's an interesting thing, this concept of banishment. The shadows cast shadows; there is reality, and there is the virtual city, and there is the Great Beyond. If a site is banned, where does it go? Or if a persona acts so irresponsibly as to be shunned, where does s/he go? The same place where socks go when you throw twelve pairs into the dryer and come out with eleven and a half?

The answer to the first question is easy enough. The files stay where they are. If people want to bookmark there, they can still do so. They just have to exit the vCity first. In effect, there is a meta-vCity of the banned (sounds like the Village of the Damned, doesn't it?) that exists beyond our registry listings. It exists, I suppose, as a kind of vCity without consciousness.

The answer to the second question is tougher. A VR world designer can still do his/her thing, but a shunned persona loses the special e-mail account provided by our corporation. That persona can no longer affect the growth and development of the vCity. Once a name is used, it is gone forever. There are no resurrections in the vCity. However, there is nothing to prevent the same real world person from coming back in a different guise, with a different name.

In short, virtual death is not really such a terrible thing for vCitizens who have no emotional stake in their persona. As for those who do take virtual metropolitan life seriously, there is no cause for concern. Referendums are never called for capricious reasons; well, not since the professional wrestling episode of 1997 anyway. There are only two rules which I have already mentioned. Their VR sites cannot violate the laws of physics as we understand them; the designer/participants must contribute to the essence of the vCity as a world in which we wish to live.

There is plenty of chaos even within the vCity; as First Citizen, I am the first one to admit it. In general, I try to stay out of Belowtown (Grunge and Mole) and Shantytown. I don't want to see anti-social behavior. But it exists. What to do? Keep it there, let people police themselves, turn a blind eye. I'm not a fascist, after all. If I see something I really don't like, I might send an e-mail message to the offending persona. I try to reason with people. More often than not, this works.

I'll give you a few examples. There are many places in Belowtown where the VR designs exceed the Zoning Volumes set aside for them. We call this the "Dr. Who" effect after the infamous British television series of the 1970s. The TimeLord's Tartus was a spacetimeship that was bigger on the inside than on the outside.

In other words, let's say that somebody "owns" a room of 100 cubic meters (100 CCs). Now, if the VR designer has been careless with his/her design, s/he might have designed files that, when converted and translated by the browser, make the room look as if it were 200 cubic meters big.

But we don't know how to do this yet, to design spacetime masses so that they can interpenetrate or occupy a volume larger than their apparent volume. The vCity, from a structural point of view, is still Newtonian and Euclidian. You publish the physics and design the technology, and I'll let it stand. And take a Nobel prize for yourself.

Another, more obvious example. Someone in the year 2002 designs a scenic view that includes a forested hill in the background. The following year, some other vCitizen designs a house that sits atop that hill. However, the original vCitizen doesn't know about his neighbor's house, so he doesn't bother to modify his background. He's occupying an older spacetime continuum. As far as he is concerned, there is no neighbor to mar the view. Which, if you think about it, would not be a bad way to avoid a great many lawsuits. Anyway, although some of us might like to live in the past, and some of us even act that way, it isn't a viable real world solution.

All of this aesthetic error is not supposed to exist, and yet I admit that on any given day, more than 20% of all the sites in the vCity have some similar temporal or spatial problem. I solve the problem by not worrying about it. I take the long view of things. When one takes the long horizon, the aerial perspective, then the small errors vanish.

Of course, as early as 1994, VRML specialists had already solved these technical problems of a virtual reality city. The simplest approach was to establish the entire content of the city on one server or server-array. Thus, when one "opened" a door, one simply accessed a new world file rather than an entirely new Internet address. In many respects this centralized distribution approach was technically superior to what we do now. It not only made for faster scrolling through the model, but enabled VR designers to adopt pre-defined objects for their world files. This saved load time and file space.

So why, if centralized distribution were superior, did we do it the hard way?

Very simple. Two reasons. Legal and economic.

First, we didn't want other people's content on our corporate servers, unless we had purchased it under hard copy contract. Internet law, as it was hacked out (no pun intended) over that decade, inevitably distilled down to location. A thoughtcrime in Utah was not a thoughtcrime in California. Objectionable bytes stored on a laser disk in Utah are punishable; the same bytes stored on a disk in California are not. Storing bytes for which royalties have not been transmitted on a server located in the United States is a crime; but not necessarily in China. Of course this is silly, but don't look at me. I just work here.

Second, our corporation has a vested interest in building decentralized, redundant distributed systems. We don't want billions of people accessing us, we want billions of people to access each other. We want people to use all 5-10 of their telecomm lines 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Electron flow is what makes the economy go. The more people use internetworking technologies, the bigger and better we can build our pipes and our routers, therefore economy of scale, therefore cheaper prices and better reliability. Of course, we have our costs to cover -- minor irritants like payroll and taxes. So we do charge money for this service. Indeed, we do seem to make a profit from time to time. But keep in mind that "profit" is also a virtual reality concept. So is telemoney. It's all electron flow. What is wealth?

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