"...in 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
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
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
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
we should recognize that *we* have the burden of educating
into the ways of the city.
First, get off your butt and vote no if you haven't
Second, find out who the new citizens are, and talk to
Third, don't isolate yourself because you don't agree with
Fourth, fight back. It's an open city. It's your city. It's
It's everyone's city. If they ban one of yours, ban one of
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
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
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
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?