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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 30

"When the dangers of surprise are avoided, there can be no exploration,

and so no inner growth."

-- Richard Sennett --


"That was a delicious dinner," I tell Eliza truthfully. "I think their hot wings stand the test of time, don't you?"

"Too spicy for my taste," she says, smiling.

"I see you haven't ordered your usual Rum Cow, though."

"The doctor said no alcohol."

"Oh?" I reply, looking at one of the delightfully colored murals on the wall. "What's up?"

"Well, remember that I told you I'd surprise you for your birthday dinner."

A little gust of panic blows across my brain, like the first hint of humid air that spells the arrival of some unseen, unknowable typhoon. "Yeah."

"That's the surprise."


"I got back the test results today. We're expecting."

Expecting. The word rolls around noisily in my brain like a coin dropped in an empty coffee can. I feel dull, stupid, and dense. "Expecting what?"

"A gazelle, you moron. What do you think?"

"You're pregnant?"

She sighed. "I can see we're going to have to take this one slowly."

The Wheel turns. And so do I, tossing and turning in the dead still of night, with only the cats and the crickets for alert company. My wife could sleep in the middle of a construction zone at midday. I look blearily at the clock on the nightstand; it's 02:55. Finally I get up and go to get a drink, and to wander around the house for a while, and to think. Plett is enjoying this turn of events; she follows me happily, probably wondering if it will all lead to something good, like food, or a fresh catnip toy.

I don't know much about zygotes, fetuses, and babies. Ignorance makes me nervous, and dammit, there just seems to be more of it all the time. That's an interesting thought, that while knowledge increases geometrically, ignorance increases exponentially.

Just yesterday I was floating on a sea of euphoria, and now I feel as if I have been sucked under in the wake of that same passing cruise ship of life. What was that feeling? Oh yes, like the summer before attending University. Well, now I feel like I'm in the middle of some bad University-related dream in which I've just been told that I'm going to be studying advanced calculus in my first semester as a mathematics major.

"But I don't know anything about calculus!" I would tell the bursar's office.

"Better get cracking, then," would be the reply.

Thinking about semesters reminds me that the high school which I attended used to work, for some reason known only to the Head Principal and God, on the trimester system. And thinking about trimesters brings me back to zygotes, fetuses, and babies.

Well, there's one good way to start learning. I might as well look it up in one of the vHospitals.


The concept of the vHospital actually predated the vCity. In the mid-1990s, as more institutions started to create sites on the Web and make selected databases available to the general internetworking population, the medical community followed suit. Many hospitals, clinics, managed health care facilities and programs, insurance companies, etcetera starting pouring out information on all aspects of health care and "wellness" maintenance. It all became very unwieldy, and difficult to find specific information on specific subjects. Eventually the National Institute of Medicine in the U.S. and its foreign national counterparts organized the MediNet Database Sharing Project and software programmers from around the world created special browsers to navigate this ocean of medical information.

The information-based MediNet DSP was not very customer-friendly, however. Basically it was designed by software engineers for the convenience of administrators based on requirements and knowledge generated by practitioners and medical research professionals. This was not a combination conducive to comprehensibility.

However, time heals all wounds. Just about the time our vCity opened in 1997, entrepreneurs around the world were already beginning to design programs that enabled the average Internet user not only to access medical information, but also act upon it. In other words, it became a relatively simple process for people to find out what their problems were -- from allergies to mental health issues to injuries to diseases -- and find out whom to contact within their local area for relief.

It is an interesting side note that while medical professionals pioneered the use of VR technologies in a host of specialties from cybernetic implants to cryogenic surgery to genetic research, they did relatively little with exploiting VR as an advertising and marketing tool. The vCity did not even have a vHospital site until 1998.

I think this reluctance was due to two main causes. First of all, there is still today a real technological limit on what can be achieved via telepresence. For the overwhelming majority of health-related work, it is simply necessary for the practitioner to be in close physical proximity to the patient. The direct, physical examination of a patient is a tradition that stretches back far beyond Hippocrates. Secondly, the legal ramifications of treating someone at a distance just haven't been hashed out yet in the courts. With medical malpractice insurance rates rising the way they are, no one wants to be the first to be sued.

So the medical community paradigm of bringing the patient to the doctor is still alive and well. And I think sometimes this paradigm blinds them to the enormous potential of establishing a direct and continual multilogue with their customers. Or perhaps the medical profession is simply reluctant to admit that it is an industry like any other. Hospitals, clinics, and centers are just like businesses, shops and stores -- they compete with each other for customers, and they need to establish marketing strategies. Given the antipathy of the higher education professionals to the vCity University concept, however, we decided to lay low on this one. Nobody in the corporation wanted to poke the health care behemoth; we figured we'd let one of our competitors do that.

I had interesting arguments with real world hospital public relations staff members on this topic. "People just like coming to a real building with real doctors and real nurses," they would say.

"Oh yes, and sitting for hours filling out paperwork too," I replied. "Very exciting stuff. But listen, I'm not saying they shouldn't. Why don't you use a VR site to show people the latest innovations your clinic offers?"

"We already have a Web site," they would always say.

So we never did figure out how to penetrate that market. Some real world clinics eventually did place sites in the vCity, when they discovered that it was the equivalent of free advertising. Usually the pioneers were doctors and administrators who simply enjoyed tooling around the vCity for kicks, and one day they started to ask themselves, "Gee, How Come We Don't Have....?" Still, the vHospital remained largely a 2-D experience. Or to put it another way, the 3-D VRML-based aspects of touring a vHospital were fun and very educational, but they weren't really necessary in terms of providing information or rendering services.

The first time I ever used one was two years ago. I remember putting in a lot of hours at the keyboard and eventually noticed a tingling and gradual numbing, a sure sign of the onset of some kind of RMI (Repetitive Motion Injury). So I took the opportunity to test out the vHospital concept and bookmarked over to the one in the suburb of Nondescript.

The reason why I even noticed that one, by the way, is simple. I happened to be scrolling through the old homestead at the time. When I first created the First Citizen persona, I decided that it would be necessary for the good of the infodemocracy to give him the most boring, average, prefabricated house one could possibly imagine and thereby avoid any accusations of preferential treatment. I called it the "log cabin" stratagem.

The suburb of Nondescript is zoned as a 3C area. By definition, the area defies description. It is a nice enough place to live, but, well, kind of average. It is located northwest of downtown vCity. It is a pleasant mostly residential suburb where, if it were a real world place, the housing values would be average and the population density would be equally average. You probably get the point by now. Just the kind of place to settle down and spend weekends cleaning out the basement. The perfect place for a humble home for a humble First Citizen.

As it happened, this vHospital, a simmcorp entitled The Center for Study of Work-Related Health Care Issues, was designed to be an actual reproduction of the real world hospital it simulated. Real world hospitals require large amounts of space. Given the Zoning Volume requirements, the Council registered this site in the Nondescript listings.

The whole thing was very well designed and quite impressive. By scrolling through the front doors of the main entrance, I was drawn towards an information desk. There were menu-driven applications that asked me basic questions and the program began to build a patient profile. Security guaranteed.

This obviously took some time -- it certainly wasn't the way to address someone with a problem needing immediate attention such as a knife wound or a bee sting. I guess maybe because those are not generally considered work-related health care issues. (Which leads me to think that eventually, our vCity browser will have an emergency button one can click upon that will notify real world officials in case of a real world emergency, such as excessive use of penile cybernetic attachments used to enhance the VR pornographic experience, maybe)

Anyway, eventually I got down to the point of addressing specific questions about my RMI, all the while thinking that it was somewhat ironic that I was probably aggravating my injury while trying to explain it. However, after that things really worked fine. I was electronically whisked away to a different site, a series of web pages listing professionals in my real world area that could help me with my problem. I clicked on the name of one that was only five minutes away from me by car, according to the map.

Sure enough, about half an hour later, I received a phone call.

"May I speak to Dr. Forest Green, please?"


"Dr. Green, this is Doctor Singh from Family Group Medical Services. I see here you may be suffering from an Occupational Overuse Effect. From the data you've given us it looks like a fairly simple case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Why don't you drop by and we'll take a look at it?"

I talked with him a bit further, asked him about his rates and so on. He was extraordinarily friendly -- the more so after finding out that I was fully insured. He asked about my work habits, the ergonomic design of my equipment, and so on. Eventually I agreed to a no-charge inspection at his office. When I arrived, all the paperwork was completed already, and all he needed was my signature on a few additional forms.

Now that is progress. However, the upshot of all of this was the oldest joke in the world. After fifteen minutes of further examination and discussion, he finally supplied a possible remedy.

"So, it tingles and goes numb when you work too much."

"I guess."

"So don't work so much!" he said, grinning.

"Gee, thanks Doc," I said, grimacing. "And take a $50 for yourself."


My wife mumbles sleepily at me, "Where've you been?"

"Oh, in my office. I'm sorry to wake you up, I couldn't sleep. I thought I might read up on pregnancy."

"That's nice," she smiles, burrowing deeper into the pillow, already falling back to sleep. "D'you learn anything?"

"Yes. Apparently, it is the female that bears the child."

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