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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
Midrash

MIDRASH

by Adam L. Gruen (et al?)

For those of you who have never heard of Midrash before, a brief explanation: once upon a time, there was the original text of the books of Moses, of Joshua, etcetera. As more people began to read this famous text, they began to ask questions about it. Why, they asked their rabbis (or priests, or each other), did the text say this instead of that? What was the meaning of this story? What about the contradiction with that portion of the text? After a while, the rabbis (and priests, and others) began to write down answers to these questions. Everyone had a good time doing it, and it was a way to sneak in a little poetry or a fair dose of morality without contravening the original text.

This habit of adding commentary and/or simply making up stories to flesh out the bare bones of the original text was a very human thing, a beautiful thing. The body of literature surrounding the original has been called many names including Midrash.

Of course, from time to time (especially in Near Eastern / European history) the existence of Midrash prompted a few people to complain that the commentary had become more of a focus than the original text. This led to attempts to refocus on the original fundamentals -- a process which might be called "fundamentalism" -- and heap scorn and vile upon the commentary. Even, in some instances, to burn books and authors and readers. That, too, was a very human thing, although not quite so beautiful.

Anyway, that’s all behind us now. Here we are, it’s practically the New Millenium, and of course tolerance for the free expression of ideas is everywhere.

Internetworking technology gives us a leg up on the old system. In the old days, if you wanted to communicate your commentary to others, you’d write a book review or a letter. Generations of professors survived happily dispensing their commentary to hapless students. Now, however, all hell has broken loose, and basically anyone can comment about anything to everybody. This leads to a rapid and potentially chaotic mess if not properly organized.

The existence of webworks irrevocably changes the world of authorship forever. Authors are no longer only authors but also caretakers and guardians of their text and ombudsman of the commentary. We must care for our young now instead of just laying an egg and wandering off to lay another.

I think this is a good thing, especially in fields where new knowledge must become available over time. For example, will there be any reason any longer to publish textbooks when all the material can be instantly updated by the author(s)?

Anyway, the point is, here is my commentary on the original text of vCity 1.0. I’ll be happy to add other commentary written by others. The price for admission is intelligence, brevity, and cogency. Of course, I reserve the right to comment on the commentary.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE:

The search for metaphor in history is an important thing.

There are very few U.S. citizens who have not, at one time or another, heard of the Melting Pot metaphor. The problem with the old Melting Pot metaphor, aside from being dumb, was that it was just plain wrong. United States culture was not some gigantic fondue kettle in which all the different cheeses of the world harmoniously melted into each other. The only people who wanted this metaphor to take hold were those members of U.S. society desperate to avoid the resolution costs of political and social conflict, i.e. members of the wealthy, propertied, and professional classes.

One need not be a neo-marxist historian, incidentally, to recognize the validity of the previous statement. Gary Nash’s The Urban Crucible provides us with an entirely different metaphor. Unfortunately, the "crucible" doesn’t quite work either, since it, too, implies that eventually certain elements will be ground down to dust before being fused into something new. Better, but not quite a bulls-eye.

I like the metaphor of the kaleidoscope not just because it states truthfully that the "colored shards" have always been and will always be, but also because it offers hope. Okay, I’m just one small piece of broken glass -- but I can contribute to the making of a beautiful, wonderful scene to dazzle the mind’s eye. That is the promise of the future, that we all can appreciate our own unique heritage and also each other’s.

I like the metaphor of the kaleidoscope because it is historical without being Whiggish. I’m not saying that there is progress, I’m saying that there is motion. Each generation defines its own picture. Whether you think the picture is an improvement or a devolution is up to you. Always has been.

I like the phrase "huddled splinters" as a counterpoint to the phrase "huddled masses" found on the Statue of Liberty in NY. I bring this up again in chapter 22 when I talk about splinters: "The challenge was no longer to achieve a big picture, but to step back and comprehend the meaning of the fragments, as beautiful and as mysterious as the stars in the night sky."

Welcome to the 21st century.

CHAPTER TWO:

There are a lot of obscure references in vCity 1.0. They amount to a bunch of little in-jokes, and no one except the author could possibly know all of them. Except, of course, if I reveal them all in MIDRASH.

("Men? Police-Men?") is from the movie Blade Runner. BR obviously had a strong effect on me visually; there are several things that I mentally lifted from that movie for the writing of this novel including the ziggurauts.

The ". . .knights and pages of anti-civilization" . . . did anyone get this pun? Web pages? Get it? Oh, never mind.

"Rosemary was much flatter then." One of my favorite sentences in the entire work.

In this chapter First Citizen reveals that, as the keeper of the Archives, he "can go anywhere, delve into any file, within the simulation." This sounds like too much power for any one person to have until you actually look at what he can discover: how long the registry has existed, to whom, his/her email address, etcetera. In other words, not much more than what the average marketeer can do today. Still, there’s no reason I can think of for why all of this information would not in fact be made available to any citizen of the vCity. But you know how corporations are -- they get kind of squirrely about things like databases.

First Citizen’s letter to "Lee Ward" (btw, that’s an in-joke too; I had just finished rereading Barbara Tuchman’s The First Salute) is an important one. Read it. I would like to think that the time is coming when corporations will hire people like E. Forest Green to reason with members of the public on a very personal level. To some extent they do it with financial relations already, but that’s mostly because corporations don’t want to be sued by stockholders. One day, public relations will be like this. Every customer will be valuable, and none will be cast aside. But corporations will also show some backbone, I hope, and not necessarily bow like reeds before every puff of wind.

The launch date of October 1, 1997 for the vCity was chosen arbitrarily for the purposes of setting the story in the not-too-distant future. It’s unclear to me whether any time of year has any marketing advantage over any other. Worlds Inc. launched AlphaWorld in November 1995; SOMA was launched in August 1995. In general the launch of services is usually timed to tie into some other promotion. You can assume that future v worlds will be opened to coincide with something else that the owner wants you to purchase.

CHAPTER THREE:

In case you’re wondering, aromatic lithocarbons could not be found in nature. There are some fundamental chemistry reasons why this is so that I won’t go into here. However, technically speaking it isn’t impossible that they could be manufactured if supported by a more traditional C-Si lattice. To be honest I’m not at all sure if the game would be worth the candle (now, there’s a pre-electricity expression for you).

It amazes me that people are so used to thinking in terms of artifacts that they miss the central point of the downloading revolution -- no shipping and handling. Now, this is not to say that books, cassettes, CDs, and videos will dissappear. As a matter of fact, I see strong growth in the multimedia artifact industry for many years to come. But apply appropriate technology to appropriate goals. If you want something fixed so that it will not change, then you want an artifact. But if you want something to change -- and a virtual reality ecological simulation is just the ticket -- then you don’t want to mess with artifacts, you want to mess with internetworking instead.

CHAPTER FOUR:

It’s true. More people are killed each year in Africa by hippopotamus than by crocodile. What happens is that sometimes you don’t always see the baby hippo or the mother (they tend to submerge for long periods of time) and you startle mama at the wrong time. Hippos build up a lot of mv pretty quickly and if you’re not careful you can be 2D pretty quickly.

Artists defending their young can be pretty dangerous too.

"Art speaks to the human condition, and, more than technology, is our last and best hope for progress. The hallmark of civilization is that while we recognize our capacity for evil, we nevertheless renounce it and work towards a better future." These two sentences, taken together, pretty much sum up my opinion on the subject of humanity.

I have long puzzled over the question of Good and Evil, especially since so many other people throughout history seem to have been somewhat preoccupied with the subject. It is hard to imagine that good and evil are not subjective. On the other hand, if good and evil are purely subjective, then what is to prevent anyone from doing anything he or she pleases, no matter who or what it hurts or destroys in the process? If a serial killer finds the abduction, rape, torture, and murder of a helpless victim pleasurable and a "good" thing, then who is anyone to judge it otherwise?

But the fact remains that we do judge otherwise. Enough people get together and define this kind of behavior as unacceptably evil. Then we go kick ass. It happens on small scales, as with neighborhood vigilantes, and it happens on large scales, as with the Allied war effort against the Nazis.

In the final analysis, there is no final analysis. Judging absolute Good and Evil is God’s work, and so we cannot possibly hope to understand it in this lifetime. Therefore, we must settle for a cheap, second-hand version of Good and Evil, a socially defined set of criteria, ill-defined, shifting, and full of contradictions.

Tough. Deal with it. And stay with the forces of Good, or be prepared to get your ass kicked.

CHAPTER FIVE:

Blade Runner again, in a reprise of chapter 2. At least I’m publicly acknowledging my conceptual debts, here. Imitation is a sincere form of flattery, especially when you footnote it or pay royalties on it.

Minas Ithil, by the way, is Dunedain for ‘Tower of the Moon’, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. This factoid provided as a customer service for those who may not have read this very famous novel. Will people be allowed to use names borrowed from famous works of literature? I think it largely depends on what a name is used for, and who owns the rights to it, and whether or not they want to bother to litigate. I take a stab at this theme in chapter 21, actually, again in reference to Tolkien’s novel.

The ownership of characters, names, likenesses, etcetera is of course an absurdity. It is a game we play with each other for exchanging mud pies and dirty rags (coin and currency). Historically, however, I see a curious phenomenon taking place. The degree to which content is protected and cherished for its cash-cowness is the degree to which it will die and be utterly forgotten. And that is a hopeful thing, considering the quality of so much of what is produced today by the Content Mills and their content distribution systems.

On the subject of nowlinks, words are tools to be invented as we need them. The major drawback to inventing new words is that it takes time for people to learn how to use them. As a result, we often fall back on words that we know, even if they may not be entirely appropriate. That’s okay; even a round hole can accommodate a square peg if you smash it often enough. For example: we talk about web "pages". We "scroll" through a document. Is there anyone else out there who finds this vaguely amusing, as I do? Anyway, the word "newspaper" is of course an antequated tool that will be around for hundreds of years to come -- perhaps thousands, since the technology itself is eminently appropriate for the specific purpose of porting high-resolution content to locales and environments in which electronic/photonic interface would be impractical or costly. But there’s no reason why we can’t invent new words to describe new technologies.

Ah, the Mole rats. Does anyone doubt that they will exist? If you do, then you do not yet understand humanity.

L’Enfant Terrible -- an obscure reference to the designer of the city plan for what came to be known as the District of Columbia.

"The whole purpose of the vCity as a social-political simulation is to try to conceive a sustainable future, and then go there." If you distill this novel long enough (with all the good juicy bits bubbling off), that is what you will find at the bottom of the flask. This customer service provided for those of you forced to review this webwork for well-meaning editors and teachers who unwittingly assigned it.

CHAPTER SIX:

A close examination of the history of civilization reveals that overwhelmingly, people tend to concentrate on their own culture, their own problems, and the local weather. No species on the face of this planet has indicated that it cares for any other, for itself, or for the planet as a whole. (In point of fact, if you are a Dawkins fan, a species doesn’t act as a species. Individuals act in accord with their genetic programming, which fools people into believing that they are something other than DNA reproducing machines) There is absolutely no proof that homo sapiens will be any different.

But hell, we can try. That is what the vCity does -- it is a tool to help us chart a better future, chiefly by envisioning technologies and other cultural attributes and then pre-deploying them to see what their problems might be.

The mantra of this novel -- and, I have come to conclude, of human action -- is sustainability and desirability. Those are the two pillars of civilization. Everything, ultimately, can be judged or measured by these two simple questions: is it sustainable? Is it desirable? If the answer to either question is "no", then one ought to seriously re-evaluate the situation.

Sustainability is the first criteria. If a culture cannot sustain itself, then it will die. This is a profound tautology. Now, one may rightly ask, "so what?" Perhaps all cultures die, given a long enough time span. True enough -- but that doesn’t mean that a culture has to commit suicide. Maybe the point of the game is to try to play it out as long as possible (hmmm, the Pinball philosophy of history). It helps to inculcate a philosophy of being Chosen Ones. If you are Chosen, then dammit, you better get your act together.

A quick look at modern (and by that, I mean generally, technologically complex) culture reveals that very little of it is sustainable. What does "sustainable" mean? Well, at the risk of sounding like a moron, ask yourself: can we keep doing this? Is this something that we can do for thousands of years? Or tens of thousands? Or hundreds of thousands? Clearly the answer is almost always "no". On the other hand, with a little bit of effort and will, there are things we could do that could be done endlessly. The Renewable Resources, in other words.

Sustainability alone is not sufficient, however. A culture can be cruel, rapacious, dogmatic, and miserable and still be sustainable. In the movie Soylent Green it is postulated that humanity will ultimately recycle itself in order to survive -- that dead bodies will be considered nothing more than biomass to be consumed. In short, a sustainable civilization. But is it a desirable future?

In other words, just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we will do it. There are advocates of the theory of Autonomous Technology who believe that the deployment and use of technologies is inevitable and that they create their own dynamic, crushing non-believers and non-users in their path.

This, of course, is equine excrement. We choose. We choose every minute of every day whether we wish to adopt technologies (thereby changing ourselves) or whether we wish to adapt them towards our needs (struggling all the way with the intractability of specialized designs), or whether we wish to ignore them (and risk the Prisoner’s Dilemma that some other person, or neighbor, or nation, will deploy them and ruin everything). Sometimes the price for any of these choices is very high, but the choice is still there.

I observe that people in general – most of the time – do not wish to face the burden of constantly trying to anticipate the consequences of their actions and of their choices. It is, honestly, a great deal of work. Nobody really wants to worry about the overall environmental effect of turning up the thermostat (as opposed to wearing a sweater indoors) or driving to the grocery store (as opposed to walking). Not every waking minute of every day, anyway.

Which is why the vast majority of people would prefer to speculate on the outcome of the next Lightspeed tournament rather than discuss the sustainability of human civilization. It’s not that we don’t care – it’s just that it’s so tiresome. So I’ll settle for people lifting their heads once in a while.

‘Lightspeed’, by the way, is a concept I dragged out of my personal past. As a freshman at Johns Hopkins U., I learned two sports I had never seen before: Ultimate Frisbee (now simply called Ultimate) and Lacrosse. I wrote a short story about ‘Lightspeed’, which was a cross between the two with some aspects of ballet thrown in for good measure, and sent it off to Omni magazine. Owing to the fact that the story basically stank, it was rejected. However, ‘Lightspeed’ survived inside my head, laying dormant for twenty years until resurfacing. If you add in-line skates and/or virtual reality, it might even work. I give this idea for a sport freely to the public domain. Long live Lightspeed.

I won’t go into a long diatribe about the importance of sport. What I find particularly fascinating is how sports are now created. It gives one a clue about the changing function of sport. It has become part of the entertainment industry. To that extent, sports are now created by corporations for profit. Of course, sometimes this becomes a little too obvious, and then people get pissed off, and revenues slack off. So the trick will be to get people to think that a sport represents some nobler aspect of humanity, when in fact it is strictly a business operation. "Is it real reality, or virtual reality? Does it make a difference? It’s all business reality."

Ah, cynicism. It’s a dog’s life.

"If humans could not be exploited for profit, then the whole premise of capitalist democracy was fundamentally unsound." This is definitely one of my favorite sentences in the entire book. Where you stand on the issue depends upon where you sit. Bottom line: do you believe that people should exploit other people for profit? Obviously people do, but that’s problematic. Is capitalist democracy sustainable? Marx thought not. He came up with a whole barrel of reasons why capitalism could not sustain itself (if I recall correctly, something about wealth concentrating itself in fewer hands). However all the signs point to the fact that democratic capitalism is – so far -- sustainable using those two great equalizers, death and taxes. Now a much harder question is: is it desirable?

You may puzzle over why in God’s name I have spent so much time describing the Rapid Area Transit and Light Rail system and Stadium Number One. Three reasons.

First of all, because it’s a convention of utopian literature that the author spend huge gobs of time and effort describing some fancy-shmancy technological infrastructure that will probably never be constructed because: a) it costs too much; and b) it will become irrelevant. Who am I to break such a venerable tradition of peering stupidly into the mist, and even more stupidly to announce the visions that result?

Secondly, because the idea of designing a futuristic technology to see what’s wrong with it is central to the vCity concept. After all, that is really nothing more than taking the art of modeling to its logic extension and involving the mass of humanity in providing feedback. Knowing if something will work mechanically is no longer sufficient. We need tools to help us model socially as well. Am I making any sense? Hello?

Thirdly, because I wanted to explore and reinforce another important theme, which is that the vCity has its limits as a tool. This can be summed up quite neatly with the expression, "You can’t make people simm." Actually you can force behaviors in a virtual world. One can design a virtual world in which the only way to get around is to "walk". But that is only true within the confines of that virtual world setting. In a distributed world setting (as postulated in this novel), there is absolutely nothing to prevent someone from beaming (bookmarking) to a favored site. You can’t force people to plod through sites they don’t want to access. You can’t make people simm. You can only hope that they will, for the purposes of simulation.

Or, as I once wrote in a discussion of this very topic to the vworlds list, "The only reason to simulate a mode of transportation, is to simulate a mode of transportation. QED."

CHAPTER SEVEN:

Biltong is the South African version of jerky. Strips of ostrich meat, marinated in a secret sauce of herbs and spices, are then cured and dried. (It doesn’t have to be ostrich meat, it can be any meat. Which leads to me to lament that I was never able to successfully work into the novel a virtual ostrich farm. Ostrich, for those of you who have never eaten it before, tastes very much like lean beef. It is very low in fat, and if it is possible to work profitably ostrich farms, I believe this will be a growth industry in the 21st century. Unfortunately I have no real idea of how difficult it is to raise ostrich, nor what damage they do to an ecology, nor if they have any disease problems that would cause dislocations to the populations of other animals. Also, there is no telling what would happen to ostrich prices if North American food corporations decided to mass produce and mass market ostrich meat. But one can imagine the advertising campaigns now: "Don’t stick your head in the sand! -- eat Ostrich!")

("Who is Number One? You are Number Six") A blatant reference and tip o’ the hat to the television series The Prisoner, perhaps the first series ever to really deal with the subject of virtual reality. But maybe not – in any case, I don’t want an argument on the subject.

Internet law is an endlessly fascinating, mindboggling, terrifying frontier. It pains me that so many articles on the subject inevitably conclude with some variation of the cliché that "nobody knows how it will work out." Of course nobody knows – but then again, nobody knows for certain how anything is going to work out. This neatly sidesteps the fact that the way it will work out is what we decide to work out. ("We" in this case, meaning the entire human internetworking population.) Don’t just sit there and shrug your shoulders and say "Gee, I’m clueless." Sit down under your personal Bodhi tree and stay there until you think things through. Decide where you want Internet law to go. And then push like hell for what you believe.

In the vCity universe in which E. Forest Green lives, the rule of Internet law that develops is that culpability is like real estate: the three most important factors are location, location, and location. It’s a simple and easily understandable rule that decentralizes the burden of enforcement to the local level. It creates a Prisoner’s Dilemma effect that insures that somewhere – consult your local listings – the content will always be available.

There is nothing that would prevent a local, regional, or national government from passing and enforcing a law that says "Not only is posting illegal content illegal, but referring to it is illegal too." Meaning, if you provide a hot link to illegal content, you become an accessory to its crime. I think it is unlikely that such a law would be passed in the United States (although stranger things have happened) or, if passed, upheld. Or if upheld, enforced. It would set such a terrible precedent against the rule of free speech that no democracy would survive it.

Law as applied to corporations is frequently less sanguine than that applied to individuals, for the simple reason that individuals directly elect candidates into office, whereas corporations can only indirectly influence the outcome through campaign contributions. I see no reason why governments would not apply stricter regulations to corporations than to individuals.

For example, in the United States an individual is free to post hot links on his home page and change it at whim. Currently corporations also enjoy this same freedom. However, as some sites become more popular – de facto standard bookmarks – we will inevitably reach a point at which individuals (and some corporations) will demand that their URLs be hotlinked at those specific sites. Inevitably someone will refuse to do so. And inevitably someone will sue on the basis that internetworking is a form of broadcasting, therefore a public utility, and that they are being denied equal access to that utility.

If you think this is a bunch of hooey, incidentally, read up on the history of water rights. I think you’ll get the point pretty quickly. Also, we have already seen cases in which people have demanded that links to their URLs be removed from someone else’s page. I can’t imagine that anyone could win a suit of that kind, except perhaps in California, which has proved rather convincingly that it has a justice system in which anything can happen, no matter how bizarre.

Anyway, I think the law will ultimately focus on two standards: intent (always a favorite, since it gives judges wide latitude) and public opinion (as effected by publicly held referendums). In other words, let’s say Corporation A sues Corporation B because the B home page, a recognized standard reference page, does not hot link to Corporation A’s URL. Corporation A claims that Corporation B is deliberately refusing to list Corporation A because A is a competitor. A wants to be listed or to receive compensatory payment for lost business.

How will this shake out? The answer is: the judge will determine if there was deliberate attempt to harm a competitor or deny access. The people will decide, however, if a particular home page should be considered a public utility or a private service.

CHAPTER EIGHT:

If you’ve ever been to Singapore during the early rainy season, you know what I’m talking about here. Nobody in that city-state ever bothers to carry an umbrella, because rain showers stop as suddenly as they start. It’s just easier to wait it out. This is, by the way, the primary explanation for the Barings bank disaster. That kind of climate breeds traders who don’t mind volatile, high-risk markets. They just figure sooner or later it’ll stop raining.

The "cup of tea" reference is, naturally, an oblique reference to the British empire. Hey, we may dump on the British now, but that’s a cheap shot – and besides, why do you think English has become the de facto common language?

Explaining (or describing) how a distributed virtual world simulation would work is a pain in the ass, and ultimately futile. Generally speaking there are two kinds of readers, those who intuitively grasp the concept and those who don’t. Those who do, a reader such as yourself for example, will find such discussions tedious, boring, and stupid. Those who don’t will find them hopelessly incomprehensible ("Huh? What’s IP?) no matter how much effort is expended. Nevertheless I felt I had to make the attempt.

"We interrupt the flow of the narrative for this brief announcement." I’ve always wanted to do that in a novel. Strangely enough, in the context of a webwork it doesn’t seem so odd.

I predict that in the future, webworks will routinely feature imbedded advertising landmines. A reader will be going along reading a novel, for example, and a character will be eating cereal at the kitchen table lamenting the fate of Western civilization. Now, depending upon the webwork, the novel will either supply the name of a specific cereal (an advertisement paid for by a food corporation) or a personalized database will kick in, and the name of the reader’s favorite breakfast cereal will appear instead (a reinforcing advertisement, again paid for by a food corporation).

Writers ought really to ban that kind of thing before it gets started, but of course being the slaves of the Content Mills, they will not. Or maybe writers should embrace the idea, and insist in their contracts with publishers that for each advertisement landmine emplaced, the writer shall receive a percentage or some other form of compensation.

Anyway, a tip o’ the hat to Trevanian’s Shibumi for this idea of interrupting the narrative to unleash a diatribe. Of course, Shibumi was a spit ball at humanity, a sour, novel-length bronx cheer lamenting the inevitable tyranny of the masses. Wonderful stuff, but not exactly helpful. Gruen’s vCity 1.0 is more of a polemic.

PullPlugism will be the great counter-culture philosophy of the 21st century, not Ludditism of course, but a kind of neo-Ludditism. The point is not to reject technology but to direct it towards social, political, and economic goals. The point is to live a long, happy, healthy, harmonious, meaningful life and to be a blessing to others. If plugging in achieves that goal, then fine. If pulling the plug also achieves that goal, then fine. Get it?

CHAPTER NINE:

Universities are strange places. I don’t like them. I see that they serve useful purposes. Unfortunately almost all of those purposes, with one or two exceptions, are dumb-headed. Universities serve admirably as a surge tank for the underemployed and the otherwise unemployable. Also as development leagues for the sports business. I don’t know what else to add that E. Forest Green already did not mention in chapter nine.

Of course this is a case of a dog biting the hand that fed it. What other dog can get close enough to bite?

I spent twelve years of my life, and a good deal of my parents’ money, in the University system and came out the other end with a Ph.D. Why? Well, without the Ph.D., it is unlikely that I would have been able to get the jobs I did. But why is that? It’s possible to research, analyze, and produce without a Ph.D. In fact, without any degree at all. But people have come to believe that a Ph.D. is the cachet of excellence, that it represents a level of professionalism. Therefore regardless of its actual worth, it has achieved a relative or market value. So my parents were very happy to spend the money on me. They knew that I was capable of life without a Ph.D. They simply preferred to invest the money earlier to help me earn my own income, rather than have me hang around the house, I guess.

Gee, I hate to say it, but: the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!

The University system is excellent at facilitating meeting and communicating with and learning from intelligent people. So the obvious thing to do is to connect directly the students with the teachers. Long live Internet Universities!

CHAPTER TEN:

I assume that there is no such thing as the Internetworking Industries Association of North America. However, if there is, then I apologize for using its name in vain. It is a logical assumption that IIANA will exist eventually, and most of this novel is a logical extrapolation of existing trends and technologies. (Well, it was in 1995, anyway. By the time this is published, I imagine a few readers will insist that I ripped off their idea, product, or service. All I can say is: No, no, I didn’t know. I wrote this novel in a small, dark office with only an internet connection for company. Honest. I don’t even watch that much television. Ask my wife.)

"‘Telecommuting’ was a powerful reality, but it was not the sledge-hammer that some had predicted it would be. Rather, it was millions of ball peen hammers capable of sculpting a new form out of the steel-reinforced concrete of urban civilization." Sometimes a writer can go for weeks struggling to find the right metaphor, and then it hits him over the head like a ball peen hammer. Anyway, I liked the sound of "steel-reinforced concrete of urban civilization," so I put it in despite myself. Sorry. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Anyone out there know what Edzaco and Fivirino mean? Boy, if this isn’t the ultimate trivia question, I don’t know what is. First person to respond with the correct answer wins my admiration.

The Virtual Land Institute does not exist, as far as I know. However, there is a real Land Institute located in Salinas, Kansas, and an old friend of mine works there. So this is a tip of the hat to all of the prarie ecologists of the world and advocates of sustainability.

CHAPTER ELEVEN:

About "multilogal cacophony": I made that up. I don’t really know if the experts, whoever they are, actually have a term for this phenomenon. If you’ve ever participated in a listserv for any amount of time, you’ll know exactly to what I am referring. If you have not, probably the best thing to do is to go to a zoo (or, if you can afford it, to a rainforest) and listen to primates scream at each other for a while.

Diablitos are my term for "knowbots". If I’m treading accidentally on someone’s trademark, I apologize. Meanwhile, before the Content Police find me and drag me off to the Rehabilitation Center, let me just say: "Fair use clause! Fair use clause!"

CHAPTER TWELVE:

The word ‘marketeers’ is not a typo. Obviously the actual word is ‘marketer’, but I like the sound of ‘marketeer’ better, akin to ‘musketeer’ or even, for those of you born prior to 1960, ‘mouseketeer’.

"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." These three sentences are not there for a cheap laugh, my friends. Corporations exist to make profits (unless, of course, they are non-profit or not-for profit corporations, but I believe that the major impetus for market change generally comes from for-profit corporations). They do not exist to do good or evil. All conspiracy theories that suggest otherwise are wrong (staple though they may be for novelists and screenwriters). Corporations act in the belief that their actions will, either in the short or long term, make money. That is their function. Every corporate employee does one of three things: 1) help produce revenue; 2) support, directly or indirectly, those employees who do help produce revenue; or 3) start looking for a new job.

So, the moral of the story is, if you want a corporation to "do good", you must define the "good" in terms of something that will be profitable.

One billion Internet users by the year 2002 A.D? That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? You want to know how I arrived at that figure? Does 31.25 million Internet users by the year 1997 sound reasonable? There are some analysts who claim that we had already reached that level in 1995. Let’s be conservative, though, and say 31.25 by the year 1997. Okay, now apply a 100% growth rate over five years. Amazing! Simple extrapolation of existing growth rate gets you there.

Well, the counter argument goes, a consistent 100% growth rate is ridiculous, can’t be sustained, no one can afford it, blah, blah. Okay, I never said I was a forecaster. So plug in the numbers of your choice, and do the math. Even the most lug-headed analyst will get to one billion sooner or later.

"You gotta give if you wanna get." This simple maxim defines one key aspect of New Millennite culture as far as my eyes can see. It doesn’t quite have the elegance of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" which was a nice thought but an unworkable economic system (people’s perceived needs always tend to expand faster than their actual abilities). However "you gotta give if you wanna get" is a fundamental internetworking truth. What I mean here is, it is possible to re-establish a barter economy when that which is being bartered is some form of digitized data. You give a corporation data, you should get something in return. You download something from a corporation, you should give them something in return. "Electron flow makes the economy go," as E. Forest Green says in chapter twenty.

The Hindenburg disaster has always pissed me off for its effect on the development of dirigible technology. Hence the rambling. Many years ago I had a dream in which I was living in a Non-Foundation Domicile, and ever since then I’ve wanted to work this concept into a story. I love this concept, even though it has obvious social and legal problems that would need to be addressed (such as, for example, flushing your waste only in designated areas). Anyway, I would very much like to see the dirigible make a high-tech, 21st century comeback. I don’t really know if the idea is economical. The idea of the floating advertisement dirigible, by the way, is yet another visual image borrowed from the movie Blade Runner.

As for why the tedious description of virtual airports, read the Midrash on chapter six, which says it all -- or at least a good chunk of it.

("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.") One of my favorite vignettes in the entire novel.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:

There is a moral in here beyond the obvious one (that greed blinds us to a narrow vision of the universe, namely, to our personal place in it). It is that each day, we create our own virtual reality, and then live in it. Why is it that people always seem surprised when reality does not in fact match up with their belief of what reality is supposed to be? We do this all the time (I am no stranger to the pernicious effects of self-delusion). In our relationships, for example, we project upon the other person what we want them to be, and then we are disappointed when they turn out to be someone entirely different. Is reality so terrible that we must create illusions as psychic wallpaper?

Not to belabor the point. Rereading Henry Petroski’s To Engineer is Human reminds me, however, that fooling ourselves into believing that our models reflect the true nature of things is dangerous. It had better be a damn good model. Is this, then, a contradiction of the entire vCity principle as described in this novel? Not at all. It is far better to have a good approximation of reality than none at all.

The vCity of this novel mimics "North American information age capitalist democracy."

It is a very young civilization, of course, about 150 years old. (It’s hard to know exactly where to define the beginning of the information age, but the deployment of the telegraph is a good milestone, so for the sake of argument I’ll take 1844) Hardly enough time to know if it works, or is merely some peculiar aberration caused by the confluence of geography, technology, and irony. All the signs indicate that it is, indeed, an unsustainable culture overly dependent on the internal combustion engine.

But never mind that right now. What I meant to say before I interrupted myself was: I maintain that vCities will be most successfully developed by corporations as marketing tools. A vCity could easily be medieval European, for example – but why? Only for entertainment purposes (Ala "Westworld"). Certainly not for marketing purposes. If you want to model the future, you have to begin with the near-present. And like it or not, the internetworking industry was born out of North American information age capitalist democracy.

All right, enough monologue, anyone want to hazard a guess as to why, in E. Forest Green’s universe, there are twenty-three full-service telecomm corporations? Let’s not see the same hands, now. You there, in the back. That’s right! So that there can be a Network XXIII! A Max Headroom pun if there ever was one. Perhaps the greatest television series of all time to depict a dysfunctional high-tech Earth future, with the possible exceptions of The Prisoner and Dr. Who. (Star Trek doesn’t count; it’s too cheerful. The case is still out on Babylon V. And the rest – well, I don’t know if they qualify for "greatness".)

CHAPTER FOURTEEN:

What is wealth? I can tell you only that which I have learned in the course of 36 years on planet Earth, also having studied 6000+ years of history: it is neither fame nor fortune. It is not possession, but dispossession, that makes one wealthy. This is not to say that each and every one of you should not go out and make a pile of cash. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that the illusion is reality.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:

Having written this novel in 1995 it was very difficult to envision what the U.S. government might look like in the year 2002, especially in light of the fact that in 1995 the U.S. Congress was sorely divided on such fundamental issues as which functions a federal government was supposed to fulfill. I have absolutely no idea whether the FCC will survive to the year 2002, but what I do know is that just because agencies and institutions vanish does not mean that their functions vanish. Those functions, like air bubbles, just move somewhere else. Therefore I postulate that something like a Telecommunications Standards Division will exist. Logically, what agency would control it? The only reasonable answer has to be the NSA, which I believe will serve a dual military and civilian role by the year 2002. It is already happening -- perhaps a result of the end of the Cold War -- since economic threats seem to weigh more heavily upon people’s minds these days than military threats.

To a great extent I come up with these things by ear, and I mean that literally. It’s a trick gleaned from reading Ursula Le Guin and Barbara Tuchman, who write with a sense of sound. I sit at the keyboard and blank my mind, and then just listen. The Coalition for the Preservation of Family and Society, for example, just sounds as if it ought to exist. I realize that in using this technique I am running the risk of accidentally using a title that does exist, which lodged itself inside my brain. So if the CPFS is an actual organization, I apologize, and let me just say: "Please don’t sue me. I can’t afford the lawyers. And besides, owing to my attitude about wealth, I don’t have any money anyway, so a suit would be an extraordinary waste of time. Also parody is a recognized form of free speech and constitutes fair use. Thank you."

There is something about the CPFSs of the world that needs to be recognized. Puritans (and orthodoxies everywhere) cannot be democratic. Not really. Oh, they may say that they are democratic, and indeed they benefit from the protection that a democracy or democratic republic affords them by law, but deep down, right-thinkers cannot truly embrace the notion that public opinion is paramount. It doesn’t fit. The main reason why, I believe, is that adamantly religious people generally see right and wrong as objectively defined criteria. Though the whole world may stand against the one, the one can still be right, and all the others wrong. This may be true in a metaphysical or philosophical sense, but it doesn’t translate very well to politics. It doesn’t ever seem to occur to such people that two individuals can have absolutely opposite opinions on a subject and both be right.

(Which reminds me of an old canard. A man and a wife, having marital troubles, come before their rabbi, who has an audience with each of them separately. The man lists all of his complaints and concludes that his wife is shrewish and naggy. The failure of their marriage is clearly her fault. The rabbi tells him, "You’re right!" Then the wife comes in and berates her husband for being lazy and irresponsible. The failure of their marriage is clearly his fault. "You’re right!" the rabbi tells her.

The acolyte, listening to all of this, later says to the rabbi, "But Rebbe, they can’t both be right."

The rabbi looks at him, nods, and says "You’re right!")

"I really think you should take a stress pill, Dave." A tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN:

"You don't go to a city to look at its billboards." Remember this piece of advice when you set up your own virtual city. Do you watch television in order to view the advertisements? Do you read a magazine in order to read the ads? No? Okay -- so why would someone want to look at your virtual city?

Content, m’buckos, needs to be compelling. Or, as my football coach used to say (and we’re going way back in time now), "I can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit." Of course he may have been referring to me at the time, the world’s worst pass blocker. Anyway the point is, all of the presentation tricks of the trade won’t hide sterile thought and boring content.

This is, of course, a very convenient opinion for an author to hold. Maybe I’m wrong, and the Content Mills really can put shit in a box and sell it. I certainly hope not. I would like to think that at the center of all attractions, there is something attractive.

A funny thing happened to chapter sixteen on the way to the forum. To some extent not yet determined as of late 1995, it became obsolete.

The vCity as described in this novel does not have full interactivity owing to its highly distributed nature. Therefore, when one is vBicycling, one is accessing a series of world (.wrl) files, downloading them, unzipping them, and recreating them. It’s a static model that cannot allow for collision detection with other users also downloading those same files from the same (or a mirror) site. As a matter of fact, it’s a paradigm more suited to compact discs. I can easily see a vBicycling CD that would offer the user a complete static world for hours of vBicycling pleasure. Of course, that sacrifices the constantly changing nature of a vCity, since a CD is an artifact.

I’m still not sure that the boys and girls in the back room can pull this one off, but it does seem that VRML is moving in the direction of greater interactivity. I think that this can probably best be achieved at a highly integrated, centralized site in which users are reduced to pieces of code operating within a larger program. I take a stab at this idea in chapter twenty three, the virtual wedding.

In effect, for the purposes of interactivity, the user becomes a self-contained application with a reference IP address hanging off the back of his/her shirt. Things happen to this scapp, and periodically the master program spits back an update so that the user can "sense" what is happening. Also so that the user can spit back modifications. The problem is, that’s a lot of spitting going on. I’m not at all sure that the Internet can handle it. For that matter, I’m not sure how a platform (modem+processor+software) could handle it. Complexity increases geometrically as N increases from 2 without bound. On the other hand, what do I know? With the advent of 155 Mbps backbones and cable modems and 200+ Mhz microprocessors, maybe we can do it. Transfer all the electrons you want . . . they’ll make more. All I know is, if that’s true, I want a flat monthly fee for unlimited access time, otherwise I’m going to pull the plug and read a book instead.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN:

I lived in Northern Virginia for ten years before I found out that Reston was not named after a person named Reston, but rather after its original designer, a man whose initials were R.E.S. whose name now escapes me. Somebody out there, help me out here -- I’m too lazy to do the research -- what’s his name? Anyway, there was an article in the local newspaper not too long ago about how R.E.S. came back to find something or other appalling about how Reston has developed. I chose Reston deliberately as the HQ site for E. Forest Green’s corporation because this story seemed very funny to me. After all, the first rule of city development is to expect the unexpected. A significant corollary is that nothing ever quite comes out the way you want it to. Or, as the saying goes, "There’s your plan, and there’s God’s plan -- and your plan doesn’t matter."

On the subject of a virtual stock market -- I give this idea freely to the public domain. It’s a great idea, and I hope everyone has a lot of fun with it. It would be a perfectly legal form of gambling, and useful too. You can’t ask for more than that.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN:

"Republican democracy is just not a feline thing." One of my favorite sentences in the novel. If cats were to ever develop a system of government, I am pretty sure it would be enlightened despotism. Being cats, however, they probably have no need for government, having already evolved to a highly advanced state of anarchy.

"It's not that people are stupid; it's that institutions are ignorant of their own history." Ponder this, and then you will understand why I am a historian of technology. And why a historian must also be a futurist.

"The definition of a fanatic is that, having lost sight of his objective, he doubles his efforts." Dr. Alex Roland first taught me this, and I have never forgotten it. Know your objectives. Or risk becoming a fanatic.

("Bugs, Mr. Rico! Zillions of 'em!") Thank you, Robert Heinlein.

CHAPTER NINETEEN:

E. Forest Green is a good man if he owns a Durham Bulls baseball cap. By a strange coincidence, so do I. By an even stranger coincidence, I used to live in Durham, North Carolina, where I was a graduate student at Duke University. I can’t say that I went to all that many ballgames, but I caught a few, so to speak.

A few of you might be wondering about the mention of a federal sales tax. Just for the hell of it – and remember, there are an infinite number of possible futures – I envisioned a United States in which the IRS would become the FRS, owing to the fact that the income tax would be abolished in favor of a consumption tax. There is a certain irony in this, since most people who advocate eradicating the income tax generally assume that that would do away with the IRS. But this is the well-known Fallacy of Reducing Government. After all, the number of tax collectors shall always be roughly proportional to the total amount of taxes collected (modified by technological efficiency). Since people have demonstrated that they do not wish federal services to be reduced, it stands to reason that the need for taxation will be approximately the same. So all those people hired to collect income taxes will simply shift their focus to collecting a federal sales tax. And believe me, with the advent of digital money, this federal sales tax will be everywhere.

Not that this will necessarily be a bad thing. It is in the interests of the modern state to discourage consumption. Once upon a time, industrial nations believed exactly the opposite, owing to a rather inflexible production infrastructure and ignorance of the true costs of environmental refurbishment and health maintenance. Now, however, with the advent of computing and internetworking, we have "just enough" production and "just in time" delivery of "just for you" tailored products. We even have better cost models to boot, a gift from the econoecologists. So the ancient paradigm of mass production no longer holds, and there is no need to encourage consumption to support an underutilized industrial capacity.

Ah, the future. It just smells so lemony-fresh, wouldn’t you agree?

CHAPTER TWENTY:

There can be no freedom without responsibility. Every citizen of any civilization must always accept that there are consequences to actions; the strength of the individual is his/her ability to recognize those consequences, anticipate them, and prepare for them. Every utopian vision (or, in the case of the vCity, a vTopian vision), every attempt to make an ideal society has historically foundered on one irritating question: what do we do about irresponsible citizens?

Frankly, I don’t know. Keep nagging them to be nice, I suppose.

Irresponsibility is a serious problem. You can’t have a civilization without civility. In the vCity postulated in the novel, irresponsible vCitizens are either banned or ignored. Neither solution works for the real world as it does for the internetworking milieu.

There have been many societies and social groups throughout history that have tried every variation of banning, and it doesn’t seem to do any good. In very small groups, alienation can be a very powerful weapon. With the advent of the city, however (or generally speaking any society above 10,000 people), alienation is impossible, since to some extent everyone feels alienated, and nobody can know everybody. Banning can’t work with partial enforcement.

Ignoring an irresponsible person is easier said than done, especially when lives are at stake. If someone dumps toxic waste into the water system, we can’t go around saying, "Gee, that was darn irresponsible of that citizen. I think I’ll ignore him at the next PTA meeting." But anything stronger than that – which is to say, punishing the irresponsible for their misdeeds -- leads back to the usual morass of law, lawyers, courts, judges, police, and prisons.

And then there is the nagging problem of defining who is ‘responsible’ versus who is ‘irresponsible’. Do people do foolish things out of malice, or simply ignorance? Do people act against established principles of decorum out of mean-spiritedness, or are they trying to say something, to rebel against what they consider a tyranny of orthodoxy?

All of this leads me to conclude that perfect human societies are impossible to achieve; but that humanity must never stop trying to achieve them.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE:

Tolkien again. Read the Midrash about chapter five before proceeding. Thank you.

So much has been written and said about copyright law. Intent should play an important role in determining what damages should actually be awarded to an offended party. Yes, I understand that studying each case on its own merits is a frightening time sink. I’m sure that we would all rather prefer the comforting blanket of absolute rule of law. But that’s what distinguishes adult games from children’s games. Children (especially, as it turns out, boys) need absolute rules. They do not ask "what is fair?", they ask "what is the rule?"

Justice is such a tarpit, isn’t it? Ain’t no way to step into it without getting yecch all over your nice, shiny shoes. Tough. Deal with it.

"Finally, she agreed to a little airbrushing, and bulked up the Elves into tall, elegant humans that merely looked like Elves. Or like Elvis, depending upon the resolution of your monitor." Probably my all-time favorite one-liner in the novel. Except for all the others. See, this is an entirely new form of entertainment: sit-down comedy.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO:

Since this whole chapter is basically a piece of commentary, I’ll refrain from

adding any at this point. Would like to read what you think, though.

E. Forest Green’s old friend is Dr. Julian Reitman, a pioneer in multimedia applications for the classroom, who can be recognized by the multitude of arrows sticking into his back (or out, depending upon from which direction they were fired).

Regarding DragonLords and Galactic Conquest: by a strange twist of fate, Adam Gruen actually designed these simulations. Of course, that was twenty years ago, and in those days they were referred to as boardgames. I suppose this just goes to show that no skill, no how matter how wacky, cannot ultimately be recycled to some higher purpose. But to be honest with you, over the years I sorta dropped those titles from my resume. I’ve always wondered if Dr. Jerry Pournelle listed his. Hey Jerry, if you’re reading this, let me know.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE:

Regarding steamrolling (the act of suddenly moving from a 3D to a 2D environment): it isn’t really necessary. We already know how to imbed .txt-based objects in a .wrl-based view. However, I predict it will happen anyway, for two reasons:

a) People are lazy, and in the rush to shovel stuff up on the web, they won’t bother to make text three-dimensional, especially if they don’t anticipate a demand for it;

b) Not all browsers will support all formats. I suspect, in other words, that 2D html files will serve as a kind of common currency well into the 21st century -- boring, but always a supported format.

This chapter is probably the wackiest of the entire novel, and yet I think E. Forest Green makes a valid point. Marriage by Internet should be perfectly legal, as long as the paperwork is valid and registered somewhere.

Some of you will wonder why I even put this virtual wedding in the novel, considering that everything else is so serious. Well, two reasons. The weighty dough of any novel always has to be leavened with a bit of levity. Secondly, I wanted to set up chapter twenty-four, which contains an extremely important vignette on how virtual technologies may stimulate a new religion, forming the basis for greater unity in the 21st century and beyond. I refer to this theme again in a different novel, which you haven’t read yet because I haven’t finished writing it yet. Trust me, I see the entire saga, whereas you’re only seeing one small part of it.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR:

The figures that E. Forest Green quotes on the cost of movie production are completely speculative, and yet I think they augur a sea change in the entertainment business. I think that in the near future, producers will use whatever "models" and "actors" are most cost-effective to the overall entertainment product, depending upon the milieu. If a CGI costs less to generate than it does to hire an actor, then the producer will purchase the CGI and not the actor. Now, to some extent, this will also be an efficiency of scale argument. That is to say, the cost of using CGIs will be very high initially but will go down per unit use. Most of this work will be contracted out, but it is conceivable that at some point, a producer will look at the graph and say, "Hell, let’s get a CGI wonk on the payroll, these contractors are eating our lunch." At which point you have a CGI wonk hanging around, and naturally the producer will then say, "Hey wonk, you’re on the payroll, start producing more CGI for us."

The actors guild, of course, is not going to like this one teenie bit, since at some point Hollywood will have more CGI wonks than actors. They will fight it, and of course, they will lose. A much smarter strategem would be to ally with the CGI industry and set up a new guild called the Virtual and Real Images guild. I can imagine very easily an actor with handsome cheekbones, for example, leveraging his bit of genetic luck by cutting a deal with the CGI wonk union to model off of his cheekbones -- for a minor per-use fee.

The screenwriters will make the shift easily enough. The people I really feel sorry for are the gophers, the crews, the stunt artists, the prosthetics people, etcetera. What’s going to happen to them? In the world of illusion that is Hollywood, what happens when illusion goes electronic/photonic?

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is -- I think the pornography industry is actually going to stay human-based for a while. Supply and demand, m’buckos: the number of actors willing to spread their legs is great, but the number of CGI specialists willing to spread their legs is small. At least, for now.

But I do not predict, I merely foretell.

"...it wouldn’t be the first time that technological metaphor has been used to inspire a new paradigm." Ponder these words carefully. What we are seeing is the birth of a new religious philosophy, or philosophical religion, take your pick. It will take centuries to flower fully. (If you don’t believe me, stick around to the year 2459 A.D., and then if I’m wrong, you can prove me to be a false prophet) Most people today do not deal with virtual reality, and therefore they have no incentive to worry too much about their own spiritual nature. But at some point, most people will deal with electronic/photonic illusion as a part of their daily lives. They will become so used to it that some will be fooled into thinking that real reality is not important, that virtual reality is an effective substitute. At that point, people will begin to understand that concentrating too heavily upon the material aspects of reality at the expense of spiritual development makes about as much sense as forsaking real reality for virtual reality.

I am developing this theme more fully in another novel. But that’s another story.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE:

Charles Krauthammer wrote a wonderful op-ed piece on the pernicious effects of dogmatism in eco-politics. (This guy gets my vote for President if he ever runs; he makes Henry Kissinger look like a mystical idealist.) Basically he surmised that hatred of polluting technologies has become a form of orthodox religion, blinding the true believers to the uses of such technologies, forcing a political repression of non-believers.

Now, what he says may very well be true. Environmentalists do sometimes have a Holier-Than-Thou problem. So I suggest society finesse the debate. Rather than list the many reasons why I.C.E.s are "evil" technologies, let’s concentrate on what they do, which is to say, what they achieve. Then let us concentrate on how to achieve those results in other, more appropriate ways. And then, finally, let us concentrate on how to make those other ways profitable. Because there seem to be two driving forces: fear and greed. If the former doesn’t work, maybe we should try the latter.

Some would say, "let the marketplace decide", as if unrestricted capitalism were God’s gift to mankind. My reply is: "Fine. Just make sure you factor in the cost of environmental degradation into your models, including quality of life."

Fundamentally, the confusion arises from the fact that we really don’t understand how the planet works yet. We don’t know what global warming will do or how it is achieved. How do we know that we are not ameliorating the effects of the next ice age? Maybe the Earth benefits from our presence. The point is not what are we doing; the question is what do we want to do?

Or, as a local bar and grill proudly suggests: "Think global; drink local."

The whole fugue about the RoboWipers raises the interesting problem of just how far the designers of a vCity (who, in the universe postulated by this novel, would be the vCitizens themselves with friendly assistance from the corporation’s Zoning Council) want to go to accurately simulate the real world. There doesn’t seem to be any logic in recreating (modeling) the world as we know it -- why not just spend your time in the real thing, then? If we create a vision of what we want to achieve, however, to what extent are we fooling ourselves?

The Rule of Simulation for the vCity works as a compromise between being and becoming. The Rule is that you can build anything you want, so long as it does not violate the laws of physics as we understand them. This allows people to go wherever they want freed from the tiresome constraints of economics, but ties them to reality nonetheless. As for social and political constraints -- well, that’s the point of doing the modeling. It may be that some artifact is technically achievable. But unless it is appropriate in context, it will not work -- not unless it is rammed down the throats of an unsuspecting citizenry, in which case it promises to cause massive dislocation. That, too, could be valuable information.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX:

"Democratic anarchy is more than just a lifestyle, it’s a responsibility to bear." Ponder these words, children, and reflect. If you do not wish to bear the burdens of government, then you abrogate your right to self-government. But if you do that, then don’t sit there and whine about your taxes, please. The flip side of this is that if you do not wish to bear the burden of a government imposed upon you, then you must dismantle it and replace it with yourself. Understand, however, that when you take the responsibility of government upon yourself, you must provide the services and maintain the technological infrastructure to which you have grown accustomed.

Now, under normal circumstances, no one can know everything they need to know in order to provide those services. However, through internetworking, it becomes much easier to outline a problem and request solutions -- worldwide -- than ever before. If a contractor isn’t available, a bunch of vCitizens might be. In other words, democratic anarchy could not possibly exist except in a very technologically complex society, specifically one well-equipped with telecommunications.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN:

"Left to itself, VR pornography is basically boring, an exercise in meaningless futility." Actually if you think about, this is true about pornography in general. Let’s face it, just how much art is there in what is essentially a commodity industry? At least erotic art is interesting and challenging.

Boredom is the enemy. Always has been, since the first days of the leisure class, for whom daily survival was not a major issue. The trick to ridding civilization of pornography is neither to suppress it nor to encourage it, but to provide people with something more interesting to do (or observe). This is the basis of another novel I’m writing, and is part of the greater saga.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT:

"How many polygons in a love triangle?" Wow, an honest-to-God VRML joke. Copyright Adam L. Gruen, 1995.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE:

For all practical purposes, hospitals are businesses. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true. However, looking at the glass half full, I must say that I think the medical industry is a good thing in the sense that the primary objective is to help people, to heal wounds. There are not too many industries that could boast that. Sometimes all the paperwork blinds us to the fact that we exist to help one another.

CHAPTER THIRTY:

"There is something admirable -- if incomprehensible to the Western mind -- about conceding the game because it will not be beautiful." Life is a game we spirits play here on Sandbox Earth, and what is important is that you play well and enjoy it. Live your life so that at the final throw of the dice you can say, "No regrets." And if you didn’t like the outcome of this lifetime, try it again. Just remember that the initial conditions will be different, even if the rules remain the same. It’s a little frustrating not to be able to live the same life over again, avoiding the mistakes, but those are the facts. Sorry.

Is this chapter a set-up for a follow-on to vCity 1.0? Well, not exactly. Think of this novel as only one stone on the board. A sequel would only be building a "wall", a linear tactic ill-suited to the ebb and flow of Go. But a series of novels, all addressing different topics over the course of a lifetime, a seemingly random placement of oblique moves that, when considered as a body of literature, make a whole far greater than the parts and capture maximum intellectual territory-- ah, now that is progress.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE:

"in a 3-D world, there are always six sides to every story." One of my favorite sentences in the entire novel.

The first time I ever saw a web page with the words transfer interrupted! at the bottom, I thought it was a joke. And ever since then, every time I see one I start to giggle. I don’t know why. It’s just funny. I suppose it would be funnier if it were in latin.

Anyway, one day I sat down next to a couple of bicycle couriers and one of them was talking about a colleague who never made a delivery because he was hit by a car, and I kept thinking: transfer interrupted. Fortunately I did not smile, since it would have been in extremely bad taste. But I was determined to work this into a novel somehow.

This chapter raises a really significant vCity problem for which there is no obvious solution, namely, who is going to pay for it. I postulate that the really successful vCities will be built by corporations for the purposes of marketing. It doesn’t have to work that way, of course. A vCity could equally be constructed by a corporation for the purposes of entertainment. Or, a vCity could be constructed by a government or non-profit corporation for the purpose of modeling. Still, the bottom line is ultimately that the costs of supporting the organization of the vCity -- and by that I mean, the database of the IP addresses plus whatever technical support is required for servers and mirror sites -- needs to be borne by someone.

I think one logical outcome is that corporations will make vCities freely available for a time, and then begin to charge their customers for the "privelege" of going there. Another possible outcome, as I described in chapter six, is that corporations will provide the milieu for free, but charge for the accessing of specific content. Much as if your cable provider gave you "free channels," but in fact retailed all programs on a pay-per-view basis, so that the only thing that would be "free" would be an endless series of teasers and advertisements.

There will come a time (my crystal ball gets so dirty sometimes I just can’t see much past five years; something to do with all this chaos theory dust) when access to the vCity becomes sufficiently important that it will be considered a right rather than a privelege, a utility and not a luxury. At that point, a logical assumption is that a corporation will turn over the running and handling of the vCity to its vCitizens.

Something like this actually did occur in the 17th century in both Virginia and South Africa. The companies that established colonies eventually turned their regulation over to the state, when it became obvious that the settlers had no intention of following the dictates of the companies.

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO:

Someone recently asked me, "how did Mole Queen know it was E. Forest Green’s 43rd birthday?" This seemed to me to be so patently obvious that I had never bothered to explain it in the novel, which is a prime example of how authors can sometimes see characters so clearly and know them so well, that they forget to share this intimacy with the readers.

Well, the short answer is: Megan Donnelly is a telecommcomp wonk, and would easily be able to research a publicly available piece of data such as someone’s birthday. I mean, listen, we can do that kind of stuff now. In the year 2002 A.D., a researcher would probably be able to find out Forest Green’s favorite brand of underwear.

Trust me, in the future the concept of "privacy" will seem as antequated as the concept of "chivalry" does today, although back in 13th century Europe, chivalry was a big thing. There will be only one way to maintain privacy, and that will be to stay unplugged. A bit like the "Blanks" in Max Headroom, actually.

I have to admit that the scene between E. Forest Green and Mole Queen was lodged in my brain for a long time before this novel was ever written. Some of you may recognize it as Tolkien’s fugue between Gandalf and Aragorn at the beginning of the fourth Age of Man: the advent of the new ruler, the passing of the old wizard.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE:

("What you’re saying is, you want someone to organize people on Earth?" "Yeah." "That’s a fool’s errand. Dictatorship doesn’t work very well any more...")

Long live democratic anarchy.

Ursula Le Guin once wrote something to the effect that all her novels are not stories about going from A to B, but from A to A by the most circuitous route possible. As a tribute to her style, I wanted to end the novel as it began, to bring the reader back full circle. If you think about it, that’s what a roller-coaster ride does. And, although I can’t prove it, that’s what life does too.

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