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, thats all behind us now. Here we are,
its 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, youd 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
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
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. Ill 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.
The search for metaphor in history is an important
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 Nashs The Urban
Crucible provides us with an entirely different metaphor. Unfortunately,
the "crucible" doesnt 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, Im just one small piece of
broken glass -- but I can contribute to the making of a beautiful, wonderful
scene to dazzle the minds eye. That is the promise of the future,
that we all can appreciate our own unique heritage and also each
I like the metaphor of the kaleidoscope because it is
historical without being Whiggish. Im not saying that there is progress,
Im 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
Welcome to the 21st century.
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
("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, theres 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 Citizens letter to "Lee Ward" (btw, thats
an in-joke too; I had just finished rereading Barbara Tuchmans 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 thats mostly because
corporations dont 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. Its 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
In case youre wondering, aromatic lithocarbons could
not be found in nature. There are some fundamental chemistry reasons why this
is so that I wont go into here. However, technically speaking it
isnt impossible that they could be manufactured if supported by a more
traditional C-Si lattice. To be honest Im not at all sure if the game
would be worth the candle (now, theres 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 dont want to mess with artifacts, you want to mess with
Its true. More people are killed each year in Africa
by hippopotamus than by crocodile. What happens is that sometimes you
dont 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 youre not careful you can be 2D pretty
Artists defending their young can be pretty dangerous
"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 Gods 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.
Blade Runner again, in a reprise of chapter 2. At
least Im publicly acknowledging my conceptual debts, here. Imitation is a
sincere form of flattery, especially when you footnote it or pay royalties on
Minas Ithil, by the way, is Dunedain for Tower
of the Moon, from J.R.R. Tolkiens 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 Tolkiens 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
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.
Thats 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 theres
no reason why we cant 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.
LEnfant Terrible -- an obscure reference to
the designer of the city plan for what came to be known as the District of
"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.
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 doesnt 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
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
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 doesnt 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
doesnt 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 Prisoners 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
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. Its not that we dont care
its just that its so tiresome. So Ill 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 wont 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? Its
all business reality."
Ah, cynicism. Its a dogs 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
thats 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 Gods 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 its 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 whats 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?
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 cant 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 cant force people to plod through sites they dont want to
access. You cant 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."
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 doesnt 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:
"Dont 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 dont want an argument on the
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.) Dont just sit there and shrug your shoulders and say "Gee,
Im 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. Its a
simple and easily understandable rule that decentralizes the burden of
enforcement to the local level. It creates a Prisoners 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
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 youll 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 elses page. I
cant 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,
lets say Corporation A sues Corporation B because the B home page, a
recognized standard reference page, does not hot link to Corporation As
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.
If youve ever been to Singapore during the early
rainy season, you know what Im talking about here. Nobody in that
city-state ever bothers to carry an umbrella, because rain showers stop as
suddenly as they start. Its 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 dont mind volatile, high-risk markets. They
just figure sooner or later itll 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 thats 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 dont. Those who do, a reader such as yourself for
example, will find such discussions tedious, boring, and stupid. Those who
dont will find them hopelessly incomprehensible ("Huh? Whats
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." Ive always wanted to do that in a novel. Strangely enough,
in the context of a webwork it doesnt 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 readers 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 Trevanians
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. Gruens 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?
Universities are strange places. I dont 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 dont 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? Its 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 isnt
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
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 didnt know. I
wrote this novel in a small, dark office with only an internet connection for
company. Honest. I dont even watch that much television. Ask my
"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 isnt the ultimate trivia question, I dont 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
About "multilogal cacophony": I made that up. I dont
really know if the experts, whoever they are, actually have a term for this
phenomenon. If youve ever participated in a listserv for any amount of
time, youll 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 Im
treading accidentally on someones 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!"
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
One billion Internet users by the year 2002 A.D? That
sounds like a lot, doesnt 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. Lets 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, cant 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
doesnt 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 (peoples 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
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 Ive 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 dont 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
("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.
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 Petroskis
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. (Its 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 Ill 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
All right, enough monologue, anyone want to hazard a guess
as to why, in E. Forest Greens universe, there are twenty-three
full-service telecomm corporations? Lets not see the same hands, now. You
there, in the back. Thats 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 doesnt count; its too cheerful. The case is still out on
Babylon V. And the rest well, I dont know if they qualify
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 dont
fool yourself into thinking that the illusion is reality.
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 peoples minds these days than
To a great extent I come up with these things by ear, and I
mean that literally. Its 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 dont sue me. I cant afford the lawyers. And besides, owing
to my attitude about wealth, I dont 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 doesnt 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 doesnt translate very well to
politics. It doesnt ever seem to occur to such people that two
individuals can have absolutely opposite opinions on a subject and both be
(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, "Youre right!" Then the wife comes in and berates
her husband for being lazy and irresponsible. The failure of their marriage is
clearly his fault. "Youre right!" the rabbi tells her.
The acolyte, listening to all of this, later says to the
rabbi, "But Rebbe, they cant both be right."
The rabbi looks at him, nods, and says "Youre
"I really think you should take a stress pill, Dave." A tip
of the hat to Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey.
"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
Content, mbuckos, needs to be compelling. Or, as my
football coach used to say (and were going way back in time now),
"I cant make chicken salad out of chicken shit." Of course he may have
been referring to me at the time, the worlds worst pass blocker.
Anyway the point is, all of the presentation tricks of the trade wont
hide sterile thought and boring content.
This is, of course, a very convenient opinion for an author
to hold. Maybe Im 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
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. Its 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, its 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.
Im 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,
thats a lot of spitting going on. Im not at all sure that the
Internet can handle it. For that matter, Im 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 . . . theyll make
more. All I know is, if thats true, I want a flat monthly fee for
unlimited access time, otherwise Im going to pull the plug and read a
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 -- Im too lazy to do the research --
whats 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 Greens 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, "Theres your plan, and theres
Gods plan -- and your plan doesnt matter."
On the subject of a virtual stock market -- I give this
idea freely to the public domain. Its 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 cant ask for more than that.
"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
"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
("Bugs, Mr. Rico! Zillions of 'em!") Thank you,
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 cant 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
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,
wouldnt you agree?
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 dont know. Keep nagging them to be nice, I
Irresponsibility is a serious problem. You cant 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 doesnt
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 cant work with
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 cant go around saying, "Gee, that was darn irresponsible of
that citizen. I think Ill 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.
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. Im sure that we would
all rather prefer the comforting blanket of absolute rule of law. But
thats what distinguishes adult games from childrens 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, isnt it? Aint 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.
Since this whole chapter is basically a piece of
commentary, Ill refrain from
adding any at this point. Would like to read what you think,
E. Forest Greens 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. Ive
always wondered if Dr. Jerry Pournelle listed his. Hey Jerry, if
youre reading this, let me know.
Regarding steamrolling (the act of suddenly moving
from a 3D to a 2D environment): it isnt 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 wont bother to make text three-dimensional, especially if
they dont 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
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 havent read yet
because I havent finished writing it yet. Trust me, I see the entire
saga, whereas youre only seeing one small part of it.
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, lets 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, youre 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
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. Whats going to happen to them? In the
world of illusion that is Hollywood, what happens when illusion goes
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, mbuckos: 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 wouldnt 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 dont believe me, stick around to the year 2459 A.D., and then if
Im 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
I am developing this theme more fully in another novel. But
thats another story.
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,
lets 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 doesnt work, maybe we should try
Some would say, "let the marketplace decide", as if
unrestricted capitalism were Gods 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 dont understand how the planet works yet. We dont 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 corporations Zoning Council) want to go to accurately
simulate the real world. There doesnt 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, thats 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.
"Democratic anarchy is more than just a lifestyle,
its 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 dont 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
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 isnt
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.
"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. Lets 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 Im writing, and is part of
the greater saga.
"How many polygons in a love triangle?" Wow, an
honest-to-God VRML joke. Copyright Adam L. Gruen, 1995.
For all practical purposes, hospitals are
businesses. Im sorry to say that, but its 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.
"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 didnt 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. Its 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
"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 dont know why.
Its 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
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 doesnt 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 cant 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
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
Someone recently asked me, "how did Mole Queen know it was
E. Forest Greens 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
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 someones 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 Greens 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 Tolkiens 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.
("What youre saying is, you want someone to organize
people on Earth?" "Yeah." "Thats a fools errand. Dictatorship
doesnt 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,
thats what a roller-coaster ride does. And, although I cant prove
it, thats what life does too.
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