In December, HBO announced plans to make a TV series adaptation of the cyberpunk novel Snow Crash (1992). In the nineties, the book turned into an instant cyberpunk classic. The book describes a dystopian future in which citizens escape the harsh physical world using a type of goggles to enter a virtual reality world called the metaverse. The author Neil Stephenson portrays the metaverse as a 3D real-time rendered environment where people can be whoever they want using virtual avatars, build their own house, hang out with random people and drink virtual beers in bars.
What does this mean?
The role of the novel can hardly be underestimated. As we mentioned before, the book has become an important element of the narrative of big tech. Many tech entrepreneurs have claimed that reading the book guided them in setting the direction for the future of their companies. The book inspired LindenLab owner Philip Rosedale to create Second Life and some claim it was once required reading for new Facebook employees. Furthermore, the novel both embodies and reinforces the transhumanistic belief that we can transcend our biological bodies and enhance our lives using technology. The metaverse liberates us from the physical realm and heralds the start of a new phase for the human race. Evolution has only just begun, transhumanists claim.
In a recent article, Matthew Ball – an internet essayist and metaverse expert – explores how the metaverse will develop in real life. Ultimately, besides technical challenges and economic momentum, the future of the metaverse will be equally determined by the imagination of the culture. We might best describe this future as an interplay between art, evolution, and capital. What the metaverse will eventually look like is impossible to predict and there is nothing yet that resembles a metaverse as the one envisioned in Snow Crash or, more recently, Ready Player One (2018). However, art and science-fiction help to popularize and imagine virtual reality and thereby create momentum for specific technologies to develop and to steer the evolution of technology into a certain direction. With VR struggling to live up to high expectations, the upcoming Snow Crash series might boost VR and inspire a new generation to take the next steps and take technology forwards.