Notice that I said, “discovered,” not “created.” The Metaverse has always been there, you just have to know how to look for it. Mark Zuckerberg is just one in a long line of supplicants in search of the Metaverse. Whether or not he’ll find it, who knows? Neil Stephenson named it in his first novel, Snow Crash. He ran an interesting variation on it in The Diamond Age, where it appears as the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. But that primer is only imaginary. The one I created, with the help of my friends, was real.
Here’s the story.
Bérubé’s American Air Space
It all started back in 2006 at Bérubé’s joint. That’s Dr. Michael Bérubé, professor of English Literature at Penn State and proprietor of American Air Space, a most distinguished blog, now, alas, defunct. There was then, and there is now, no space like American Air Space. Once a day, five days a week – weekends off – Prof. Bérubé would post something. Sometime it was politics, lots of politics. That was back in the days when we had real politics, not this FAKE MAGA and post-MAGA politics. Sometimes it was about his son Jamie, who has Downs Syndrome and who loves the Beatles, golf, enumerating state capitols, and drawing, among other things. For a while Michael had a regular series, “Theory Tuesdays,” on which he would write succinct disquisitions on literary theory and criticism. Sometimes it was sports, hockey, always with the hockey. And then there were those Arbitrary, But Fun, contests on Fridays.
One day Michael got inspired. He decided to found the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now Party, aka WAAGNFNP. There’s a story about that, a true story, but this is not the time and place for that, but you can find part of the story here. Any worthwhile political party needs and party apparatus, so Oaktown Girl agreed to be Ministress of Truth, Justice, and the WAAGNFNP Way. As her first official act Oaktown Girl decided that the WAAGNFNP need to have a Show Trial to show that It Means Business.
It was a glorious affair this show trial was, with posters, and speeches, and testimony, recrimination, the gnashing of teeth, the rending of garments, and sentencing, the whole bit. Alas, as American Air Space is now defunct, there is little record of this ever happening. But somewhere – here, maybe here, over there! – in the bowels of the WayBack Machine we might find shreds of evidence. And here it is, the first day of the Show Trial! Fun was had by all.
This is, however, but a prelude to the main story. I mention it to show how, back in the days before Facebook had become the all-consuming behemoth it is today, we were able to have fun, make friends, and share community on the web.
One of the friends I made went by the name of The Constructivist, which I’ve always assumed was an allusion to a certain perspective on the nature of reality. Anyhow, his real name is Bruce Simon and he teaches English Literature at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Back at the time of the Show Trial he was on a Fulbright Fellowship teaching in Japan. His Japanese wife and their two young daughters were with him.
Somehow, I forget just how, as a side effect of participating the Great Show Trial, Bruce gave several American Air Spacers permission to post at his blog, Mostly Harmless. Perhaps it was so we could test out things there before taking them over to the Air Space. Whatever.
Anyhow, I got to read post after post about women’s golf. But also about Bruce’s two young daughters, whom he referred to as Onechan (older sister) and Imoto (younger sister). Early in July Onechan was getting anxious about returning to America. Why? Because, at three and a half, she’d made some friends in Japan and didn’t want to leave them.
I had a jivometric mind jolt. On July 9, 2007, I posted following photo addressed to Onechan and with this title: “Waiting for her in America, but with fond memories of Japan.” If you follow the link over to Mostly Harmless you’ll see that the sisters had a nice conversation about the image.
Then, before you could blink thrice your eyes and click together your heels, I’d named those two characters Sparkychan and Gojochan (derived from Gojira, which is the Japanese original Godzilla) and was posting little stories and vignettes for the young ladies. Here’s a list, with links (thanks, Bruce, for compiling this):
July 9: For onechan [in response to this and that]
July 10: The discussion continues
July 11: Onechan’s Adventure [in response to this]
July 12: Where’s Onechan? and Calling Onechan! Calling Onechan!
July 14: Help is on the way and There They Are! Yippieeee! [in response to this]
July 17: Onechan’s Choice
July 19: Calling all kidz! Calling all kidz! [in response to this]
July 23: Sigh
July 28: Catch you later alligator
August 1: Where’s the bunny rabbit?
August 3: Onechan Tells a Story
August 11: The Little Worm from Kansas
August 14: Twas brillig
August 16: Sparkychan & Gojochan Adventure Time Mystery Theatre
November 20: I had a dream
When you cruise over, be sure to read the comments, where you find that Bruce is chatting to Onechan and Imoto about what they see. After all, at their young age, they can’t access the computer themselves. They need help. And they’re too young to read the dialog, so Bruce had to read it for them. Once they go into the developing story, such as it was, they naturally wanted to talk about it.
As summer ended, and they began getting ready to return home to upstate New York, Onechan continued to be anxious about leaving her friends. Another jivometric mind jolt floored me. I wrote one last story.
Here it is, in full.
Sparkychan & Gojochan Adventure-Time Mystery Theatre
So, there they were, Sparkychan and Gojochan, two friends, cavorting in the woods. See, here they are cavorting:
And then they decided to have some tea. Do you know why? Because anytime is a good time to have tea time. That’s why.
“Boy, that tea sure was scrumptious and delicious, Sparkychan. What should we do now?”
“I don’t know, Gojochan. I wonder what Onechan and Imoto are doing.”
“Me too. Do you think they’re watching cartoons?”
“Yay, that’s what we’ll do, Gojochan. We’ll watch some cartoons.”
“PowerPuff Girls, PowerPuff Girls, we’re gonna’ watch the PowerPuff Girls.”
“Hey! Octo looks like the wormasrhrimparamadamadingdongosaurus doesn’t it, Sparkychan?”
And then they watched one of Uncle Bill’s favorites, Fantasia. See the winter fairies skating on the ice:
And here’s one of the bestest scenes:
“Look at all the snow flakes, Sparkychan.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty, Gojochan. But what’s that big stringy thing?”
“Hmmm . . . Could it be a hair brush?”
“I don’t think so. It’s too funny shaped to be a hair brush.”
“And what would a hair brush be doing out in the snow.”
“I know what it is, Gojo.”
“It’s a tippy end branch from a pine tree.”
“Yeah, up real close. I see. And those are pine needles” – says Gojochan while pointing at all the needles.
“It sorta’ reminds me of winter in Japan, Gojo.”
“Let’s have some more tea.”
So they watched My Neighbor Totoro:
Here they are exercising along with Mei and Satsuki:
And so they finished watching the movie, which they liked alot, especially the Catbus. And then you know what they did?
Of course, they had some tea. And while they were drinking their tea, something scary and terrible happened to them. So get prepared for a mystery.
[Onechan and Imoto getting prepared.]
A big monster came out of the sky and scooped them up and took them away. Here’s the monster:
Onechan and Imoto were surprised and scared, they yelled:
Why? Because that’s the monster’s name, FAANG.
Actually, though, it’s sorta’ pretty. All glowy and stuff. But don’t let that fool you. This is a mean monster. Do you know, Gentle Reader, what FAANG stands for? If so, don’t tell me, because I don’t want to know. It’s just too scary.
And you know what that mean FAANG monster did? It stuffed Sparkychan and Gojochan into a box:
“What are we going to do, Sparky?”
“Let’s try to escape. I’ll climb up on your shoulders, OK, Gojo?”
“Let’s do it!”
But you know what happened then, Onechan? This is what happened:
“Ow, that hurts!” said Sparkychan.
But the meanie didn’t stop. The meanie closed the box on Sparkychan and Gojochan. Now isn’t that mean? They’re all scrunched up in the box.
And then you know what the meanie did? The meanie put the box in a spaceship and sent Sparkychan and Gojochan to another galaxy far far away:
Isn’t that the coolest spaceship ever, all funky and blue? And all that pretty yellow space dust! with the red sparkles! Wow!
Whoops! I forgot. This is a scary mystery about Sparkychan and Gojochan.
What about Sparkychan and Gojochan inside the box inside the spaceship? What’s going to happen to them? Are they ever going to get back to America? Will they ever get to eat ice cream with Onechan and Imoto?
So many questions, so many mysteries.
And that’s the Metaverse, for real
Can you guess, Gentle Reader, what happened next? Come on, isn’t it obvious?
What happened is that the family returned home. A couple days later the FedEx man showed up with a package. This package was addressed to Onechan. What could it be?
You guessed it! That’s right, I’d shipped Sparkychan and Gojochan to Onechan and Imoto in upstate New York. These friends they’d met though dad’s computer in Japan were now with them in real life at the home in Dunkirk.
Here’s part of the ensuing conversation (from the comments):
“They comed to us! Why did they come?”
“They’re not talking. It’s pretend!”
“The kyoryu (dino toy outside) is Gojochan’s tomodachi (friend)!”
As I’m typing this, she’s telling her mom about it in Japanese. Then she brought Sparkychan to watch me type. Then she went back to telling her mom more in Japanese!
Onechan has already decided that Sparkychan is hers and Gojochan is imoto’s.
The celebrations continue! Imoto keeps saying “Go!!!”
Now, I ask you, what are the chances that Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse or any Metaverse that comes out of FAANG (Facebook Amazon Apple Netflix Google) is going to be even half as much fun as that?
What about saving the world?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to launch into a Luddite Jeremiad about the evils of capitalism and big tech, though I’m sorely tempted to do so. The fact that you are reading this means that, at the very least, we both avail ourselves of the benefits of modern technology. I’ve bought many books, CDs, DVDs, and other things from Amazon. I’ve used Apple computers since 1984, though I don’t use an iPhone. I subscribe to Netflix, have done so for years – the movies I was watching with Gojochan and Sparkychan in the story, I got them through Netflix. I use Google all the time. And, yes, I’m on Facebook, where I post photographs about my neighborhood to a Facebook group.
I like technology. But the Metaverse, who knows?
What I think – and this requires an argument that I’m not going to present here – is that we are using 21st Century technology in a world that’s still dominated by 19th Century values and institutions. Mark Zuckerberg may have gotten the term “Metaverse” from late 20th Century science fiction, but he’s become trapped in an 19th Century institutional environment. When he came up with the idea for Facebook, and when he had graffiti artist David Choe paint Facebook offices in 2007, then he was living in the 21st Century. Since then the company has grown and grown and has now become trapped back in the 19th Century.
It would be easy to blame this on capitalism. Too easy. Yes, capitalism is complicit, deeply complicit. But it is as much a symptom of the problem as the cause. If I had to diagnose the problem – and I probably shouldn’t – I’d lay it at the feet of societies organized around a small ruling elite that exacts conformity as the price for order. Late industrial capitalism is just one example of such a social order. The former Soviet Union, now Russia, and the People’s Republic of China have different versions of that mode of organization.
I have a dream
Let me give you another example. Back in the mid-1990s I met a guy online who went by the name Cuda Brown. His real name is Bill Berry. At the time he was a Vice President in the utilities practice of Shearson Lehman. He’d been sending out an email newsletter to friends, Meanderings. When the web was launched he decided he wanted create a webzine. I decided to join him. He did all the heavy-lifting, bought a server for the back end and did the coding. I helped edit and wrote articles. And so Meanderings was launched.
I wanted to do something that got deeper into the possibilities inherent in hyperlinks and the web. I created a tribute to Martin Luther King based on his I Have a Dream speech. If you go to this link, you’ll see two panels (this is very Web 1.0), like this:
On the left you see the text of the speech. It has hyperlinks. When you click on a link a panel shows up on the right. In this case, “now is the time” is the link that’s been clicked. The right-hand panel has some comment on the linked topic. In this case, the obvious comment is to point out that “Now’s the Time” is the name of a tune by Charlie Parker. There’s a link to “Charlie Parker” in the righthand panel, and another to something about “social justice,” both long since victims of link rot.
What about that little picture at the right, you ask? Click this link and find out.
I placed 25 links directly in the tribute, each led to a panel that had two or three or more links in it. At this point I don’t remember much about those links; that was a long time ago. I know there was one to a town in Japan that’s been performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony annually since, I believe, 1912. There was another link to a collection of post cards with photographs of lynchings. That’s quite a conceptual distance, from “Ode to Joy” to hanging by the neck from the branch of a tree. Somehow I managed to sample the conceptual space between those two extremes, and then some. If you’d clicked every link in those panels you would have covered a lot of intellectual territory.
Why’d I do all that? Because it made sense. Given the technology, hyperlinks on the one hand, all those sites on the web on the other, it was the natural thing to do. It was hard work, but it was also fun. Why wasn’t the web crawling with such sites within a year or two of being launched? Why hasn’t every high school student and college student in the country built such a site focused on something that interests them?
I don’t know.
In some way or another, it’s a deficiency in the culture. The culture has to change. Fancy tech isn’t going make that kind of change. I didn’t need a virtual reality headset to search out those sites and link them to Martin Luther King’s speech. I didn’t need fancy 3D graphics to craft a story for two young Japanese-American girls. I used my imagination and did what I wanted to do with the technology at hand.
Zuckerberg, and the rest of the FAANG gang, want me and my friends to forgo our creativity and accept their fancy technology as a substitute. It’s a bribe, a con job.