The Amazing Predictions of Neal Stephenson

By Lucy

     The Metaverse that Neal Stephenson creates in his novel Snow Crash may be an
incredible prediction by Stephenson of what the internet of the future may be like.  By
creating a story around the idea of a virtual reality world, Stephenson presents some
interesting hypothesis about how this will affect people's lives.  Not only is the virtual
reality world of the Metaverse convenient for business meetings, it also gives some of the
characters the only meaningful existence they have.

     One of these characters that has nothing going for him in reality is Hiro protagonist. 
Hiro lives in a 20' by 30' storage unit at U-Stor-It with his roommate Vitaly Chernobyl. 
Hiro is unemployed and spends most of his time jacked into the Metaverse, where his life
is very different.  Stephenson uses the unemployed character of Hiro to demonstrate how
the Metaverse can let people be whoever they want to be.  "...when you live in a shithole,
there's always the Metaverse, and in the Metaverse, Hiro Protagonist is a warrior
prince."(63) Even though Hiro lives in a storage unit in reality, he has a house in the
Metaverse, complete with a garden and a pond full of steelhead trout.

     The ability to create any character you want to be is already a feature of the internet,
where other on line users don't know anything more about you other than your on line
name, and what you tell them.  Stephenson takes the idea of making yourself seem like
someone else a step further in Snow Crash.  In the Metaverse, you can actually make
yourself look like someone else.  "Your avatar can look any way you want it to, up to the
limitations of your equipment.  If you're ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful.  If
you've just gotten out of bed, yuour avatar can still be wearing beautiful clothes and
professionally applied makeup."(36) The ability to become whoever and whatever he
wants can make an ugly person appear beautiful, or in the case of Ng, a weak person
appear strong.

     "Ng himself, or at least, Ng's avatar, is a small, very dapper Vietnamese man in his
fifties, hair plastered to his head, wearing military-style khakis."(221) This image of Ng is
very different from the real Ng who is a handicapped person bound to a wheelchair.  Ng
prefers to spend all of his time in the Metaverse, and is head of Ng Security Industries,
Inc.  If Ng did not have the ability to present himself as a strong, healthy, military man in
the Metaverse, he might not have had the opportunity to make a name for himself in the
securities business.  He actually views his mechanically aided existence as an asset rather
than a hindrance.  His handicapped status encouraged him to create some fantastic
weapons and gadgets to make up for his deficiencies.  He points out the assets of his
mechanical existence when he tells Y. T.  That "Your that you think that all
mechanically assisted organisms--like me-- are pathetic cripples.  In fact, we are
better than we were before."(248)

     Ng's ability to create a persona of strength and vitality is very similar to Hiro's ability to
create a persona that can hang out with celebrities.  The Metaverse can assist Hiro in
much the same way that it assists Ng, even though Hiro is not crippled.  "Hiro is just a
starving CIC stringer who lives in a U-Stor-It by the airport.  But in the entire world there
are only a couple of thousand people who can step over the line into The Black Sun."(40)

     The Metaverse can make Hiro into something better than he was before as well,
somebody with connections.  Hiro's access to rock stars, movie stars, and hackers is
similar to the ability that an internet user has to access a wealth of information and people
compared to a non-user.  Stephenson might be using the characters of Ng and Hiro to
show how the internet could make somebodys out of nobodys.  Or it could make nobodys
out of somebodys in the case of actors who want to "...strut their stuff and visit their
friends without any exposure to kidnappers, paparazzi, script-flingers, assassins, ex-
spouses, autograph brokers, process servers, psycho fans, marriage proposals, or gossip
columnists."(66) The appeal that the Metaverse has for Hiro, Ng, and the actors is that it
gives them complete control over how others percieve them.  
     Despite the realistic renderings that exist in the Metaverse, Stephenson simplifies the
Metavers into a manifestation of coded computer language, something that already exists
today.  When Hiro begins to hack, his screen looks very much like a computer screen of

           "And when hackers are hacking, they don't mess around with the superficial 
 world of Metaverses and Avatars.  They descend below this surface layer 
 and into the netherworld of code and tangled nam-shubs that supports it, 
 where everything that you see in the Metaverse, no matter how lifelike and
 beautiful and three dimensional, reduces to a simple text file: a series of 
 letters on an electronic page."(350)

     Perhaps Stephenson is trying to show his readers that the technology for the Metaverse
is possible, and that the Metaverse in his book could eventually become a reality.  If this
were the case then the depiction of the way that the characters interact with the Metaverse
and each other while goggled in could be Stephenson's prediction for how the internet
would be used in the future.