Hi! 👋 I’m Jessa.

I blog daily about life, work, and the future.

Snow Crash (by Neal Stephenson)

Written in


My Thoughts

If you want to get an idea of what a metaverse looks like, this book will show you just that. I read this book because I enjoyed the excerpt during our Scenario Club Meetup at the Urgent Optimists.

Quotes from the book

Better flip your burgers or debug your subroutines faster and better than your high school classmate two blocks down the strip is flipping or debugging, because we’re in competition with those guys, and people notice these things.

You don’t work harder because you’re competing against some identical operation down the street. You work harder because everything is on the line. Your name, your honor, your family, your life.

The Deliverator had to borrow some money to pay for it. Had to borrow it from the Mafia, in fact. So he’s in their database now—retinal patterns, DNA, voice graph, fingerprints, footprints, palm prints, wrist prints, every fucking part of the body that had wrinkles on it—almost—those bastards rolled in ink and made a print and digitized it into their computer. But it’s their money—sure they’re careful about loaning it out. And when he applied for the Deliverator job they were happy to take him, because they knew him. When he got the loan, he had to deal personally with the assistant vice-capo of the Valley, who later recommended him for the Deliverator job. So it was like being in a family. A really scary, twisted, abusive family.

On the back is gibberish explaining how he may be reached: a telephone number. A universal voice phone locator code. A P.O.box. His address on half a dozen electronic communications nets. And an address in the Metaverse.

The goggles throw a light, smoky haze across his eyes and reflect a distorted wide-angle view of a brilliantly lit boulevard that stretches off into an infinite blackness. This boulevard does not really exist; it is a computer-rendered view of an imaginary place.

Hiro can’t really afford the computer either, but he has to have one. It is a tool of his trade. In the worldwide community of hackers, Hiro is a talented drifter. This is the kind of lifestyle that sounded romantic to him as recently as five years ago. But in the bleak light of full adulthood, which is to one’s early twenties as Sunday morning is to Saturday night, he can clearly see what it really amounts to: He’s broke and unemployed.

So Hiro’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing on to his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse.

Real Estate acumen does not always extend across universes.

Videotape is cheap. You never know when something will be useful, so you might as well videotape it.

When Hiro learned how to do this, way back fifteen years ago, a hacker could sit down and write an entire piece of software by himself. Now, that’s no longer possible. Software comes out of factories, and hackers are, to a greater or lesser extent, assembly-line workers. Worse yet, they may become managers who never get to write any code themselves.

Condense fact from the vapor of nuance.

…class is more than income—it has to do with knowing where you stand in a web of social relationships.

They more or less ignore what is being said—a lot gets lost in translation, after all. They pay attention to the facial expressions and body language of the people they are talking to. And that’s how they know what’s going on inside a person’s head—by condensing fact from the vapor of nuance.

That no matter how good it is, the Metaverse is distorting the way people talk to each other, and she wants no such distortion in her relationships.

“Mixing business with pleasure. Going out with a colleague. It gets very confusing.”

“Yeah, you know, a monopolist’s work is never done. No such thing as a perfect monopoly. Seems like you can never get that last one-tenth of one percent.”
“Isn’t the government still strong in Korea? You must have more trouble with regulations there.”
L. Bob Rife laughs. “Y’know, watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favorite sport. Remember when they busted up Ma Bell?”

An expression like that is just like a virus, you know—it’s a piece of information—data—that spreads from one person to the next. Well, the function of the Raft is to bring more biomass. To renew America. Most countries are static, all they need to do is keep having babies. But America’s like this big old clanking, smoking machine that just lumbers across the landscape scooping up and eating everything in sight. Leaves behind a trail of garbage a mile wide. Always needs more fuel.

There may be something happening along the border of the crowd, back where the lights fade into the shade of the overpass.

“… You know, to the Mesopotamians, there was no independent concept of evil. Just disease and ill health. Evil was a synonym for disease. So what does that tell you?”

“It tells you that evil is a virus!” Lagos calls after him. “Don’t let the nam-shub into your operating system!”

But sometimes when you’re a professional, they give you a job that you don’t like, and you just have to be very cool and put up with it.

…you have to spend money to make money.

But there’s rich people and poor people here, too, just like anywhere else.

“We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep on humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.

Monocultures, like a field of corn, are susceptible to infections, but genetically diverse cultures, like a prairie, are extremely robust.

They do a lot of talking about Jesus, but like many self-described Christian churches, it has nothing to do with Christianity except that they use his
name. It’s a post-rational religion.

“Rife’s key realization was that there’s no difference between modern culture and Sumerian. We have a huge workforce that is illiterate or alliterate and relies on TV—which is sort of an oral tradition. And we have a small, extremely literate power elite—the people who go into the Metaverse, basically—who understand that information is power, and who control society because they have this semi-mystical ability to speak magic computer languages.

“No piece of software is ever bug-free,” Ng says.

It’s still an incredible maze. But it’s a lot easier to solve a maze when you’re looking down on it.

The lieutenant looks somewhat taken aback that Uncle Enzo is concerning himself with such a tiny detail. It is as if the don were going up and down highways picking up litter or something. But he nods respectfully, having just learned something: details matter. He turns away and begins talking into his radio.