6Virtual Landscapes

RANDALL WILLIAM SADLER

Introduction

As Hiro approaches the Street, he sees two young couples, probably using their parents' computers for a double date in the Metaverse, climbing down out of Port Zero, which is the local port of entry and monorail stop.

He is not seeing real people, of course. This is all a part of the moving illustration drawn by his computer according to the specifications coming down the fiber‐optic cable. The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse. Hiro's avatar is now on the Street too, and if the couples coming off the monorail look over in his direction, they can see him, just as he's seeing them.

(Snow Crash, Stephenson 1992, pp. 35–36)

The concept of a world that is not quite the same as the one we live in is not a new one. Indeed, this idea might be traced back through the millennia of the evolution of various mythologies across the world. However, constructing such an idea via the lens of technology is a much more recent innovation. While the some of the earliest examples from this genre may be traced back to short stories such as The Man who Awoke (Manning 1975, originally published 1933) and Pygmalion's Spectacles (Weinbaum 1935), readers are more likely to be familiar with works like William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) or Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash (1992) which examined both virtual worlds (VWs) and the use of avatars ...

Get The Handbook of Informal Language Learning now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.