Meanderings in the Metaverse


Michael Graeme

"I remembered the haunting image of her just standing out there in the meadow, like she'd been waiting. But waiting, for how long? And for whom?"

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Meanderings in the Metaverse


Michael Graeme

Jottings based on the author's "travels" in the online world called Second Life.

Dreaming of a Second Life?

I emerged from the darkness of my journey to find myself in yet another unfamiliar land. But unlike the nightmarish spots I'd touched upon so far, this place struck me at once as green and attractive - not unlike my own world. Here the sky was a dreamy blue, rather than Martian red, or atom-bomb green, and the land was dotted with trees that swayed in a gentle breeze. Fine houses were spaced out, each in a generous acreage of garden, neatly bounded by hedges and walls, all fertile, rich with colour, and there were manicured lawns. I caught tantalising glimpses of azure swimming pools too, and patios overhung with cool awnings.
Surely this was more promising? But I was still on edge, wary of trusting this place to be any more coherent than the others I'd visited. Indeed, it had proved a strange voyage so far, like a glimpse inside the head of a madman,... or worse, being landed in the collective consciousness of an entire lunatic asylum! I wasn't sure how much more of it I could take.
The houses here were large and ostentatious. There was money, a boastful affluence, that set it apart from the other places I'd drifted through, places that had seemed little better than shanty towns. But there was no welcome here, and I had the feeling I could not approach anyone's door without setting off an alarm. There was a path that seemed to offer a way through these well-heeled residences, so I followed it for a while, just to see where it led, aware that I was very much alone, that the properties around me were not occupied - just faceless windows staring out at me, their owners elsewhere.
I came upon a black dog, often auspicious, if you're of a superstitious frame of mind. It seemed incongruous amid the emptiness, sitting upon the grass, it's tail wagging as if hopeful of a playmate. It responded to my touch by rolling onto its back and inviting me to tickle its belly. The encounter cheered me a little. I have always liked dogs. Then, as I looked up I spied, in the far distance, through a faint mist, another figure standing in the middle of a meadow - motionless, and apparently  looking at me. I wasn't alone after all, though I dared not hope I might be made welcome! Perhaps you needed money just to be here. Money to build property, to own land,... to walk upon it - and I had none. I was a just an itinerant stranger, hopelessly lost, ignorant of the customs of this place, ignorant of its people.
A wide river separated us, but there was a bridge a little way off, so I crossed over and  approached cautiously, curiously, and growing ever more self-conscious with each step. It was a woman, a striking beauty, as all the women here seemed to be. She had a wild mane of blonde hair, and what I can only describe as an exotically voluptuous body. She was wearing a very short skirt, a miniscule bikini top. In my own world she would have been dismissed as a cheap trollop of course, but things were different here and I'd noticed people tended not to be so reticent about wearing their sexuality more on the surface of their being. What  could I say to her? I wished I'd not come so close, because she could tell by looking at me how plain a chap I was with my simple clothing, and nothing  by way of physical adornment. I wasn't worth anything here! It was better just to veer off perhaps and go on exploring, alone. But I couldn't turn away now could I? It seemed we were the only people in this part of the world and it would have been rude. Come on, I thought. Where's the harm?
I drew within a couple of dozen feet, not daring to intrude upon her space any more than that, and I just stared at her, tongue tied by her beauty,  while she stared right back - somehow proud and haughty, hands on hips, her head tilted inquisitively to one side.
Finally she spoke.
"Can I help you?"
What to say, what to say? Erm,.... "Hi,...I'm  just passing through."
"Okay. This is my place."
"It's nice here."
"Thank you. That's my house behind you. The yellow one."
I turned to view it: a fine two storey clap-board house, ranch-style, like you would often see in rural parts of America.
"It's a fine house," I said.
"Thank you."
"You're welcome."
"Feel free to have a look," she said.
"You mean inside?"
"Sure. Anywhere you like."
It seemed an unlikely invitation, but my journey so far had already revealed the strangeness of their customs, and I did not want to  give offence by refusing, so I entered the house. She followed me inside, then brushed ahead, and escorted me from room to room, giving me a guided tour - the proud mistress of a finely appointed abode. It was exquisitely furnished, I thought, lavishly decorated,... rich, seductive,... like her.
"Did you do all this yourself?" I asked.
"Mostly," she replied.
"You're alone here?"
"Yes. But folks drop in now and then."
I remembered the haunting image of her just standing out there in the meadow, like she'd been waiting. But waiting, for how long? And for whom?
"Folks?" I enquired, nervously.
"You wanna go upstairs?" she asked.
Erm,.... "Okay."
I followed upstairs, aware that with every step up that long and beautiful stairway, I could see a pair of delicate, lace trimmed, turquoise panties under that very, very short skirt. I'd already begun to get a bad feeling about this, but I was just going to take a look around. Right? This was their custom, though it seemed very strange to me. She was lonely perhaps. I'd tell her how nice it all was, then we'd sit outside afterwards,  maybe on that pleasant looking patio I'd seen. We'd chat a while - that's all! I could ask her about the customs of this place,.. get to know it a little. It would help me in my travels.
"This is my bedroom," she said. "What do you think?"
I entered, timidly. It was a fine room, yellow, with a blue coverlet on the bed, mahogany furniture, blue curtains and the swollen ball of an evening sun casting its soft orange light through the windows. I could see all the other houses some way off, fading out into the mist now. What was I doing there? My eye was caught by a couple of what I could only assume were decorative spheres on the bed, one blue, one pink - there was writing on them: "him" on the blue, "her" on the pink. Turning, I found her close behind me. She'd slipped her skirt and top off, and  wore only her underwear, dainty little strips of laced prettiness, barely covering her - and what a body!  I could see her eyes, now, uncommonly large and green and bright, a scattering of freckles on her cheeks, her lips plump and pouty, and shiny with gloss.
"You're nice," she said
What did I do?  I mumbled something incoherent like: "Well,... nice meeting you,... " Then I wandered downstairs nonchalantly, stepped out into the evening light, and took to my heels like a scalded cat.
She was so,...  so,... beautiful, and I'd been inexperienced, hardly knowing the etiquette, or how to respond in a situation like that, even if I'd wanted to, not even knowing in those days  if the moves existed for what she had seemed intent upon.
I gathered my senses a safe distance away,  hid myself in a wood and just sat, thinking it over. Could they do that here? Surely not! Such a thing would have been,... well visually possible, at a stretch of the imagination, I supposed, but emotionally,... and physically, rather pointless. At least I'd done nothing to be ashamed of,... but why did I now feel so haunted by it,... perhaps even a little guilty.
I decided to go back. I would apologise for running out on her. I'd got the wrong idea. Maybe she'd just wanted to show me her underwear! I could maybe explain that I was new, that I didn't  have the right keystrokes yet,...  And it always helps your way as a stranger, I've found, if you act a bit numb.
As I neared her place, I saw her standing out in the meadow, her proud shape set against the sky once more. But this time she was not alone. There was another man standing close  - he looked nothing like me,... more urbane, more sure of himself, and his clothing was definitely not off the peg, like mine. He'd just ported in from somewhere and seemed not half so bashful. Sure,... I could tell even from a distance this was a man with the right keystrokes. Maybe it was him she'd been waiting for all along, and I'd been what? A bit of a warm-up act? They turned to the house, joined hands, and went inside,....


You might be forgiven for thinking that was a piece of fiction, perhaps a little melodramatic, but in fact everything I have just described really happened to me - or rather to the somewhat naive and hapless avatar that represents me in the strange, online world known as Second Life. At first glimpse, this is a peculiar dream-like place that any reasonably modern computer and a broadband Internet connection brings within easy travelling distance of the people of Mother Earth. After upgrading my kit recently, I spent a while wandering around it's disparate locations like a bewildered tourist, wondering what the point of it all was. Through various twists and turns, I've stuck with it and judged it to be interesting enough to spend some time writing down my thoughts upon it.

The Second Life Journals
If you hadn't already guessed, this section of The Rivendale Review holds a collection of writings based on my "travels" in the online virtual world known as Second Life, brought to us courtesy of Linden Labs.
    Known as a MMORPG - a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, Second Life is at the cutting edge of what is currently available in a genre of computerised entertainment that can trace its roots  back to the chat-rooms of the nineteen nineties, and the birth of the Internet. Like the chatroom, Second Life has crossed the divide from being a sub-cultural pursuit reserved for the computer literati, into the mainstream, computer muffin market, thanks to media coverage in the popular press, and on TV.  
    The Second Life experience is highly immersive, possibly addictive, and generally very, very interesting - even to an older person such as yours truly. The 3D environments, though not quite up to the standard of the latest 3D games, do come pretty close and they are getting better all the time. The avatars - the 3rd person beings representing us "the players", are the most expressive, beautiful and involving I've ever seen.
    I chose Second Life for my introduction to the genre because it appeared to offer the greatest degree of involvement for the user, without having to hand over one's credit card details. It is also considered by many to be among the most advanced implementations to date of a thing called The Metaverse - other worthy candidates include: "There" and "Activeworlds".

The Metaverse is a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1997 novel "Snow Crash". Also known as Cyberspace, the Metaverse is an interesting philosophical concept made perhaps uncomfortably real by the advent of computer technology. If we imagine everyone in the world linked to one another by their computers and able to communicate freely, both linguistically and visually, the space in which this interaction takes place cannot be said to physically exist at all, other than as a shared imaginary continuum. In his novel, Stephenson presents a technologically advanced implementation of the Metaverse, in which people are able to connect themselves up biologically so that all their senses become locked-in to the imaginary world. In real life they exist in a form of biological stasis, a vegetative state, while their minds form the basis of their continued existence - but entirely within the Metaverse. The highly popular "Matrix" movie trilogy is also a fascinating and action packed twist on the same idea. In physical terms, the Metaverse requires a good deal of computer hardware to exist, but it is not the hardware that  gives shape to it. It's shape relies on software, which is manipulated in real time by the individual participants of "the game".
     The question the more philosophically inclined might ask is this: Does "The Metaverse" present an evolutionary opportunity for mankind, one that allows us to escape the inconveniences of the real world by slipping entirely into a sort of shared imagination, or is it just a pointless computer game?   

The author recalls that in the olden days, men and women all over the world would sit by their Radio-Ham sets, broadcasting their call signs into the aether while listening for the call signs of others to come drifting in on waves of static. Then they might sit and chat a while with someone in a remote part of the world, cutting across cultural, political and geographical barriers, connecting simply as human beings. Though I was never part of the Radio Ham scene, I admired it for its mixture of romance, technology, and its ability to empower people to reach out beyond geopolitical boundaries and simply talk to each other. Chat rooms brought this networking potential to the masses, and made it no longer remarkable that a man sitting in his little house in Preston or Slough could converse with someone in Africa or Australia as easily as if they were sitting in the next room. MMORPG's take this thread one stage further though and add a visual interface. Whether this visual aspect increases the depth of the imaginative experience or merely confuses it with a veneer of deceit is one of the aspects of the genre that I've been exploring. I think the answer is both, that certain aspects of this genre can lead you up the wrong path altogether - a bit like real life - and then your experience becomes somewhat limited. But with care, I think you can navigate your way into some areas of self discovery that might surprise you.
I've noticed the print-media coverage of MMORPG's is rarely positive. Addictive, subversive, riddled with criminality and scams, recruitment networks for terrorism, money laundering, responsible for the breakdown of real life relationships, and of course the moral corruption of our children - these are the hackneyed themes they explore, and while they might be correct to some extent, for the majority of the users I've spoken to, the experience seems to be a positive one. It's like real life: any adult knows that pornography is freely available, but it's up to the individual whether they choose to partake of it or not.
    On the positive side, if I take myself as an example: my day job involves working in relative isolation. Encounters with other human beings tend to be via e-mails that are brisk and to the point. Such an environment, coupled with a solitary hobby like writing can sometimes make one feel a little disconnected. It was immensely satisfying then to occasionally enter Second Life and say hello to at least six people in an evening, simply in order to see what happened. The resulting conversations I've had in this so called Metaverse have been memorable. On the down side though, my avatar has also been attacked by large uncommunicative furry creatures, found itself trapped in a cage while other avatars poked fun at it and on once memorable occasion repeatedly dive-bombed by a mysterious flying dude who would not tell me what his gripe was. The moral is that one also needs a sense of humour and the ability to know where the real world ends and the Metaverse begins.

The creators of MMORPGs have a difficult task and must walk a fine line between providing a vibrant, creative and anarchic environment in which anything goes, and one that is so overburdened with rules and regulation it squeezes the creativity, and the life, right out of it. At present, in the author's humble opinion, the virtual world of Second Life is permissive, liberal, and largely unregulated, so there are areas, particularly ones of a sexual nature, that you'd want to keep your children away from. You do need to be an adult to play, and you need to be fairly open minded about some of the things you'll encounter. Second Life is such a new phenomenon, and so unexpectedly popular, it has taken governments by surprise and as yet there simply are not the rules to regulate it. Possibly as time goes on and real life litigators begin to probe the ambiguities of the place, Second Life will become more restrictive - and perhaps less popular and interesting as a result.
    At present, Second Life can resemble an experiment in Anarchy. The term Anarchy is grossly misunderstood. In the popular psyche it implies no rules, it implies a regime where anything goes - including murder and mayhem, and that your average Joe could not be expected to survive long in such a cesspool of violence and corruption. However, in highbrow political theory Anarchy is simply the absence of government; it is a state in which one assumes the majority of right minded human beings will come together and cooperate reasonably in a social system that is self regulating, one that reflects the aspirations of most well balanced people. Unfortunately in real life, the anarchic state is challenged by the fact of a human being's mortality - we die easily at the hands of others. If a big hairy brute decided to batter us for the fun of it, we would suffer injury, or be killed - therefore we rightly fear the big hairy brutes of this world, and take steps to protect ourselves from them. In Second Life one cannot die, so it is here alone the big hairy brute can be looked upon with a certain contempt, implying that anarchy is a luxury reserved only for the Afterlife, while Real Life requires an overlooking State Government and a Criminal Justice System.
Anyway, for now, the world currently being carved out on the Linden Servers is mind bogglingly huge - easily a lifetime's worth of exploration, and it's still expanding as new "players" join in and create more content. There is something impermanent about it though - I have visited some very interesting places, only to return later and find they have been "deleted" - that a beautiful, colourful and romantic parkland, has become a shopping mall, or that a quaint old cottage now lies under a vast "den of iniquity." The term "player" is also not quite correct, because the Metaverse is not a game. It has no purpose, no goal and no method of point-scoring. Its appeal lies more in the variety of its environments and in the fact that most of the content, the beautiful scenery, the architecture, the imaginative themes, the good places and also the bad - no matter how fleetingly fugacious - are the collective effort of "the participants" themselves.
    My own feelings regarding the Metaverse are still ambivalent. Since I first began exploring it, I've twice deliberately uninstalled it from my computer because I thought I'd done with it, only to put it back on again because I wanted to explore some other angle of the world I'd not thought of before. Technically the most  irritating downside is that even with a powerful computer it can be very sluggish and, frankly, unplayable at times of peak demand. Initially my intention was to establish an in-world outpost for the Rivendale Review, and I have subsequently done this, though it moves around from one low rent location to another, so I may be hard to find. There, among the clothes shops and the body shops,  I keep a chair and a table on which you will find a clickable ball that takes you to my website - also my longer printed works, with links to

For now then, such tales form the basis of these writings. They are arranged roughly in chronological order and touch upon aspects of the world that have intrigued, moved or disgusted me.
Michael Graeme
AKA Cuchulain Graves  (My second life handle)
If you're a Second Lifer, look me up.

I don't spend a lot of time in there [honestly] but if you message me, I will reply . Clicking on the profile of Cuchulain Graves will reveal the current whereabouts of the Second Life offices of The Rivendale Review.


1) Cybering in Second Life!

The author's visits an orgy, in the online virtual world called Second Life but discovers that while the participants move,... the earth does not.

As I have already mentioned in my introduction, politically, Second life appears to be an anarchy. It has a low profile technical, overseeing deity that controls the environment, so to speak, but its sole raison d'etre, it seems is to make enough money to cover its costs, while providing an internal, semi-virtual micro-economy for its "inhabitants". It also presages a future society in which regional governments are rendered obsolete by commercial conglomerates, formed for the sole purpose of selling goods and services to a captive consumer audience. Nation states usually have a hand in deciding what goods and services are to be deemed to be "appropriate", based upon moral values dictated by legislation that comes out of public debate, informed by common sense or religious sensibilities. However, this does not apply in Second Life. Here, there are no values other than monetary ones and its just as legitimate to sell sex as it is a bottle of beer.
    Here everything is treated as a commodity, and while in real life we tend to be stuck with the bodies we've got, in Second Life you can change yours as much as you want. To some extent you can do this without it costing you any money, but for the seriously self obsessed you can buy just about any upmarket modification you can think of - skin, physique, hair, genitals, gender,... it is a capitalist heaven where every aspect of human vanity can be commoditised and exploited.
    Now, the thriving sexual side to Second Life can be explained as the natural manifestation of a people who find themselves suddenly anonymous and liberated from any moral constraints. The sexual side to this world is much talked about in the hysterical press, and though sex isn't exactly everywhere, if you travel around enough, its pretty hard to miss. There are sensible rules of course about "inappropriate" behavior in the so called public areas, and if you want to be "naughty" or even just wander round in the buff, you have to stick to those areas rated "mature". If you misbehave, rest assured you'll be grassed up by one of your fellow Second Lifers and have your collar felt by the techno-deity who I'm told will stick you in the cooler for a while. The rules are reassuring, but I've found they don't always work as one particularly memorable journey in Second Life revealed:

My Avatar, who had previously become lost in someone else's psychedelic nightmare, eventually found his way to a sort of official public welcome centre. I was hoping for a friendly greeter to set me on the right track here, but it must have been after-hours, because everything was closed and the people hanging around had a no-good look about them. I'd seen this type of crowd before - they were the kind of feral creatures that seem naturally drawn to bus and railway stations, late at night, at least here in the UK where there's never a uniformed official to be seen, and the public are largely left to take their chances. The blokes were all knuckle headed tattooed bruisers, short on conversation, and the women had an irrational, volatile manner about them, like the inebriated aftermath of a rowdy hen-party - or just Blackpool on any Saturday night.
    No sooner had my chap landed than a tall, leggy blonde lady, seated on a bench opposite, began exposing her wedding apparatus. No one else seemed to mind this, so I feigned indifference, while wondering for who's edification this act was intended. Unfortunately, the lady in question also seemed to have dislocated her hip, so the effect was more comical than cheeky, and certainly not alluring - if indeed that was ever "her" intent.
    Then an improbably large, muscular gentleman appeared, shouting obscenities while letting off shots with what appeared to be an assault rifle - yes, there's a tiresome gun culture, even here. This, however did not result in the mass casualties I'd expected, but only little puffs of blue smoke. I was not exactly in fear of my life, because, after all, my bloke was only a digital avatar and could not really die. However, I was already becoming strangely attached to him and decided it was best to vacate the premises in order to find some other people who weren't quite so raucous.
    Now, this was quite a large complex, and I floated off for a quick circuit to see roads leading off in all directions, but unfortunately the only people to be found were in the reception area, and as I've already explained, they didn't seem a right sort at all. In the end I chanced upon a deserted little hut, nestled in the fold of a hill, so I floated down and sat outside to think.

If a very attractive woman had exposed herself to me in real life, say on the platform of Euston Station, I would have been surprised - old enough not to have been shocked, I hope -  but I would have moved on as quickly as possible, while politely averting my eyes. I would not have stood  watching with a kind of detached bemusement. I had had encounters within Second Life that had  moved me,... but this was definitely not one of them. I wondered if the rest of the risque side to this place could be equally sterile.  
    Now there is, of course, a curious psychology at work here, and I found it difficult to imagine any woman spending time creating an attractive avatar for the sole purpose of exposing its make-believe nether parts in a public place. Okay, so it seemed likely the blonde lady had been the creation of a man, or a teenaged boy. A kind of female puppet. But what kind of self expression was that?
    You might say: " who cares"? but I was in a mood for answers and feeling reckless, so I checked the directory, found a site that promised an orgy, and beamed myself right over. I was hardly dressed for such an event, wearing a pair of jeans and a sweater that looked like my mum had knitted it, but I hoped it would give the impression of someone just interested in looking, rather than taking part. Sure enough, I found the dress code here to be fairly simple: people were unambiguously nude, though most possessed physical attributes that did not seem part of the standard toolkit. Some wore fairy wings, and most of the blokes had hilariously large manhoods, which they seemed more intent on showing off than actually using.
    The setting was a kind of Hollywood pool party - half exotic garden, half psychadelic shag-pad. Women were thin on the ground, but a few did appear to be involved, and simulated intercourse was openly taking place. A variety of positions were being enacted, but as with my flashing lady at the reception centre, there was something rather wooden about it. One lady was being taken from behind by a large bottomed man, while numerous onlookers gathered to observe. However, the process went on for an interminably long time so we all grew bored and began to drift away. Another man was drawing a large crowd as he performed cunnilingus upon his partner, but again the action wasn't quite right and the appearance was of his head being swallowed by the lady's voracious lower abdomen.
    How was all of this achieved? Well, in various places there were pairs of clickable coloured balls - a pink one for ladies, blue for the boys. They appeared on rugs, on tables, chairs, couches, and it seemed one needed only to invite a partner to join you, then you selected an option from a pop-up menu for the required action to begin. At what point did orgasm occur, though, I wondered, and how did one know? Did a little light come on?
    Well, no. The author is not completely naive and I supposed this was an up-dated variant of "cybering", where the participants simultaneously pleasured themselves at home whilst typing, shall we say, encouragement to one another. This seemed unlikely at first, as the action was too clunky to be considered in any way erotic - also, I may have been hampered by my newbie status, but Second Life seemed to require both hands on the keyboard.  I was reminded of the film "Sleeper" by Woody Allen, and decided that "Orgasmatron", this was not. Indeed any form of intense emotional experience seemed not to be the point here. It was little more than comic book stuff -  purely visual, and rather dull. I was reminded more of a group of teenaged boys behind the bike sheds, smoking while they leafed through a corset catalogue.
    Who were these people? I tried to find out. Beside the occasional textual grunting, there didn't seem to be a lot of open conversation going on. Only the more extrovert couples would text "in public" so to speak, and any intimate communication would be carried out via Instant Messaging, which allows a private channel of communication between participants.  My attempts to speak with a winged man and a lady with large tattooed bosoms failed to solicit any response at all. Also, I was reminded again of the uncertainties regarding gender here: were these women really women,  or were they female puppets, their strings being pulled by men?

These are the sorts of questions Second Life begins to draw out of the thoughtful traveller. You fetch up in a dream world where no one knows your real name, and you can do or say or be anything you want. You can be a pumped-up idiot running around with an assault rifle, while in real life you're a little old lady sitting in your conservatory in Wolverhampton.
    You can be as rude and aggressive as you like, and if the techno-deity catches up with you and boots you out - it doesn't matter because it's not real. So does that mean that if we could all hide safely behind the veil of perfect anonymity, we'd instantly act out the darker sides of our natures, the most repressed, the most dangerous? Well, I have the feeling that the collective unconscious is boiling up rather more closely into a tangible form here. I've seen shadows and egos and animas, and all manner of personas - and dark things are among the choices we can  make, because dark things are a part of our nature whether we like it or not. But by that token good things are possible as well. I just hadn't found any to speak of yet, and needed to look further. Perhaps I was just too old to appreciate any of it!
    The dudes running around with their assault rifles and their humungous wedding vegetables were operating at a very basic level of their  being. If they really were teenaged boys in real life, there was hope they would grow up to be well adjusted adults of course. If not - if they were middle aged blokes like me, then God help us!

While all this was going on, I was reclining, feet up on my sofa, laptop on my chest, thinking I should really be getting to bed because I had work in the morning. So, you log out and its gone until you choose to pick it up again. Certain types of reality, you see, must be faced with an uncompromising regularity. The late evening news reminded me that that same day a hundred and sixty souls had died in Baghdad, victims of numerous acts of horrific violence - beyond the imagination, even of a Brit. brought up in the tail end of a volatile period of his own nation's history. There, in the cradle of  civilisation, people were struggling for the basics of clean water and electricity. And when the ordinary menfolk set out in search of what little work there seemed to be, I imagine they must have embraced their wives and their children as if for the last time, because it was less than certain they would ever return.
    That was their reality, and a reality no less terrible confronted ordinary souls the world over, while the rest of us seemed so bored, or so aneasthetised to our own way of life, we wasted hours venturing into fantasies that we hoped would elicit answers to the dilemma of our lives, and yet which seemed only to betray our increasing decadence. I admit  I retired that night feeling guilty, and it wasn't because I'd just attended an orgy, and would have some explaining to do, if my wife ever found out!

May 2007

2) Dancing the Night Away

Sweetpea and Lottie Tottie

I was fed up with the jeans and tee-shirt  I'd been wearing since landing up in the Metaverse, and found myself wandering around one of the vast emporea filled with crates of free items, hoping to come across a box containing something reasonably smart and presentable - possibly a little "retro". Actually, I was hoping for a shirt and tie and a tweed jacket because I was going through a serious, studious phase and fancied myself as a bit of an academic. Anyway, there I stood in my blue-jeans and ripped tee-shirt, biceps bulging, and looking rather like a Gay biker, when I was approached by a very pretty lady avatar in black lace - very Romany, I thought, very Bohemian. Her name was Sweetpea and she asked me what I was looking for.
    I was immediately suspicious at being approached by anyone in this world because, so far there had been few genuine approaches. People were usually after selling me something - and I'd already fallen foul of one or two young ladies who'd flattered me into thinking I was the coolest guy in the Metaverse, only to find out after a load of useless chitchat what I should have realised at the beginning - that they were selling their virtual sexual favours.
    I explained about the tee-shirt, and Sweetpea said she rather liked the one I was wearing. She was really pretty, I thought - but then all the women here were pretty - it was a bit disturbing at first, but you got used to it after a while - anyway, we exchanged a few words and,  realising she was probably genuine, probably friendly, I complimented her on her dress which really was stunning. She thanked me, then she said she had to dash, but offered me her card which I accepted in a bit of a daze. It was not often I was offered friendship.
    It was later that same day I got a message from Sweetpea, inviting me to a nightclub. I accepted and Sweetpea teleported me over to her location which was a throbbing, flashing, disco-do-dah sort of a place. She'd changed her kit and was now wearing little more than a scarf around her uppers and a large belt to provide modesty for her her lowers - oh and a pair of sunglasses. She was gyrating like one possessed amid a crowd of other whackily dressed characters. For a while I just stood there like an idiot until I managed to work out that I had to click on the big disco-ball over the dance floor. The dance floor then asked me if it was okay to animate my person, and though I wasn't sure what to expect I agreed. Then I was off, gyrating like a fool, in the thick of the crowd and looking, actually, not too bad, I thought.

Server-lag was a problem that evening so the dance was jerky. This wasn't all the techno-deity's fault - I was paying for 8 Megabits per second on my broadband connection, but the best I ever got was about 2. Anyway, the upshot of this was that that people kept dematerialising in front of my eyes and reappearing elsewhere as the time base lurched from slow to fast, but in spite of all these difficulties, I managed to nudge my way over to Sweetpea.     
    "Come here a lot?" I asked. Cringe!!
    "Hmn... I like to dance," said Sweetpea, apparently forgiving me for this pathetic opening line. "I see you decided to keep the shirt."
    I noticed how everyone else was wearing something spangly, something bright, something cool and floaty and sexy, while I looked like I'd just stepped in after an hour spent trying to fix my Norton. "Should I have changed, do you think? Only I don't have much kit yet."
    "Relax," said Sweetpea.
    Sweetpea then switched to instant messaging which was a good sign - she wanted to ask me things without other dancers overhearing. "Where U from?"
    "UK. U?"
    Other instant messages began to interrupt our tete-a-tete. These were from other lady avatars dancing nearby - they were mostly ladies, these dancers, I noted and they were all asking much the same thing - Where are you from? What do you do? Polite nonsense really, and the usual answer was a nondescript "cool" or  "really?". I remembered how in one place I'd been asked for sex by a guy, and in something of a fluster I'd replied, in my most macho typing voice, that I preferred girls, to which the amorous dude had replied "cool". The word "cool" it seemed was still a useful part of the vernacular.

In real life it was late evening, Central European Time, which meant that most of the chitchat was from a band of lifers, from the West of Ireland to the Baltic States. The Americans, founding fathers of this vast virtual world, were still grafting away at their real life jobs  - this was prime-time Euro-time. As I got used to my surroundings I realised I could see out of the windows a sort of deserted citadel - appartments and office blocks, all empty, seemingly abandoned and I felt like one of an invading army, come to take advantage of a holiday resort out of season.

The dancing went on and on and on and as the time passed Sweetpea seemed to grow more lovely by the minute - except she'd been quiet on the instant messages for a while  and judging from her proximity to a Kaftan gowned gent, she was having  a more interesting conversation with him than with me. I tried to suppress a twinge of jealousy - which was ridiculous, I thought; it wasn't as if I'd come here to get off with Sweetpea - I might have looked about twenty five but in real life I was probably old enough to be her father. Eeek!
    In the middle of my pique, I realised another lovely lady was dancing with me - very elegant in a champagne coloured gown with pearls and hair done up like Audrey Hepburn. She introduced herself as Estelle and she apologised in very broken English for having very broken English, said she was Italian, and our choices for conversation were either Italian or French. I replied in rather poor French that my French was rather poor and that her English sounded very good to me. She offered me her friendship, said it was her bedtime, then vanished in a puff of stars.  
    Meanwhile Sweetpea continued to dance with the other gent who'd apparently changed his clothes since I'd last looked. Now he had on a Tarzan-like loin-cloth and was showing off an awful lot of body hair - and nicely done, I thought, though it was disturbing the way the cloth kept flicking up to reveal the man's genitals, and yet more detailed body hair.
    "See you then Sweetpea," I said, so everyone could hear.
    "Going so soon?"
    "Bed time for me too. Early start. CU around maybe?"
    "Hope so. CU."
    I was careful to regain control over my gyrating body before porting out. These places could sometimes give you the physical jerks for days until you managed to find your way back, click the damned ball again, then exit the routine properly. It wasn't really my bed-time - I was just - well, a little bored and a little disappointed in myself for having given in to the green eyed God. I mean, what was that about for heaven's sake? Time to move on, I thought, so I picked a destination at random from the directory and ported in. But damn it if it wasn't another dance - more gentle this time - Ballroom  - which was perhaps more my generation but I sat it out by the dancefloor, not sure what I was feeling.

The view was interesting. They were dancing out on a paved terrace with a dramatic landscape beyond, steep wooded slopes and little houses, like classical follies dotted here and there, and there were pretty little fireflies darting about in the night air. The time base was still dreadfully lumpy, my reactions sometimes sluggish sometimes sharp, so that it was troublesome, even looking around. I was growing ever more irritated by this.
    Dancing? What did these people think they were achieving? Why weren't they out in the real world, dancing and chatting in the flesh? There was rather a romantic looking lady on a bench close by so I called over and asked if she'd been in the Metaverse for a long time that day. She replied not, just dropped in. Me? The same. Just checked in from a busy life - just been out, doing it for real: clubbing, dancing, drinking, talking, interacting with real life. But now? Just settling down for a bit before going to bed - seeing who's about, maybe having a chat. It was always the same, I thought. To hear these lifers talk no one spent much time in here at all - it was all secondary to a first life that was bursting at the seams with proper, well,... life. Me? No, I'm not sad enough to spend much time in here!
    "Nice dress," I said.
    The woman thanked me, then some spangly jacketed dude moved in and the conversation died. I guessed they were instant messaging, and I turned away politely. The dude was overdone, I thought - his spangly, swanky jacket sucking the framerate right out of the region, slowing time to an unbearable crawl. Perhaps that's all they were doing these pretty little avatars - me included: showing off!
    Conversation, such as it was in this peculiar world had so far been rather dull, so maybe it was true and they all came here to impress others with their appearance, with their clothes, their spangles, dare I say even their bodies? But at any rate, their possessions seemed to be of great importance - indeed I recall Sweetpea telling me she owned two "condoms," [sic] as she'd put it - bless her little Bohemian toes.
    Perhaps they were all simply teenagers and that was the reason such things were so important, that it was only when one got to an advanced age you realised your possessions were just so much useless crap getting in the way. And why did everyone look about 25 years old? It was very confusing, but on the upside there was no ageism, I supposed. A sixty year old woman could sit down with an eighteen year old chap and they could happily flirt the night away, provided neither was so crass as to enquire after their real life age and status. And I could dance with the lovely Sweetpea without looking, or feeling in any way ridiculous as we exchanged our small-talk.
    But that's all it was - just small talk, small things, of little value. Not long ago, during a particularly reflective period, I'd ported into a Buddhist retreat. There were meditation pose-balls scattered around a sort of monastery, though the architecture had appeared more High C of E, than Dharamsala. I'd tried the pose balls, but the animations they'd rigged me with looked like no meditation I'd ever tried in the real world, too much arm waving and the "appearance" of mediation, instead of the necessary stillness. But stillness made no sense here; this was a world of animation, of constant, jarring, jerking movement.
    The monastery had been deserted except for a couple of guys apparently in quiet contemplation on a bench, overlooking a very pretty garden, so I had moved in to say hi and to eavesdrop, hoping to pick up some philosophical gem, but the best I got was: "Outside is soooo deckedant " [sic] To which the equally searching response had been "Cool."
    "Dance with me?"
    Hmn? I looked up to a see a girl wearing blue laced lingerie, a feather boa and high heeled shoes. She was jaw droppingly sexy - I mean you had to hand it to the techno-deity for its appreciation of the female form, also to the eye of the owner who had painted her up really well. Her name was erm,... Lottie, second name Tottie perhaps? Anyhow, the only available poseball was marked Slow Foxtrot, which as I recalled from real life, had been a very difficult dance to master, and neither of us were really dressed for it, but what the hell?
    "Cool," I said.
    So Lottie in her underpants and me in my jeans and my boring old tee shirt prepared to twirl. But it turned out the dance was more of a sleazy smooch, and to my alarm my hands kept wandering to places I would not by choice have put them on a young lady, at least not on a  first date, but the program was in charge here, so I was not entirely to blame.
    "This okay for you Lottie?" I enquired, concerned she might never the less think me too forward.
     She said it was fine, so I took a deep breath and went with the flow of it. Strange thing, my age - I noticed how I always assumed the inhabitants of this place were much younger than me - perhaps that was a thing worth exploring more thoroughly some time. Our conversation went through the usual waypoints, en route to defining just how successful Ms. Tottie was. She was heavily into real estate of the virtual kind,  with lots of land and several condoms [sic] to her name. I sighed, enjoyed the look of her for a while, for she was indeed a very pretty pixellated little pixie, then I explained the measure of my own fine upstandingness, that I was a penniless bum, drifting from one place to the next and possessed only the clothes I stood up in - which by the way I'd blagged for free from the Metaversical equivalent of a charity shop.
    She was lovely, I thought, and very polite. She said that was "cool", but I noted neither the conversation, nor the dance lasted much longer. She explained it was her bedtime, went out in a flash of stars and did not think to offer me her friendship.

3) Falling into the Metaverse

Retiring to my study of an evening, I developed the habit of logging myself into the Metaverse, finding a camping bench for my in-world persona to sit upon, and there I would earn myself some in-world currency, while my real world person was writing. My Metaversical profile, readable by any passer by who chose to click upon me, bore the web address of the Rivendale Review. In vulgar terms, I suppose I was merely advertising myself. The eventual aim of the revenue I was "earning" was to rent a small shop, again in order to advertise my website, and perhaps shift a few more copies of my stories. But I always felt that in maintaining my grip on the real-world in this way - using the Metaverse in an attempt to effect outcomes in the the real-world - I was not quite "playing the game" - that for the Metaverse to live up to its name, it had to be self- sustaining, self justifying and entirely divorced from reality.  
    Encounters with others  thus far had revealed a broad range of motives for getting involved with The Metaverse. Many found it to be a delightful means of establishing contact with others around the world. Eavesdropping on their chatter yielded nothing of any profound significance - it was just chatter, as one might hear at any party where strangers are gathered for polite conversation. Visits to the many construction sites, known as Sandboxes, indicated there were also users who enjoyed building virtual objects - houses, landscapes, vehicles, gadgets and merchandise.
    The scripting language for breathing life into these objects was something of an intellectual challenge (at least for yours truly) and worthy of the more technically able getting to grips with. On the down side, I also encountered people who seemed to be spending far too much time in the Metaverse. They were in effect, "living" in it. They had bought virtual land, built the virtual house of their dreams and had their avatar sleep there, sometimes with avatars of the opposite virtual sex to whom they might even be "virtually" married. These virtual partners sometimes had real-life partners who were either entirely unaware of their spouse's virtual infidelity, were very understanding of them, or, I suspect, did not quite grasp the significance of it beyond lamenting the loss of a wife or a husband to some form of computer related addiction.
    I'm sorry to keep going on about the sex, but it is perhaps the clearest illustration of the collision between the philosophical fog of the Metaverse and the rock hard real world - it also gives us a handle on the absurdities of both. The sexual nature of much of Second Life's content has made it easy for users to interact in a way that allows them not only to "talk dirty" to one another, but to collaborate across geographical and cultural boundaries in the construction of pornographic animations. Through these animations one is granted the means of enacting all manner of sexual fantasy. One's existence within the Metaverse then, under these terms,  is played out with one hand on the keyboard and the other inside one's underpants. This is a simple evolution of chat-room "cybering".  
    In one of my current fiction projects the protagonist, a sexually frustrated husband, spontaneously cybers with a woman who lives on the the other side of the world, one he is unlikely ever to meet. The act is only one step removed from a fantasy that is is normally played out in the mind - the only difference here is that the technology enables two people to share the fantasy, anonymously, without strings nor fear of disease. The protagonist must then ask himself the question: has he just betrayed his wife? The apologists would say not - that cybering is simply an aid to masturbation, a perfectly normal and healthy activity,  even among couples with an active sexual relationship. On the other hand, the critics would say that cybering is a betrayal of real-life relationships, and the reason is the degree of interaction involved.
     It will take only a small technological step before users can attach their genitalia to their computers via a USB enabled sex-toy, which others can stimulate anonymously and remotely via an on-screen interface. (Actually, this is already a reality to some extent - for example search "Sinulator" if you have an open mind). Such a physical act between virtual partners who are married to other people in real life, is a clearer form of infidelity, even if the virtual partners have not met, nor have any intentions of doing so. The reason for this is simply that real life partnerships are about maintaining relations on all levels, and time spent chatting to virtual partners or indulging in more personal virtual habits, is time spent in neglect of one's real-life partner.
    Some users talk of escaping into fantasy, as one might dip into the fantasy worlds created by our fiction authors. However, fictional fantasies are meant to provide us with a means of exploring real-life issues - they just allow us to get to the point a little more directly without having to bother about the nitty gritty of the everyday. The purpose of a fantasy writer's labours then seems to be to mine the collective and the personal unconscious for solutions to real-life questions that effect the psychological and physical well-being of people in the real world. With this in mind I tried to view Second Life for a time as  a form of open-ended fantasy fiction,  then tried to work backwards in order to define the question for which the Metaverse is an answer. I'm coming to the conclusion though that the Metaverse is not an answer to anything at all.

Encounters with other other writers, who I thought might might be exploring similar ground in Second Life, have been few and I must admit rather uneasy affairs. There are many writers dens where the chairs always seem to be arranged in a circle, as if for knights of the round table to discuss weighty matters pertaining to the human condition - but while the depicted ambiance of these places has always seemed impressively worthy, there has never been anyone there to actually talk to. One somewhat eccentric and theatrical character I chanced across, on a metaversical beach somewhere, quoted classical philosophy at me in such a way that I was tempted to believe I didn't get it because I'd not had the proper education. The gist of this conversation was that the Metaverse was the natural evolutionary path for mankind - that the sooner we could plug ourselves into it, the better we could realise our ideal. But I could not agree with this view because I had already found too many aspects of the environment disturbing - even nightmarish - to see it in any way as an improvement over what we already have.
    As our avatars discussed such high-brow matters, seated by a metaversical camp-fire, which crackled cosily but offered no warmth, advertising hoardings the size of multi-storey carparks rose into the night sky. They bore illustrations of clothing and nude body-forms, urging us to buy them, to change our looks and go out to impress others with them, to discard our current worn out and boring personas, and purchase bright shiny new ones, personas that were more attractive, more impressive, more fashionable, more desirable.
    The Metaverse then seemed to me to be merely a reflection of real-life, both now and in the near future. Take away the ability of one's avatar to fly and to teleport here and there, and the Metaverse becomes more a vision of where we might be heading in real life, and that is not a thought I am comfortable with at all - or perhaps in this reflection of real life we can also see reflected there anything we want to see, our fears as well as our hopes. Observers who are unrepentantly critical of the Metaverse will find plenty of stuff in it to support their arguments. Equally, those who are optimistic can quote in its defence the metaverse's potential as a networking and educational medium.

And me?

    Well , inbetween meddling with Second Life and scratching my head over my other writings, I occasionally read a book or catch the occasional T.V. program. It was while watching a recent documentary on the history of civilisation that I was reminded of John Ruskin. As a fellow Northcountry man, Ruskin has long been on my list of literary heroes, but without my really grasping the significance of what it was that the man was about. Like many social commentators born at the time of the industrial revolution Ruskin grew up to be a severe critic of the de-humanisation of people at the hands of technology and commerce. He saw them sucked into beastly mills and turned into virtual machines, into biological robots. This process of de-humanisation has unfortunately continued, unchecked, into modern times - only now the mills have been outsourced to the far east in the name of globalisation.
    The UK's recent history bears witness to the slow motion train-wreck of human centred values: the 1970's saw open conflict between governements and organised labour. With the union movements effectively castrated, this cleared the way for the 1980's, which saw an explosion of globalisation, while the nineties saw the social consequences of the eighties as the world of work rationalised and downsized itself. From the early industrial revolution to the present day, the theme has been one of developing ever more sophisticated technologies which by and large allow faster communication and the delivery of an ever increasing array of goods and services. It is ironic then that all of this has come at the price of a steady decline in the need for any truly human involvement in the process at all. Does that sound like a contradiction? How can such a bewilderingly sophisticated, wired world with its methods of instant communication, require less truly "human" interaction, human imagination, or human creativity?
    Don't know what I mean? Have you ever been in a call centre? Perhaps you don't realise it but the person you ring up to sort out your car insurance does not speak of their own volition. They do not form words based upon the impulses of their own intelligence, their own knowledge of insurance matters. They read their lines from their computers, then enter your inputs in order to arrive at yet more lines for them to speak - they are merely the voice of the machine. And E-Mail? What could be more sterile and void of personality than the corporate e-mail? I suppose what I'm driving at, and what Ruskin and his fellow romantics saw, was that technology and human beings are on divergent paths. It's just that the technology has been dragging half of us after it in the misguided belief that it somehow holds the solution to the age old question of "human meaning" and individual "purpose".
    Technology is our remarkably prodigious progeny, but it has grown beyond the point where it's goal is primarily to serve mankind. As with all parents, there must come a time when we wake up to the fact that our children have outgrown us, that they are not our personal property and that we are  increasingly irrelevant in their world. For a while yet we will be able to serve our technology as wage-slaves, the latter day equivalent, if you like,  of Ruskin's de-humanised factory hands, but what happens when it no longer needs us even to read its lines? Our technology, our invention, our child will by then have become a teenager, a different creature altogether to the one we believed we were nurturing, and we shall sit staring at one another, neither of us able to comprehend the other. Nowhere, I believe, is there a clearer illustration of this divergence than in the notion of the Metaverse.
    Whilst in Second Life one evening, an associate and I amused ourselves by manipulating our avatars while we sat in the same room - the pair of us sharing one broadband connection via wi-fi on our laptops. We conversed by typing our lines into the Metaverse, instead of simply speaking to one another in real life - the subject was somewhat tongue in cheek, I must add, and for the innocent entertainment of anyone who happened to be eavesdropping. The next step was for me to "borrow" my associate's avatar and invent a conversation between the two Metaversical inhabitants, rather like add libbing dialogue between fictional characters. The stage after that would have been for a chat-bot program to simply take over both avatars, while I and my associate retired to the public house for a glass of beer and a game of darts. The Metaverse could then have simply folded back on itself and got on with its own business, while we got on with ours. It would have existed independently of us, though its purpose, measured by human values, would have been entirely pointless - just as it, by its system of values, would have been unable to comprehend ours.

I've noticed over the years that all rational philosophies eventually converge upon a view of our future that is pessimistic. They tell us there is no purpose to life, and we are all ultimately doomed. I call these the "life is shit and then you die" philosophies. Perhaps this is why many of us feel the need to shed our human skins and flee into a virtual world where our avatar cannot die, where everything is beautiful and everyone looks about twenty five years old. All right - I know the techno-deity can pull the plug, or lock your account, but just go with me on this one: are we misguided in becoming so attached to our virtual personas? Well, of course we are! For a start there is nothing about our avatar than cannot be bought and sold or changed beyond recognition. The only thing that gives it life is the strange creature sitting on the other side of the glass, and that's you. All right - you're not perfect: you have to eat, drink, sleep and go to the toilet, and while that might at times seem terribly inconvenient, you also possess something that has no value in the Metaverse at all, something that cannot be traded, and therefore exposes the absurd nature of the "virtual" and the dangers of placing too much store in its ability to liberate us. What is it?

It is your soul.

Be careful you do not fall into The Metaverse. There's no one there to catch you, and you cannot really fly.

December 2007    

4) The Metaverse and the I Ching

When you don't understand something, there is a temptation to become cynical or critical of it. Wandering around the Metaverse, it's easy to find things to be critical and cynical about - the commoditisation of everything, the sex, the danger of addiction and obsession, and the insidious threat of a withdrawal from reality. It's also easy to find examples of the banality of it too, the apparent pointlessness of much of what is said and done, also the impermanent nature of it. All of these things I've already covered in my journal, but in spite my reservations, the metaverse has continued to intrigue me and draw me back.
    In my last entry, I said something to effect that I suspected the Metaverse was not the answer to anything at all. But now, I think what I should have said was that the Metaverse was perhaps a first stab at an answer to a question that had not yet been asked.

But what was the question?

At times like this, when I'm deeply puzzled by something and flailing around for an answer, I usually turn to the I Ching, or Book of Changes. You can use the Book of Changes in many ways. Some people dip into it and read it simply as a book of wisdom, while others use it to tell fortunes. The middle way is to use it as a psychological tool and thereby surf the dodgy currents between scientific respectability and paranormal uncertainty.

I tend to take this middle way.

The book of changes is divided into 64 chapters - each dealing with an aspect of reality - either tangible or intangible. Each of these 64 chapters also has a set of 6 appended sub-texts. In using the book, one asks a questions and then by a process that seems entirely random, one is directed to a particular chapter and one or more of the sub-texts. Depending on these sub-texts, one is then directed to a second chapter. The two chapters, linked by the subtexts are said to form a dynamic pairing - one situation "changing" into another and it is by thinking upon this dynamic pairing that the answer to one's query will be revealed - sometimes instantly - sometimes only after a great deal of thought. And the answer, when it comes, is always something of a revelation.

The question I asked the I Ching, regarding the nature of the Metaverse was:

What potential does the Metaverse present for humankind?

And the answer I got was:


Seeking Fellowship,  changing through lines 3 and 5  to Biting Through.

The answer was very clear, though if you're not familiar with the I Ching, this will understandably need some explaining. In brief, the I Ching was reminding me that the Metaverse formed a meeting place for like minded people to come together, regardless of the geographical, political or cultural divides we encounter in the real world. Seeking Fellowship describes a process of cutting across divides, of empowering diverse individuals. It describes something that is multi-denominational, without boundaries. It describes all of humankind coming together in one place for a common purpose, free from the clutter of their every day reality which is apt to distract and waylay our attentions.    
    The appended subtexts told me that because not all of my experiences had been positive, I had begun to reserve my attitude, to withdraw from it, to sneer at it perhaps, but that I should be careful of doing this because there was much to gained by sticking with it. There were problems with it, said the I Ching, but we should be wary of criticising any minor shortcomings in method of delivery, while overlooking the value of what was being delivered. These subtexts then led to a chapter called "Biting through". This one is about how we can become so bound up in a problem that we fail to see a solution that is essentially very simple.

When Alexander the Great reached Gordian he was presented with an ox cart tied to a post with a fiendish knot. Legend has it that it was foretold whoever was able to untie the knot, would become the future king of Asia. Unable to find an end to the knot in order to begin unraveling it, Alexander took out his sword and simply the knot off. The knot was not the essential thing after all, just a distraction. You had to step back a bit in order to see the bigger picture.

The I Ching was basically saying that by studying the Metaverse too closely, staring into every untidy nook and cranny, it was easy to get tangled up and miss the bigger picture. And the picture, the prize, was essentially a form of universal empowerment.

One night while exploring the Metaverse, on the lookout for more absurdities to sneer at, I chanced across a character sitting on a box,  arranging pictures in a sort of gallery he was renting. He explained the pictures were not his own work, but that he collected them from others he happened to meet - people of all nationalities who were happy to talk to him and let him have copies of their work.
    A little conversation revealed that the real life persona of this character was an American businessman who at that time had just checked into a  hotel about three thousand miles from his home-town, on a different continent. We were shortly joined by another character who turned out to be a colleague of the first man, another businessman working for the same multi-national corporation but on yet another continent, and who had just come home from work. Me? I'd just returned from a long weekend away with my family on a small island on the fringes of western Europe. But these background details were irrelevant to the three dudes chatting in the Metaverse which provided an unchanging environment for our rendevouz, regardless of the real life whereabouts of its participants. Okay the techno deity could erase the landscape and the buildings we were looking at, but it would have been as easy to make contact and arrange to meet up in some other place - the important thing, the thing I was talking about at the end of my last essay, the human element, the human aspiration, and the whole point of things, remained exactly the same.

Yours truly, leading as he does a fairly isolated and unsociable existence tends to forget that most other human beings are by their very nature sociable creatures - they seek contact with others, seek  company and conversation, they are interested in sharing their thoughts, and in trying to understand the thoughts of others. The Metaverse, knowing no boundaries, therefore offers it participants a quantum shift in knowledge and understanding of other people. It brings us all much closer together.   

One of the problems with culture is that we tend to hang on to it, long after it has served its purpose and we become resentful when the inevitable tide of change begins to threaten it. Since earliest times every nation has seen an influx of displaced people, seeking sanctuary from wars and oppressive regimes. Added to that there are people who migrate on a sort of economic tide, filling temporary gaps in the labour markets around the world. Unfortunately such people have always been seen as a threat to the culture and traditions of whatever country they land up in. They are casually labeled "Immigrants" and certain sectors of the right wing media and political systems use them in the most cynical ways. Fresh immigrants tend to use that country's language poorly, they will perhaps not share the colour of its indigenous races, nor its religions and customs. All these things, if viewed in a narrow and negative way, can be distorted into something threatening.
    These then are the details, the nitty gritty in which we tend to lose ourselves, become irrational, cynical, bigoted and racist when confronted with unfamiliar people. These details are the Gordian knot that requires the wisdom of Alexander to slice off, and finally see that we are all the same, all human, with same aspirations and desires - to be happy, to be loved and to love others.

As we've already seen, in the Metaverse, you can look however you want to look, change the way you look endlessly, play with the details of your virtual existence so much that each of us becomes a kaleidoscope of pattern and shape, our chosen forms reflective only of our moods, rather than our geographical roots. They are not the important thing. In the Metaverse, even geography is malleable - you can shape it however you want. The future of the Metaverse lies not in our being sucked into it, for that would be a very disorientating thing indeed, but more as a magical looking glass, through which we can see the real world in a new kind of way.

May 2008     


Copyright © M Graeme 2008