Structuring my Field Notes

The upcoming book is my attempt to retell the history of the metaverse from my point of view.

To do that I went over my many (!) physical notebooks and notepads, as well as my digital ones, that have accumulated over the years. Luckily, I am bad at throwing these things away. I also have quite an extensive library of metaverse-relevant books.

After cutting and pasting around the content for a while, I decided on splitting the book into two parts: The history and the sensemaking.

A history of the metaverse

Part one of the book looks at historical milestones that I think are relevant to the concept of the metaverse. This includes books, movies, games, products, insights, or trends.

These are documented as objectively, and evidence based as possible. The goal is not to describe them in detail, but rather highlight their impact, and how they evolved or changed the concept of the metaverse in a meaningful way. For the curious, I will add links and references where to learn more.

It’s also important to understand these milestones in their historical and cultural context. To provide that frame of reference, I have clustered the milestone in specific sections. Each section begins with an outline of world events, as well as societal and cultural trends, that are relevant to the respective milestones.

Currently, these sections are:

  • A new subculture is born (1980 – 1986): Describing what led to the Cyberpunk genre, and how it spawned different visions for digital virtual worlds.
  • The Emergence of Virtual Worlds (1978 – 1997): A look at the earliest virtual worlds, from MUD, to MUDs. It also describes how players realized that the experiences they had in these virtual worlds were not virtual at all.
  • Virtuality enters the Real (1997 – 2007): How MUDs became MMORPGs, and the social, legal, and ethical implications of having millions of players in virtual worlds.
  • The Real enters Virtuality (2001 – 2006): Diving into virtual economies and how they suddenly entangled themselves with the real economy. This includes trading virtual items for real money, the question of ownership and property, as well as business and tax considerations.
  • Progressing Entanglement (2005 – 2010): The mobile revolution and how apps and Web 2.0 brought new concepts to accessing digital dimensions, but also how it started new societal trends in behaviour and expectations.
  • The Tokenization of Reality (2008 – 2020): As Web 2.0 scaled into centralized entities, cryptocurrencies and blockchains were born out of libertarian efforts to de-centralize the Internet again, leading to Web3.
  • Virtuality becomes Immersive (2012 – 2017): How a new generation of virtual and augmented reality devices revitalized the concept of presence in virtuality, and the discussions they sparked around privacy, safety, and ethics.
  • The Duality emerges (2011 – 2023): The current understanding of the metaverse as a category term for “immersive life online,” including the tendency for performativity, and how new interest groups took over previous narratives for their own purposes.

At the end of each section I will add a chapter that contains the titular fieldnotes.

As said, I went through my personal notebooks to gather my thoughts, lessons learned, and insights from the respective time period. Note that these chapters are subjective. Not everyone will agree with my notes and conclusions, and this is exactly the point – historically, as people disagreed, the metaverse narrative split and created new interpretations of the concept.

I also added other perspectives, based on historical publications, as well as personal interviews with notable people.

Making sense of the history

Part two synthesizes the history into the main metaverse narratives that we see today.

It starts by outlining a number of core properties and aspects that all metaverse narratives have in common, but interpret differently:

  • How much is the metaverse entangled with reality?
  • How do individuals experience the metaverse?
  • How are individuals represented in the metaverse?
  • What is the technical architecture of the metaverse?
  • What is the purpose of the metaverse?

As these properties carry implications for how the respective metaverse needs to operate, they implicitly shape the resulting narrative.

Theoretically this creates the space for all possible metaverse interpretations. However, I will focus on five narratives that are the most prevalent today, describing the core idea behind them, who finds them desirable, as well as factors that are accelerating and blocking their adoption.

This is not to say that the selected narratives are the “strictly correct ones” or that they are the only ones that exist or matter. The goal is not to create an authoritative book on how the metaverse must be understood, but how it was interpreted at certain points in time by different people. It is about the argument, not about declaring a winner.

Bringing Order

Of course all of that can only be incomplete. Right now, the book contains about 40 milestones, starting at 1978 all the way up to 2023. They range from novels, movies, trends, and scientific publications, to games, web platforms, and apps.

To be honest, I could easily add 40 more, but at some point the whole thing falls apart and becomes a mess. One rule I set for myself is that only milestones that changed the concept of the metaverse in a meaningful way get a dedicated chapter. Precursors or iterations, even if they were wildly successful, only get a mention.

For example, Ultima Online was the first game that really emancipated itself from MUDs into something new, that eventually way called MMORPG. It wasn’t the first graphical MUD, nor the most successful MMORPG. But there you go, DragonSpires (first 2D graphical MUD), Meridian 59 (first 3D graphical MUD), and World of Warcraft (the most successful MMORPG) only get a mention.

At one point, I did have dedicated chapters for them, but I felt it was a lot of repetitive “And they did the same thing again, but with more graphics / more people / more money!

The reason is that I want to write about the evolution of the metaverse as a concept, not how some MMORPG was more successful than others. And in many ways, Ultima Online had more impact on the metaverse, even more than WoW.

This is another reason why I started this blog. I now have heaps of text on my cutting room floor. While they might not make the cut for the book, I at least can publish them here as additional context.

The second big rule was to describe the metaverse properties and narratives equally. I have been working on metaverse solutions for a long time, and I admit having a strong bias towards realistic narratives. With that I mean “concepts, visions, and approaches that I think are realistic.

But with narratives, it is important to remember that not every concept needs to be viable or implementable. Some narratives evolved purely within the context of entertainment and exploration, so their metaverse might have unrealistic properties, or impossible implications. And that’s ok.

For example, the idea of the metaverse as an idealistic virtual world that is completely separated from reality does have its followers and value, and thus needs to be discussed fairly.

At some point, I considered adding a third part, in which I make predictions how the narratives will further develop. But this led to rule number three: No predictions. There already are a lot of book on potential futures of the metaverse, and I want to explicitly set this book apart by only discussing the history.

That said, discussing the implications of past events in the fieldnotes sections is in itself is a form of prediction: “We have tried this multiple times and it always failed with users, indicating a general lack of desirability.” But I think “It has been proven undesirable so far” is different than “This will never happen.”

I hope this gives a good overview of what you can expect from the book in terms of content. I will go into details about the respective sections and parts with future articles. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback so far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.