Field notes weekly #9

This is a weekly update on my progress to document the history, perspectives, and narratives of the metaverse. For more on the contents and structure of the book, please see “Structuring my field notes“.

Current book word count: 77,648


I am currently working on capturing the more ideological aspects of the Metaverse. Since the early days of the home computer revolution in the 1980s, there has always been a vocal group that shared an unwavering belief in the ability of computers to empower individuals and communities, to the point where they would usher in a new societal paradigm. This included declarations like the Hacker Manifesto, the Cypherpunk Manifesto, or the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

The first step is to talk about their content, and the societal and economical context in which they were created. The next step is to talk about the impact they had when creating the Internet, the Web, software in general, and technologies like blockchains. But then, it’s important to reflect on these values.

“Internet freedom” turned into a vessel, which holds completely separated arguments and ideological concepts and shields them from criticism or even debate. Challenging concepts like freedom of information, or net neutrality, is immediately understood as an attack on the value of freedom itself. Discussing nuanced positions on digital copyright, content protection, or free software equates to be an evil corporate oppressor. Asking why the digital domain needs to be separated and different from the analog world means standing in the way of progress.

And this is indeed what we see today, when challenging the value of concepts like open source, net neutrality, or technologies like headsets, blockchain, AI, and others that are supposed to be the core of the new digital realm.

This is also reflected in many of the interviews I did. Almost all of the interviewed claimed to have started out as a cyber-libertarian / cyberpunk / digital advocate. But as they saw it all play out, they developed a better understanding of the historical context why the current system has evolved the way it has – and how the new digital paradigms can be integrated in a more grounded way.

In terms of the Metaverse this conflict of pure ideology and grounded practicality has crystalized into matching metaverse narratives. Some narratives argue that the metaverse must be this cyberlibertarian space that supplants the current systems, argued from a position of first principles. Other narratives acknowledge the messy reality of the real world, and that digital ideology doesn’t work just because some advocates think they have identified “social rules that are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori.

Ultimately, these kind of conflicts are super interesting to explore and one reason why I write this book in the first place. But boy, is it hard to put this into a coherent and engaging form. And also give everybody a fair representation.

Reading & Watching

For step one I am going through these old manifestos and texts. I have many of them still on old backups and printouts, rifling through loads of .txt. files and diskmags. The problem is that I can’t link those. Not just for this section, but also in the book. So I spend a lot of time trying to re-discover them on the Web, sometimes failing. “The Internet never forgets” is one of those claims that turned out to be wrong I guess.

As for step three, I find myself mesmerized by this talk (or rather, reading) by the late David Golumbia:

Similarly, I am currently re-listening to a number of episodes of the amazing Tech Won’t Save Us podcast.

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