Snow Crash (1992) by Neal Stephenson is about a dystopian society more like the Wild West than any western government we are used to. In Snow Crash, the Real World is inhabited by Hiro Protagonist, (an avatar handle if ever there was one) in which Los Angeles has been annexed by the United States and taken over by private and pirating enterprises with very little influence of the federal government. Hiro also occupies another world called the “Metaverse” originally intended to mirror the internet, but is equivalent to today’s Second Life, virtual world (Bayam, 2010).
In order to understand Snow Crash you must understand who’s in control. Who controls the technology? Who controls the economy? Who has the power? The answer depends on which world you are looking at. In Reality, the hackers operate under a laisse-faire economic system in which a billion dollar bill wouldn’t buy you a happy meal. The corporations and black market mafia have the power because they control the economic structure, the land, the real estate, and the laws.
In the Metaverse, it is about technological control. The hackers control the Metaverse. In the Metaverse, the skills and talents of the technorati have an equalizing if not transcendental effect on one’s social status as compared to Reality. We associate hackers with anarchists. They are the underdogs, the dysfunctionally-functional. In Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the hackers are superstars.
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1845) uniquely sums up technical determinism, “Men have become tools of their tools”. In Snow Crash, men have fallen victim to their own technological tools. Yet, there is a paradox. Has the Metaverse been created they have developed the tools in order to meet the needs of their society (social determinism) or a way to escape their society (technical determinism)? Only “Snow Crash” the drug/virus is able to cross both boundaries.
It is this half- in, half-out scenario which seems to have the most similarities to modern day’s love affair with technology, a theme which Fisher and Wright (2001) describe as “technorealism”. When Graham-Felson (2011) wrote about dumping his iPhone, because he was tired of “half-conversations with the people in front of me and half-conversations with the Internet”, he described for me the essence of Snow Crash. It is a half-story of the real world and half-story of the virtual world that is ultimately a whole story of humanity with two feet, each in its own different world. If we take a hard look at daily life in 2011, aren’t we all straddling two different worlds? We live in one world n the Internet and one without, with the lines between the two blurring more each day? What happens when we no longer notice the difference?
Baym, N. (2010). Personal connections in the digital age – Nancy K. Baym – Google Books. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from http://books.google.com/books?id=N4jk7DZbR1oC&pg=PA24&lpg=PA24&dq=snow+crash+%2B+technological+determinism&source=bl&ots=Urs8cBnFdV&sig=r50bRjQ35m2l-3exNXvuvgH-7P4&hl=en&ei=ldmoTuXhEqfc0QGIo4TxCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=snow%20crash%20%2B%20technological%20determinism&f=false
Fisher, D., & Wright, L. M. (2001, January). On Utopias and Dystopias: Toward an Understanding of the Discourse Surrounding the Internet. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from
Graham-Felsen, S. (2011, October 4). Why I Dumped My iPhone—And I’m Not Going Back – Technology – GOOD. Retrieved October 26, 2011, from http://www.good.is/post/why-i-dumped-my-iphone-and-why-i-m-not-going-back/?utm_source=outbrain
Stephenson, N. (2000). Snow crash. New York: Bantam Books.
Thoreau, Henry David, & Thoreau, Henry David, 1983 Walden ; and, Civil disobedience / by Henry David Thoreau ; with an introduction by Michael Meyer Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England ; New York, N.Y.