Neal Stevenson may have foreshadowed the future of the internet in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, however I believe that he is also commenting on aspects of society that have been around since the 1950’s. Jack Kerouac wrote his most famous work, On the Road, in 1957; it was said to be the novel that defined the “beat” generation. The term “beat” has nothing to do with music, rather it labels a generation of young people that we beaten down and poor, while still being optimistic. Beats, as they came to be called, were risk-takers and adventurers, always trying to fulfill a “desperate craving for belief”.
In On the Road, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are two men who drop everything and set out on a cross-country adventure together to fulfill their “craving for belief” – specifically, belief in the American Dream, and the pursuit of happiness and success. While reading Snow Crash, I could not help but see Sal, Dean, and the Beat attitude in Hiro Protagonist. Like Sal and Dean, he is poor, and not of high social standing. He lives in a U-Stor-It unit, complete with a piece of wood resting on cinderblocks which serves as a table, and a overhead garage-style door. He is a risk-taker, even though it doesn’t always work out. He tries to shed an unwanted courier clinging to his back bumper by careening across a private yard, through a fence, around a picnic table, and ultimately into an empty pool. He gets fired from his job, misses out on his chance to get rich through an online company called The Black Sun, and loses his girlfriend Juanita. Despite all of this, he remains optimistic, and in his pursuit of happiness doesn’t travel cross-country, but instead into the Metaverse.
Just like Sal and Dean cruising down a highway, Hiro feels at home on the main street in the Metaverse. A digital world that Hiro helped design, the Metaverse is a world where players’ avatars are free to do whatever they want – essentially live a second life – however without social and economic constraints. In a time of racism and other pressures of society, beats like Hiro, Dean and Sal, can always escape to their respective “Metaverse”, and continue their quest for the American Dream.