A half-black, half-Korean man walks into a virtual bar. It sounds like the beginning of a bad racist joke. Hiro Protagonist, the sword swinging pseudo-ninja, tends to turn heads when he enters a building. His appearance often limits him; for instance, he’s barred from entering New South Africa because he is part black. While this sort of racism seems like a disturbing vision of our nearing future, it is not its most troublesome aspect. No, the most disturbing form of racism demonstrated in Snow Crash occurs in our future virtual reality.
When Y.T. enters the Metaverse, she does not log on from a fancy, expensive computer. She walks onto the Street using a public terminal and immediately, “people start giving her these looks” (Stephenson 220). These looks. Stephenson doesn’t need to explain them further; almost instinctively the reader knows it’s the look-down-your –nose, I’m-better-than-you, go-back-to-where-you-belong, kind of looks. And why? Because she’s using a ‘shitty public terminal.’ She’s a trashy black-and-white person. The scene reminds me of Remember the Titans, when Big Ju, an African-American linebacker, walks into training camp for the first time. Fortunately, fantastic Hollywood movies are all I know of authentic racism. The movie represents a dark side of America’s history: the racially turbulent 50’s. Is it possible the future holds our same mistakes, the Metaverse a bridge to our sinister past?
I’m scared to think that, in 2009, we are not far off from being able to create the Metaverse. We’re just missing the inevitable link. In modern terms the Metaverse is like Videochat meets SecondLife (without the creepy flying). Once these two ideas are connected, how far would be from Stephenson’s imagined virtual world? One of the Internet’s strongest virtues is the inherent anonymity it grants to users. Hidden geniuses, too timid or ugly to speak to a room full of stockholders, can start a multinational without leaving their bedrooms. But what if this anonymity ceased to exist? What if everyone knew what you actually looked like when you logged on to cyber space? Would you prefer to live in the real world, or the virtual world? Or, more succinctly, what’s the difference?
Master of Glugnar, the Magnificent