In Snow Crash, a novel by Neal Stephenson, Stephenson examines how expanding technology affects a society. He introduces us to a world where a computer virus is altering people s minds, and where they have no control over themselves. He vividly describes how Hiro, the protagonist, must fight the virus to save the future of the world.
Technology is expanding everyday. Our society has grown and expanded and has become extremely powerful because of new technologies. People are learning how to use computers in place of their tasks. The Internet is a prime example is of expanding technology. One can obtain yesterday s and today s news, listen to music, talk to a friend over seas, view pornography, and countless other things in the privacy of one s home via the Internet. There is no way to really regulate what is on the Internet. Essentially, the government has no place on the Internet. This world is free of from laws. As society moves closer to advanced technology, the government becomes removed. There is no way for them to regulate society s actions once everything is computer based. In Snow Crash, Stephenson creates the Metaverse. In this society no laws exist.
Hiro, the Protagonist, is the narrator of the novel. As Hiro tells the story, there is no form of government anymore. The government has long been over, and has been replaced by individual corporations with their own sets of rules. There were many corporations, Mr. Lee s Greater Hong Kong being one of them, where one could be a citizen and apply for a passport. Mr. Lee owned franchises in Hong Kong and people needed a passport in order to get into Greater Hong Kong (p.99). Information was vital to these corporations. Mr. Lee s Greater Hong Kong asked people to share information with them if the person decided to join the corporation and become partners (p.99). Hiro worked for the CIC (Central Intelligence Agency), where he got interesting information-gossip, videotape, audiotape, or a computer disc concerning different corporations. Large corporations, or any person interested in something he found, paid him for use of the information and used it to their advantage (p.22).
As well as working for he CIC, Hiro is a freelance hacker. He is one of the creators of the Metaverse. The Metaverse is “virtual reality.” People here are represented by a piece of software called an avatar. Depending on the grade of equipment you own or use, decides how nice your avatar will be. The best type of avatar is a replica of the user. One can be whatever he/she desires. In the Metaverse one person could talk to another person across the country. Millions of people can be in the Metaverse. There is no limit to the amount of time one spends in the Metaverse. In reality, Hiro lives in the slums, but in the Metaverse, he lives in a big house in a suburban area. The houses on his street look like real houses. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse. He has top of the line equipment, and is able to manipulate programs to his advantage.
There are many similarities between the Metaverse and reality. In the Metaverse, there is still a separation of people. There are different “classes” of people. The type of equipment a person has separates people in the Metaverse. Some popular models in the novel are Brandy and Clint. These are off-the-shelf avatars. If a person does not own a computer, but logs on from a public place and enter the Metaverse through the monorail, or through pay terminal, then they use these cheap off-the-shelf avatars with grainy black and white images. These avatar s images are of no quality and are really no fun to look at. The people who see these cheap avatars are usually lower class people in reality and they are using the Metaverse to get closer to someone famous, whereas they could not do this in reality (p.41). Top of the line avatars are used by people who usually own their own laptops. Despite the kind of avatar one has, everyone is able to talk to each other, but the “classes” choose not to mix-just like in reality (p.36).
Whenever Hiro walked through he Metaverse, he was careful not to take things from avatars. He did not know, for fear, if it would be a virus, and that would hurt his computer. Death was not possible in the Metaverse until the creation of Snow Crash. In the Metaverse, it was possible to fight, but no one was literally hurting anyone. It was possible to break up someone else s avatar with whatever tools one could create. Hiro was able to fight with swords that he always kept with him. Hiro wrote rules where after you had “slain” an avatar, the avatar was thrown out of the Metaverse, and in reality the person could not re-boot into the Metaverse for a few minutes. With the invention of Snow Crash, all of that changed. Snow Crash was a virus that not only shut down your computer, it shut you down mentally as person. People entered the Metaverse so regularly-especially hackers- that subconsciously their has become a susceptible binary code in computers. Snow Crash affects the optic nerve and because of this the infected person loses control of their mind.
Snow Crash came about to control people. It not only affected hackers in the Metaverse, it also affected people in reality. In reality, Snow Crash is made up of an infected person s blood laced with cocaine so that it passes as regular drug. Once someone takes Snow Crash, they are infected. They mentally shut down and begin talking in “tongues.” They are under the control of someone else like the Mafia, or Rife. The discovery of Snow Crash made it possible for people to be controlled.
Stephenson examines how a society has such advanced technology that everything can be done through computer. In this society, no one ever went to amusement parks, or visited the country, or went to vacations to Hawaii. This society was based around new technology and all other practices were forgotten. Snow Crash was virus that got rid of information. Information was very important in this society finding more and more information and learning more things. Snow Crash took away information and manipulated those addicted to the drug. People were using computers and watching television to get more information that was never used in their brains. The more a person worked their brain, the more viruses they were exposed to, and the better their immune system became (p.429). Hiro was able to get rid of Snow Crash by creating an anecdote that essentially reversed what happened to people in the beginning. It mentally released them, and they regained control over their lives once again.
Hiro lives in a world where people rely on new technologies to get information. People no longer talk about how they are, or what is going on around the world. No one questions what happens around him or her. Everything is accepted without a doubt. In many ways our world is becoming more like the Metaverse. The Internet is similar to the Metaverse in many ways. With the expanding of technology, soon companies will be offering telephone services, cable television, and the Internet all in one package. People can do countless things on the Internet. One can talk to people he or she does not know, or see, and lie to them. With all this technology that can be used in the home, other practices become questionable. Will going to the Opera or to a play still be considered something worth doing? People stay on the Internet for hours at a time. They go into chat rooms and become anyone they want to be.
One can also get information on the Internet. It might be neat to not have to go to the library for research , but at the same time it may not be. Some people research better in person, actually holding the book. Stephenson created a virtual library. There were no more books. Everything was converted into electronically readable form. On the Internet, you can have an e-mail address which can essentially take the place of regular mail as well as the telephone.
With all the technology today, the Internet is still off-limits to certain people. Everyone does not own a computer and because of this, everyone is not computer literate. Mostly middle and upper class people have their own laptops, or computers, and are able to pay for Internet service. Other people, like student s who use their schools computers or people who go to libraries, are forced to use whatever equipment is available, which is, in most cases, not top of the line and sometimes may or may not have the Internet. Soon this world will be computer-based and if you do not have your own computer or at least access to one, you will be behind. The Internet is an important part of computers considering the many uses it offers.
Stephenson foretells how the future for today could be if we allow all these new technologies to take over our lives. Everyone must learn how to incorporate new technology into their lives without letting it consume them, even though it will still consume many. Once it consumes you , you are pretty much a victim of Snow Crash.