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Snow Crash, Social Virtual Reality, The Metaverse, and #HIMSS18: A Science Fiction #HTreads Tweetchat

[For the 2/27, 9:30PM EST #HTreads tweetchat…]

Recently I innocently posted the following tweet, whose replies, and replies to replies, garnered between 700 and 1000 tweets (I lost count around 700, but the conversation refused to die!).

I think it is really cool that so many health IT social media tweeps love science fiction so much. There’s even a science fiction meetup at the upcoming #HIMSS18 conference.

So a #HTreads tweetchat about science fiction before #HIMSS18 seems appropriate. And, to be more specific, and dearer to my personal sci fi heart, I’d like to focus on one book, and it’s most cool high concept.

Believe it or not, the most compelling idea and depiction of virtual reality was published a quarter of a century ago: Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Not only is it on many lists of the top 100 science fiction novels of all time, it also appears in top 100 English language novels of all time. If you haven’t read Snow Crash (shame on you, especially if you claim to be a science fiction aficianodo), then at least take a couple minutes to skim this Wikipedia Snow Crash plot synopsis.

One could go on and on about how well (or how not well) Snow Crash not only predicted social virtual reality, but its then future society (our current society, today). Snow Crash was not omniscient; it was compelling. Many of today’s 3d environments depicting real or imagined worlds were and are deeply influenced by Snow Crash. Snow Crash popularized “avatar.” Snow Crash influenced Google Earth, with which we are all familiar. Even Quake (and so, Doom and Duke Nuk’em) was loosely based on Snow Crash. People read Snow Crash, the product of the imagination of a science fiction writer, and then they created similar technologies and worlds, influenced by Snow Crash.

Social virtual reality is about to take off in a big way. Especially when Ready Player One is released (set in my current hometown, Columbus, Ohio!).

You can also dip your (virtual) little toe in social virtual reality during the upcoming #HIMSS18 conference. I am hosting three, two-hour social virtual reality events on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, at 3PM-5PM PST. (For instructions, see A New Venue Two Hours Each Day During #HIMSS18: Social Virtual Reality!)

Let my pull out five ideas from Snow Crash, to use as #HTreads questions/topics (all these are in the Wikipedia Snow Crash plot synopsis):

Let’s start with the title: Snow Crash. Stephenson was inspired by what a Mac screen sometimes looked like when it crashed, sort of like static on a TV. I am also reminded of many sci fi and horror movies and TV shows in which snowy, static-y TV screens in indicate proximity of scary things or communication from the beyond.

1. Can you think of any recent examples of TV or computer “Snow Crash” scenes (static-y visual white noise…)? (I can) #HTreads

A central conceit, which at the time I thought was the weakest Snow Crash idea, because it didn’t jibe with what I thought I knew about computer science and neuroscience, was a virus that could jump from the digital world to the human biological world, through the computer screen. Ha! I thought this was ridiculous. But I kept reading, everything else was to bloody good. Besides, I think I sensed, Snow Crash was a bit of a parody, kind of like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which was also full of lovely ridiculous stuff. Little did I know, at least metaphorically, of today’s systematic manipulation of public opinion via fake news.

2. What do you think about the metaphor of fake news as a virus, traveling over digital social networks, leaping from human host to host? #HTreads

Read this description of the “Metaverse”:

“The Metaverse, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson’s vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Resembling a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), the Metaverse is populated by user-controlled avatars as well as system daemons.”

Note, the Metaverse is much more than just networked virtual reality:

“The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space,including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet”

3. How might a “Metaverse” virtual reality-based Internet, resembling a massively multi-player online game, affect digital health? The Internet of Health? What about the Social Virtual Reality of Health?

Science fact: “Scientists have developed a brain-computer interface that reads the brain’s blood oxygen levels and enables communication by deciphering the thoughts of patients who are totally paralyzed and unable to talk.” (Paralyzed patients communicate thoughts via brain-computer interface)

4. The Metaverse is much more than VR (“virtually enhanced physical reality AND physically persistent virtual space”) how might the Metaverse be used to help patients who are totally paralyzed and unable to talk cope?

5. If you could write a science fiction novel that literally will change the world (just as Snow Crash began to do, 25 years ago), what would be it’s title? It’s scientific advance? The morale of your story?

Thank you for being interested, with me, in the realization of a cool, influential, science fiction idea, the Metaverse, or what I call, in its baby form, social virtual reality. I hope you’ll join me in this infant Metaverse during #HIMSS18. Just show up and follow the instructions!

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