The Street: The Future of AOL?

Zachariah Boyle

BBSes. Chat rooms. Party lines. MUDs. IRC. All of these mediums exist for people to get together on a constantly "up" center of communication and to talk, role play or do business. They all depend on joining when people will always be there and ready to talk. This, of course, is what Stevenson's Street in Snow Crash is: basically a hyped up party line. Or, more currently, an AOL chat room or IRC channel with 3D graphics. Com'on, I know you all have at least tried some of these inane diversions. To those of you who haven't, the Street in Hiro's world is exactly like the Lobby on AOL, or the particular server you log in to for IRC. Along the Lobby or Street are a number of rooms or buildings in which you can enter. Each room or building has its own regulars and personalities. For example, in the Red Dragon Inn on AOL you could find any number of D&D types who styled their characters in certain ways: wizards carrying staves, dead-cool cyberpunks, or even sword-carrying samurai like Hiro. They can even fight, but it's still pretty primitive these days. There are even hacker rooms or channels. Some are public, some private (like the Black Sun)--on AOL I guess it would be a private room and on IRC it would be a channel with a really vigilant Op who used his kick and ban privileges a lot.

So, basically Stevenson's Street is a hyped up IRC or AOL. You can see the beginnings of Stevenson's vision, but I'd say everything's still in a primitive stage-you can chat on some web pages using the CUSeeMe technology. We all love grainy little pictures of people sitting at their keyboards. Also, (I don't know if it's still around), but it seemed that several years ago the ImagiNation network was the most developed of them all. You could choose a character (replete with picture and everything) on their chat boards, battle others during games like Red Baron, and the like. And of course, Doom revolutionized gaming with its network innovations. It was just a couple days ago that id Software released its new 64-person (I guess that's 2 to the fourth power, huh?) Quake II deathmatch levels, which are amazing. Apply this to VR or cybernetic technology, and you have the Street from Snow Crash in a nutshell. There's even a MOO now that takes on the Snow Crash setting.

It seems Stephenson took the setting of Neuromancer and made it much more fantastical. For example, Gibson's idea of the Sprawl is taken to an almost unbelievable level. In the Neuromancer trilogy there is Sprawl on both coasts, but country in between; in Snow Crash "a dedicated thrasher could probably navigate from L.A. to New York by coasting from one parking lot to the next" [p. 193]. Even the public's taste in music pushes our modern-day fringes. For example, Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns play music that is a "tornado of high-pitched noise and distortion, like being flung bodily through a wall of fishhooks" [p. 128]. Nowadays experimental/noise/avant-garde like the Meltdowns is still pretty much on the fringes. Except in Japan, I guess.

[To other discussions of Snow Crash by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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