"[The ideal society] is laid up as a pattern
in heaven, where those who wish can see it and found it in their own hearts.
But it doesn't matter whether it exists or ever will exist; it's the only state
in whose politics [one] can take part."
-- Plato --
An old friend in the advertedutainment business once told
me, "Pioneers get arrows."
(Consumer Content Warning and
Disclaimer Notice 367HL: During the time of the invasion and expansion of
European technologies and ideas on the North American continent, c.1500-1900,
the native cultures resisted with weapons appropriate to their level of
technology including the bow and arrow. To native Americans, European- and
African-Americans were not pioneers, they were invaders. This public service
announcement brought to you by the Committee for Balanced Historical Analysis
for The Sake Of Our Children's Future.)
That may be true, but why? Two reasons. First, they often
try to do things alone, without the safety of numbers and without the backing
of powerful institutions. Second, they do not think things through. This is
probably because the individual simply is not capable of acquiring enough
knowledge and expertise in one lifetime to understand all the factors that
might conceivably affect the introduction of something new.
The tides of the business world are changing. There was a
time when most innovation was introduced by entrepreneurs, but only adopted by
large corporate concerns at a time and a place of their own choosing in order
to gain incremental revenue. Where do you think the arrows came from? However
now, in the 21st century, the entrepreneurs are large corporate
concerns. To phrase that another way, corporations now consist of huge swarms
of entrepreneurs all simultaneously looking for the nectar of high margin
revenue. Their core business is change. They seek avenues of high risk and
large profit. Since they are all engaged in different fields, the individual
risks balance each other out. Failure in one area can be ameliorated by success
in another. In a sense, the modern corporation acts like a huge mutual fund of
So yes, I suppose pioneers do get arrows. However it makes
no functional difference to the process of colonization. There will always be
new pioneers to take their place. Bees die; the hive lives on.
Entrepreneurs tend to be very individualistic,
free-thinking, creative people. By their very nature, they are anti-corporate.
It is enormously hard to gather them all in one place, under one roof, speaking
the same language, wearing similar clothing, sporting corporate security
badges, grumbling about lousy coffee and slow elevators. It can be done, but
only for a very short period of time. Eventually they begin to disassociate.
The entrepreneurial corporation either explodes or implodes. Bright people
leave to pursue their ideas somewhere else, or stay and tarnish like silver
left out too long in the sunlight.
Therefore the modern transnational corporation achieves a
stable, sustainable state only through internetworking. It allows entrepreneurs
the freedom they crave, but gives them the support they need. Not just
financial support -- which can be gained from many sources including banks --
but intellectual support. From all over the world. Day and night.
Now, not surprisingly, this was first realized by
internetworking corporations themselves because it was their business. Just as,
in the U.S. in the 19th century, the first truly national corporations were
railroad companies. The railroads raised a generation of managers who saw the
potential of mass production, mass distribution, and mass consumption
simultaneously. The multi-national corporation was the logical 20th century
successor. There was, unfortunately, a dark side -- mass destruction.
The Wheel turned; by the end of the 20th century, people
perceived that the issue was not about masses, but about splinters. The
challenge was no longer to achieve a big picture, but to step back and
comprehend the meaning of the fragments, as beautiful and as mysterious as the
stars in the night sky. Indeed, although I am talking here about marketing and
economy, this applies to politics as well. The challenge of the 20th century
was to establish democratic government. The challenge of the 21st century is to
achieve democratic anarchy.
We created our vCity to facilitate our ability, as a
transnational internetworking corporation, to communicate with our customers.
We learned how to reduce our risk, while keeping potential payoff high, by
communicating freely on a decentralized basis within the corporation.
Ideas could come from anywhere; it did not matter who one was, or whether one
was lower than whaleshit. The only thing that mattered was the quality of the
contribution. Then we learned how to reduce our risk even further, and improve
the potential payoff even more, by obtaining advice and analysis from everybody
outside the corporation.
This is old paradigm language, but it will have to do for
now. It's not really a we and them situation. We are not sheep
dogs barking at the sheep, herding them from one green field to the next. We
are them; they are us.
In 1995 a corporation which became the nucleus of one of
the most powerful internetworking corporations today created a cheerful
advertising slogan in a laudable attempt to define this new world disorder. It
was the mysterious "Where Do You Want To Go Today?" campaign (Trademark
Microsoft Inc.), which, with its peculiar befuddledness, could easily have been
mistaken for a presidential campaign slogan. I imagine the man or woman who
came up with it was probably stuck for an idea, and the spouse came home after
a hard day's work and asked, "Where Do You Want To Go Eat Tonight?" and
The early attempts at virtual cities were pretty much
failures because they did not attempt to engage people themselves in
building the city model. The very first efforts were enthralling to look at,
but ultimately proved to be billboards. When the novelty of navigating a 3D
environment wore off, visits plummeted, businesses became discouraged,
advertising revenue dropped, and the models collapsed.
Several efforts failed because they charged people to
"purchase" empty lots -- that is to say, file space on a server. It made about
as much sense as bringing children to the beach, and then placing them in an
empty sandbox and saying to them, "Okay, now for each dollar you give me, I'll
give you a bucket of sand to play with." Huh? Who came up with that
Other efforts failed because they were blatant attempts at
advertedutainment. Teachers just loved the early ecosimms. Kids loved them.
Everybody loved them. The problem was, there was no way to make any money off
of them. It was a very inelastic market; the minute someone would try to charge
telemoney to look at an ecosimm, everyone simultaneously said, "The hell with
it, I'd rather go to the aquarium or the zoo." Kids, of course, are notoriously
cheap. The smarter ecosimm designers kept their VR sites free, and scrounged
for grants and underwritings from institutions and corporations. So the whole
concept degenerated into a public-service quagmire in which corporations kept
trying to sneak unpaid advertisements into the sites.
Other virtual worlds (not just cities, but entire galaxies)
failed because they had no overarching objective other than idle amusement.
They were, in effect, gigantic, chaotic video games.
I remember one early virtual world called WildWest which
consisted, basically, of a huge, sprawling, continual gunfight across space and
time. Perhaps this is where the phrase "Reboot Hill" came from, I don't know.
You talk about raising the hackles of parents, hoo-boy this one was a winner.
There were cases of children so severely addicted to the game that they were
suffering from malnourishment and anemia. I imagine a few parents felt pretty
bad after seeing the Internet access bills, too. There were also cases of
people -- mostly men, for reasons I don't think we fully understand yet -- who
became so obsessed with playing 3D Internet games that their lives were ruined
and their marriages fell apart.
Anyway, what kind of people would raise heaven and earth to
hide pictures of nude men and women, and yet cheerfully accept a virtual world
whose slogan might just as well have been, "Who Do You Want To Plug Today?"
Which isn't to say that WildWest, and DragonLords, and
GalacticConquest, etcetera, weren't profitable. Of course they made a
ton of money. It's just that they weren't very useful. There is a
distinction there. A civilization that spends its time and energy in pursuit of
idle amusement cannot survive.
So that, in a nutshell, is why our vCity became the first
virtual city simulation to survive over the long haul. We sought something
larger than what was possible and achievable in the technical sense; we sought
to understand what was desirable in a political sense. Naturally, a polis is a
good place to do this.
I think that perhaps Plato would have understood, perhaps
even have applauded the vCity concept. The Athenians loved the idea of
perfection, and struggled to define that which was Good. If they knew that they
could not reach perfection, nevertheless they aspired towards that goal in
their art, in their architecture, in their bodies, etcetera. Modern world
civilization, on the other hand, has abandoned perfection as a goal. We deny
that it exists because it is unobtainable, thereby confusing product
with process, ends with means. We seem satisfied to produce that which is
merely Okay. Xeno's paradox bothers us a lot more than it bothered the original
Greek city-state philosophers.
Between these two worlds of past and present, there lies
the future of the vCity. It is neither attainable nor unattainable; it is
neither perfection nor pragmatism; it is both.