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Neal Stephenson
Neal StephensonVia Wikimedia Commons

The author who coined ‘metaverse’ is building his own online world

Snow Crash writer Neal Stephenson has teamed up with a crypto bro to create an open metaverse and fight back against Big Tech

If you’re already grown sick of the word metaverse since it gained traction over the last few years – metaverse fashion week, metaverse beauty, metaverse cities for right-wing libertarians, metaverse galleries for your silly little NFTs, the list is endless – then you have Neal Stephenson to blame. The American author first coined the term in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, to describe the urban virtual environment that his characters tap into via computer terminals and VR goggles.

Now, though, it seems that Stephenson wants to make his fictional world a reality. Earlier this month, he announced that he’s making his own foray into cyberspace with Lamina1, a company he has cofounded alongside crypto bro (and Bitcoin Foundation founder) Peter Vessenes.

More specifically, Lamina1 aims to provide “scaffolding” for independent creators to build a more egalitarian metaverse than those created by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg’s unbearably bland Meta (which has forked out $10 billion, to date, in its attempts to secure a monopoly on our online lives). “It’s like Neal is coming down out of the mountains like Gandalf,” says Rony Abovitz, a strategic advisor to Lamina1, in a recent interview with Wired. “To restore the metaverse to an open, decentralised, and creative order.”

Those familiar with Snow Crash might be slightly concerned that Stephenson is getting into the metaverse game, given that his mid-90s conception of the technology revolved around hypercapitalist exploitation and a mind-controlling virus distributed in the form of an addictive drug. It was very much a dystopia, albeit one that doesn’t feel too far removed from where we’re at today, 30 years later. Speaking to the Financial Times earlier this month, however, Stephenson sounded much sunnier about the future.

“I am increasingly of the view that technologies, with a few notable exceptions, aren’t really dystopian or utopian,” he told the newspaper. “People are.” This raises some obvious questions. First and foremost: is Neal Stephenson a utopian, or a dystopian person? If he’s controlling the future of the metaverse, then it would be good to get some confirmation.

On a more serious (and cynical) note, there’s a concern that Stephenson is cashing in on his fame to build hype for his new, decentralised platform. In the past, however, he’s been reliably disgusted by the rush to warp his metaverse concept into a product by profit-hungry corporations. Plus, his vision for a universal metaverse – not controlled by any single company – does seem like a refreshing alternative to the closely-surveilled online dystopias offered up by Big Tech.

Will Lamina1 actually succeed in realising this dream, given that it’s entering an industry dominated by billion-dollar companies? We’ll keep our virtual fingers crossed.