Neal Stephenson was born to a family of engineers and scientists, a trend Stephenson continued when attending school at Boston University. While there, he majored in physics, but decided to switch when he realized geography majors were allowed more time on the college’s mainframe. Most of his novels reflect his interest in computers, intertwining technological ideas with the sociological. Snow Crash was Stephenson’s breakthrough novel, helping him to gain popularity in the cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk genre.
The novel discusses many high-tech themes as well as social issues. Throughout the first sixteen chapters, the topics of sexism and racism are prevalent. Another issue, which is never directly mentioned, but is obvious throughout, is that of information. Who can access information? How much can they access? How personal is it? In this near-future world Stephenson presents, all of one’s information can be accessed with the simple scan of a barcode. This material can be retrieved by anyone, and it has become the standard. No one questions the invasion of privacy it causes.
A plethora of parallels can be drawn between topics presented in Snow Crash and those discussed in class. Two glaring parallels are the ideas presented by Marshall McLuhan and Henry Jenkins. McLuhan’s work “The Medium is the Message” and “The Medium is the Massage” are applicable. In the former, McLuhan speaks of a “global village.” Stephenson’s “Metaverse” is a rather literal representation of this idea. In the Metaverse, people from all over the world can converge on “the Street.” It is utilized by all types of people like businessmen holding meetings, teens on dates, or celebrities looking to socialize without the hassle of paparazzi. This acts as an example for another of McLuhan’s ideas, that electric technology is restructuring patterns of our personal lives as well as social interdependence. The life of the protagonist of the story, Hiro, revolves almost entirely around his computer, since he utilizes the Metaverse for work as well as making social connections. Though Hiro may not view this as a problem, McLuhan’s idea that all media have consequences can be applied. Juanita, Hiro’s ex-girlfriend and co-worker, refuses to use the Metaverse to maintain and make social connections. She believes that it distorts the way people talk to each other, and therefore distorts their relationships (p. 62). Lastly, McLuhan’s statement that “real war has become the information war” couldn’t be truer in Snow Crash. The Mafia, Hiro, the CIC, L. Bob Rife, and many others are constantly in search of information. It is imperative in this world to know as much as possible about everything possible.
When thinking of the need for information, the concepts of Henry Jenkins are very relatable. His ideas of convergence culture with collective intelligence and participatory culture are prevalent throughout the reading. Hiro works for the CIC, Central Intelligence Corporation, as a stringer. He is constantly in search of information like gossip, videotapes, documents, or anything that could be of interest to others, and uploads it to the CIC database. There are millions of people simultaneously performing the same task as Hiro, demonstrating both of Jenkins’ ideas of collective intelligence and participatory culture. Since so many people are contributing to obtaining the information, they together present all the data a person could possibly know about a topic.
There are many other comparisons I could discuss between the novel and our class discussions, but this post would then go on forever. What are other connections that could be made between Snow Crash and the topics covered in class?