METAVERSE The metaverse isn’t here yet, but it already has a long history By Tom Boellstorff, University of California San Francisco, Aug 15 (The Conversation) Nattie’s metaverse romance began with anonymous texting. At first C would admit only to living in a nearby town. Nattie eventually learned Clem was a man with a solitary office job like hers. For Nattie lived, as it were, in two worlds the world of office tedium and an online world where she did not lack social intercourse. Texting drew them closer: annoyances became lighter because she told him, and he sympathized. Nattie soon realized she had woven a sort of romance about him who was a friend so near and yet so far’. Their blossoming relationship almost failed when Clem’s co-worker visited Nattie’s office pretending to be Clem, but the deceit was exposed in time for their romance of dots and dashes to succeed. With that last sentence I gave away the ending to Wired Love, source of the quotes above. Published in 1879, Ella Thayer’s novel of the telegraphic world makes remarkable predictions. Yet Wired Love is planted firmly during the time of what journalist Thomas Standage aptly termed the Victorian Internet. Many aspects of the current metaverse were already familiar 143 years ago. What’s old is new History is more than fun facts: It deeply shapes ways of thinking and acting. As an anthropologist who’s been studying virtual worlds for almost two decades, I’ve found that the metaverse’s rich past shapes what too often appears unprecedented. This isn’t accidental.
The contemporary metaverse is overwhelmingly owned and developed by corporations whose profit models demand focus on the Next Big Thing. This typically sidelines history with massive financial and social implications. At its core, the metaverse is defined by the concept of the virtual world. As Wired Love illustrates, the telegraph and later the telephone constitute early virtual worlds. Multi-user dungeons, or MUDs, arose in the second half of the 20th century. These virtual worlds appeared on local computer networks in the late 1970s, and entered dial-up internet services in the 1980s and 1990s. Richard Bartle, co-creator of the first MUD, noted that by 1993 over 10% of all internet traffic was on MUDs. Virtual worlds with graphics, including avatars, date back to Habitat, launched in 1985. With advent of broadband in the 2000s, many key aspects of the contemporary metaverse became established.