(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Flatland: Virtual Reality in 1884??

At a symposium on Distributive Interactive Virtual Environments (DIVEs) today, one of the demonstrations was of a an new architecture called Flatland. This in itself was very impressive, but what really caught my attention was the origin of the name, which was explained by Thomas Caudell of the University of New Mexico. Apparently, in 1884 (no, that's not a typo!), there was a book released called Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions. Now, the odd thing is that the author was called "Edwin A. Abbott, a Square". This book was all about people who were polygons! It was an extremely Brave New World-ish hierarchy society, with women (the lowest social rung in that fictional society) who were lines, and the next lowest caste were squares. The more sides, the higher in society someone was. In many ways Flatland sounds exciting just because of its own unique way of staging a social critique underneath the political radar of the 1880s. For today's audience, however, it just oozes with prophetic overtones about virtual reality and how people appear in cyberspace (you guessed it, many are polygons). I suspect, somehow, that Neal Stephenson had this in mind when he wrote Snow Crash which featured a digital society in which the more complex your avatar (digital self in an online environment) was, the more highly you were respected in that world. Flatland isn't actually prophetic, but it sounds like an excellent read. I've found it available at Amazon.com and, for those who can bear staring at the screen long enough, there is a full ebook version online. I haven't read it yet, but if anyone has, please let me know what you thought of it; I'm most curious! There's an email button on the sidebar -->



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