The Paraverse

When computer-based communication networks were new, it was difficult to describe how using them had a sense of space, as if you were not simply sending letters or telegrams to other people, but visiting a place together.

In 1982, William Gibson coined the term cyberspace to describe this, borrowing the cyber- prefix from cybernetics, which only 34 years earlier had been coined by Norbert Weiner to describe control systems. Directly or indirectly, he was using the Greek for control. So Gibson was, perhaps unwittingly, describing a place defined by control or governance.

Cyberspace now feels old, but given that pedigree, it’s especially understandable that Meta Platforms, Inc., née Facebook, have not embraced the term.

The metaverse was named in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash. It’s a clever enough name if you consider the modern usage of meta- to denote a higher level of abstraction. It’s easy to imagine Stephenson considering it to describe the abstract world of imagination while learning about and considering the universe metaphysically. I certainly have used meta- this way often, and am annoyed to see it become popularized as a trademark that will limit its linguistic utility.

Since Stephenson is a rather astute user of language and uncommonly precise in his technology descriptions, I must suspect he was also considering the classical uses of meta-, which include communal pursuit or between but most often following. If I was going to PR-spin Meta Platforms, Inc.'s naming strategy, I’d bring focus to that first sense and describe their platforms as pursuing common goods. Given the character of the corporation and their founder, I suspect that if Zuckerberg put this much thought into renaming his $890,000,000,000 firm he was inspired by the classical sense that his metaverse is that which follows the boring old natural world.

I would suggest the paraverse to describe their vision of a virtual world. Building on para- this would describe a space that is alongside our own reality, alters it, and feels a little creepy.

I posted this in January 2022 during week 2498.

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