Snow Crash, Social Virtual Reality, The Metaverse, and #HIMSS18: A Science Fiction #HTreads Tweetchat

[For the 2/27, 9:30PM EST #HTreads tweetchat…]

Recently I innocently posted the following tweet, whose replies, and replies to replies, garnered between 700 and 1000 tweets (I lost count around 700, but the conversation refused to die!).

I think it is really cool that so many health IT social media tweeps love science fiction so much. There’s even a science fiction meetup at the upcoming #HIMSS18 conference.

So a #HTreads tweetchat about science fiction before #HIMSS18 seems appropriate. And, to be more specific, and dearer to my personal sci fi heart, I’d like to focus on one book, and it’s most cool high concept.

Believe it or not, the most compelling idea and depiction of virtual reality was published a quarter of a century ago: Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Not only is it on many lists of the top 100 science fiction novels of all time, it also appears in top 100 English language novels of all time. If you haven’t read Snow Crash (shame on you, especially if you claim to be a science fiction aficianodo), then at least take a couple minutes to skim this Wikipedia Snow Crash plot synopsis.

One could go on and on about how well (or how not well) Snow Crash not only predicted social virtual reality, but its then future society (our current society, today). Snow Crash was not omniscient; it was compelling. Many of today’s 3d environments depicting real or imagined worlds were and are deeply influenced by Snow Crash. Snow Crash popularized “avatar.” Snow Crash influenced Google Earth, with which we are all familiar. Even Quake (and so, Doom and Duke Nuk’em) was loosely based on Snow Crash. People read Snow Crash, the product of the imagination of a science fiction writer, and then they created similar technologies and worlds, influenced by Snow Crash.

Social virtual reality is about to take off in a big way. Especially when Ready Player One is released (set in my current hometown, Columbus, Ohio!).

You can also dip your (virtual) little toe in social virtual reality during the upcoming #HIMSS18 conference. I am hosting three, two-hour social virtual reality events on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, at 3PM-5PM PST. (For instructions, see A New Venue Two Hours Each Day During #HIMSS18: Social Virtual Reality!)

Let my pull out five ideas from Snow Crash, to use as #HTreads questions/topics (all these are in the Wikipedia Snow Crash plot synopsis):

Let’s start with the title: Snow Crash. Stephenson was inspired by what a Mac screen sometimes looked like when it crashed, sort of like static on a TV. I am also reminded of many sci fi and horror movies and TV shows in which snowy, static-y TV screens in indicate proximity of scary things or communication from the beyond.

1. Can you think of any recent examples of TV or computer “Snow Crash” scenes (static-y visual white noise…)? (I can) #HTreads

A central conceit, which at the time I thought was the weakest Snow Crash idea, because it didn’t jibe with what I thought I knew about computer science and neuroscience, was a virus that could jump from the digital world to the human biological world, through the computer screen. Ha! I thought this was ridiculous. But I kept reading, everything else was to bloody good. Besides, I think I sensed, Snow Crash was a bit of a parody, kind of like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which was also full of lovely ridiculous stuff. Little did I know, at least metaphorically, of today’s systematic manipulation of public opinion via fake news.

2. What do you think about the metaphor of fake news as a virus, traveling over digital social networks, leaping from human host to host? #HTreads

Read this description of the “Metaverse”:

“The Metaverse, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson’s vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Resembling a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), the Metaverse is populated by user-controlled avatars as well as system daemons.”

Note, the Metaverse is much more than just networked virtual reality:

“The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space,including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet”

3. How might a “Metaverse” virtual reality-based Internet, resembling a massively multi-player online game, affect digital health? The Internet of Health? What about the Social Virtual Reality of Health?

Science fact: “Scientists have developed a brain-computer interface that reads the brain’s blood oxygen levels and enables communication by deciphering the thoughts of patients who are totally paralyzed and unable to talk.” (Paralyzed patients communicate thoughts via brain-computer interface)

4. The Metaverse is much more than VR (“virtually enhanced physical reality AND physically persistent virtual space”) how might the Metaverse be used to help patients who are totally paralyzed and unable to talk cope?

5. If you could write a science fiction novel that literally will change the world (just as Snow Crash began to do, 25 years ago), what would be it’s title? It’s scientific advance? The morale of your story?

Thank you for being interested, with me, in the realization of a cool, influential, science fiction idea, the Metaverse, or what I call, in its baby form, social virtual reality. I hope you’ll join me in this infant Metaverse during #HIMSS18. Just show up and follow the instructions!

A New Venue Two Hours Each Day During #HIMSS18: Social Virtual Reality!

[Looking for the event links?]

Whether you are in Las Vegas at #HIMSS18, or experiencing extreme FOMO elsewhere, you can hang out in social virtual reality with other virtually-present attendees, in a very cool meeting space, on a hill in a very cool park. In that meeting space (over my left shoulder) you can watch live video feeds from HIMSSTV. If you need a break from scintillating conversation with other #himssVR aficionados, wander around outside, listening to the chirping birds and the gurgling brook.

This post is mostly about mechanics of joining us in virtual reality during HIMSS18 (when and how). If you want to more about why, I’ve written a backgrounder: Shared Social Virtual Reality Networking for Health IT.

Pre-#himssVR workflow:

  • Sign up for AltspaceVR
  • Download the free PC or Mac “2D” clients
  • Visit the 24/7 Campfire event to practice controlling your VR avatar (top of your screen, after you log in)
  • Check out upcoming featured events (the eclipse-watching party was awesome!) & perhaps indicate your interest (you’ll be notified when they are about to start)
  • If you have a compatible phone, buy a Daydream or GearVR headset.
  • Of course, if you already have an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Microsoft Mixed Reality headset, very cool!
  • But remember, the free 2D-clients do not require a VR headset to participate!

Now go to the landing pages for each of the upcoming #HIMSS18 #himssVR social VR events and indicate your interest! You’ll be notified when each event is about to start, but easy-to-remember will get you there too!

Once you enter one of the #HIMSS18 V R events, here is a suggested workflow:

  • Look for me (the brunette in a blue shirt in the banner)
  • Move toward me (desktop arrow keys or mouse, zoom on tablet or smartphone, look and click in a VR headset)
  • Unmute yourself (look down & left, click the red mic symbol, swivel using right mouse button, see below for visual)
  • Say hi!
  • Click on me to pop up a dialogue box and friend me (or send a text message, if having tech problems).
  • As other VR avatars pop into existence, greet them too (ask them where they are from, etc: Mingle!)
  • Watch the meeting room screen… wander around outside (birds chirping, brooks burbling, leaves falling, so cool!)
  • Take a selfie (lower left, camera symbol) & post it to social media
  • Think about how cool this would all be if you had a virtual reality headset! (if you don’t already have a Vive, Rift, Mixed Reality, Daydream, or GearVR)

Here is a bit more orientation. This screen capture shows three useful things to understand.

First, I’m the skinny brunette guy in the blue shirt (VR is thinning!). Look for me! The reason you can see me is I am looking in a mirror at myself. Over my shoulder is the virtual reality meeting space. On the far wall, is a projection screen, currently showing the #HIMSS18 website. I can play videos on that screen. I’m hoping to stream some HIMSSTV live videos there. But the most important aspect to understand is the menu in the lower left. If you click in the center on the triangle thingy (AltspaceVR’s logo), you’ll pop up an other menu with lots of options, the most important of which is “Exit” (extreme upper right). When you first pop into existence in virtual reality, your microphone is muted. Click (or look at and tap) the topmost microphone symbol to unmute. Headphones are suggested! Then move toward me (or some other avatar) to say hi. Closer you are, the louder the possible conversation. Next, look at the laughing emoji the lower right. Click that and you can cause other folks to see emojis over your head: smileys, frownies, hearts (you like what you are hearing/seeing), as well as hands (as in, raising your hand to ask a question during a presentation). Finally, most important of all, on the left is a camera symbol, so you can capture selfies, or reverse the camera to take pictures.

I’m as excited about health IT networking in social virtual reality as I was when first discovered Twitter, 10 years ago. I am convinced that, in five to ten years, we will take for granted our ability to instantly teleport to all kinds of fantastical and practical environments, interact with many of the same folks on Twitter we currently follow and converse with now. I hope you’ll join me in the new social media Matrix!

PS Follow me, Chuck Webster, MD, on Twitter, at!

Happy Valentines Day, Workflow, My Love!

Sometimes wonderful tweets get lost in the mist of time,
Sometimes they get archived in blog posts about rhyme!