4 JANUARY 2023


This text is an editorial extract and conversation, from and with, Alexandra Olympia Peristeraki’s thesis

Is it possible to have birds in the Metaverse?.



In recent years, threads from various cultural and political lineages surfaced in the public consciousness, and culminated in the product of the Metaverse. A blend of libertarian ideology, computation, cryptographic technology, the dying business models of legacy Silicon Valley companies, and deteriorating material conditions.

While relatively new in popular culture, it has an extensive history with roots in wartime efforts, counterculture, (cyber)libertarianism and science fiction.


The term ‘Metaverse’ was coined by Neil Stephenson and it was first mentioned in his 1992 science fiction novel

Snow Crash

. In the novel, the Metaverse is a three-dimensional world where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents [1]. In his book, Stephenson describes a dystopian future set in Los Angeles after a worldwide economic collapse, where the world is dominated by private corporations. Working class individuals have no value for society and can be killed for frivolous reasons, like not delivering pizza on time. The Metaverse acts as a getaway and a means for working class citizens to earn extra income. Since higher resolution is more expensive, the quality of a user’s avatar signifies the social class they belong to, thus class stratification migrates from the physical to the virtual world [2].

In Stephenson’s Metaverse, users that have enough capital, can build anything they desire, defying the laws of physics or even ethics; there are designated spaces where users can enter and battle each other to death. Anything is allowed in the Metaverse, humanity’s worst impulses like any form of violence, and exploitation are enabled [2]. In the book, the Metaverse is not another optional form of entertainment, it is a necessary tool for individuals to escape the bleakness of reality. Ernest Cline’s 2011 book

Ready Player One

, which later was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg, is heavily influenced by

Snow Crash

and portrays a similar reality with the Oasis as an escapist virtual world, while the physical world suffers from inequality and violence.



Snow Crash

seems to have predicted the pressing issues of digital utopia proposals. The monopolisation of digital spaces, the carrying over of existing models of exploitation, the augmentation of reality as a result of material decline, and the disposability of the working class.


Choice of words is a topic that comes up often in techno-utopianism, due to a tendency to identify technical terms with politically charged stances. Since the beginning, computer scientists have been using words as metaphors to describe digital applications and tools, in order to make something abstract more user friendly [3]. A network that is decentralised and autonomous means that it functions technically in a decentralised and autonomous manner, but that does not necessarily mean that it is politically autonomous and decentralised. They are presented as such by techno-utopian proponents, because both are considered inherently ethical. In reality, given that a smaller number of people have accumulated most of the crypto wealth, and that Ethereum mining (prior its switch to proof-of-stake) was hoarded by the few mining pools which had access to the computational power needed [4, 5], cryptocurrencies and


, which are vital tools of the Metaverse, became practically centralised in the economic sense.

Galloway and Thacker have looked into the manifestations of control and power in networks and revealed that there is always control and governance in a network, even if it is decentralised. Networks are not necessarily controlled by “one”, but they are still controlled. They claim that in decentralised networks there is control, as much as there is in pyramidal forms of governance [6, p. 39].


This obfuscation has been utilised on both the Web2 and Web3 sides of the equation. Web2 corporations like Meta are aiming to, by association to freedom and democracy, conceal their total, almost state-like, control of digital spaces.

On the other hand, many Web3 organisations like


, utilise a “one token = one vote” governance model, which is designed to favour those with more access to capital, as well as the risk factor of early investing, again carrying over legacy financial exclusion to Web3. Most definitely there are aspects of the latter that allow for more equitable governance structures, and wealth accumulation for some previously excluded groups. Projects like Gitcoin distributes funding to projects with agreeably positive social and environmental impact. The tokenisation of art finally allows digital and performance artists to exhibit and monetise their works, after a decades-long struggle, reaching back to the 1960s.

However, such applications are more the exception than the rule, and both new and legacy organisations are investing heavily to keep existing power structures intact. Ultimately, the underlying political blindspots of digital utopias can be traced back to the libertarian viewpoint.



For many on the left, blinded by misinformation in their filter bubbles, the “computer revolution” is the last hope they have for overthrowing the system [8]. As Mirowski has noted, the fathers of libertarianism had little concern on making their conceptual position clear, they were more interested in accumulating and handling political power. Members on the surface were preferred to not fully understand the connection the members closer to the core had [8, 9]. Similarly to techno-utopians, some anticapitalists or leftists believe that technology is the answer to every social and economic issue, and sometimes leave technology uncritical, on “autopilot”, forsaking it in the hands of others, assuming it is an inherently democratic tool.

Machines were created and sold for profit, for capitalism’s preservation through capital gain and surveillance. Software and hardware exists because they are the offsprings of capitalism and these offsprings will not turn on their fathers.

Even the “hippy” component of the equation affected computation in a not-so-positive manner. People who used to identify as hippies could only perceive the world through their white, middle class privilege. Building a digital utopia for them meant replicating their already utopian physical world and assume that all inequalities and suffering will vanish and will not be carried with them in cyberspace, as if by entering the digital, users go through a portal that washes off all their prejudices and privileges.

In terms of freedom then, who can be a free individual, courtesy of technological innovation? Only the ones who can afford the equipment and the Metaverse cryptocurrency. Their disregard of the less privileged is immanent in their goal to privatise every state-owned organisation, even though more and more citizens struggle under the siege of enormous debts; for instance the healthcare system in the United States has caused $140 billions of debt in total to individuals [11], and privatised education has generated student debts reaching $1.57 trillions [12]. Individualists who promote privatisation and techno-utopianism are the ones who will benefit financially from it. They created an elitist system that makes the wealthy wealthier and guilts the less fortunate into thinking they did not work hard enough, that are not smart enough, or technological savvy enough to deserve a cut from the profits they helped to create.


The underlying faith in technology and its delivery of freedom then seems rather naïve. Much like the internet in its Wild West days was considered in the same regard as Web3 and Metaverses, this new step of digital mediation can be a mere augmentation of existing exploitative systems.

Metaverse hardware and software are inherently political, and historically, as with any technology from the flint to the smartphone, are vessels for culture. ‘Regimes change, but culture perseveres’. If a culture of exploitation and gatekeeping preserves, we will likely see such intentions amplified by the latest developments in cyberspace.


[1] N. Stephenson,

Snow Crash

. London: United Kingdom: Penguin, 2011.

[2] B. Merchant. ‘The Metaverse Has Always Been a Dystopian Idea’. Vice.


(accessed December 19, 2022).

[3] L. Manovich. ‘Inside Photoshop’. Computational Culture.


(accessed December 19, 2022).

[4] A. Hern. ‘Bitcoin rise could leave carbon footprint the size of London’s’. The Guardian.


(accessed December 19, 2022).

[5] J. Walton. ‘GPU Shortages Will Worsen Thanks to Coin Miners’. Tom’s Hardware.


(accessed December 19, 2022).

[6] A.R Galloway and E. Thacker,

The Exploit

. Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

[7] M. Wigley, ‘Network Fever’,

Grey Room

, volume 39, pp. 82-122, June 2001, doi: 10.1162/152638101750420825

[8] D. Golumnia. ‘Cyberlibertarians’ Digital Deletion of the Left’. Jacobin.


(accessed December 19, 2022).

[9] P. Mirowski,

Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste

, London: United Kingdom: Verso Books, 2014.

[10] P. Borsook, ‘Cyberselfish: Ravers, Guilders, Cyberpunks, And Other Silicon Valley Life-Forms’, 4

Yale Symp. L. & Tech

. 4, 2001.

[11] S. Kliff and M. Sanger-Katz. ‘Americans’ Medical Debts Are Bigger Than Was Known, Totaling $140 Billion’. The New York Times.


(accessed December 19, 2022).

[12] D. Kurt. ‘Student Loan Debt: 2022 Statistics and Outlook’. Investopedia.


(accessed December 19, 2022).