Palo Alto, October 1994
Tiny Life, ©1998
The Low-Humming Room Full of Bone-White Boxes
You are in a quiet, low-lit room full of
stacked metal boxes, their surfaces mostly
white, like old bones, studded here and
there with pale green-yellow pin-point
lights that flicker on and off. The boxes
are computers, 25 of them or so:
collectively they hum a damped and hissing
drone. There is carpeting beneath your feet
-- thin, corporate, and clean. There is an
exit to the south.
You see The Server here.
Pavel and The_Author are here.
Pavel says, "Well, there it is. Not much to
look at, really."
The_Author looks at The Server.
You see a box as unremarkable as any other in
this room, only more so. Three feet square
by one foot high, some cables slithering
out the back, no flickering lights or any
other outward indication of activity
within. The box sits at about knee level,
stacked unceremoniously on top of another
one just like it.
The_Author has come 3000 miles to look at
The_Author crouches for a better look and
wonders at his disappointment. He didn't
think he was so foolish as to hope for more
than this. He didn't expect to feel the
emptiness he feels inside him now. He can't
imagine what it is he expected, really.
The_Author stands and glances momentarily at
You see a portrait of Santa Claus as an early-
middle-aged man. Thick brown hair to
shoulder length, a full, dark beard, and
eyes that underneath their long, fine
lashes actually do appear to twinkle in the
manner of the mythical Father Christmas.
But Pavel is otherwise not very mythic-
looking. He is wearing jeans and running
shoes, and his T-shirt hangs loosely over a
He is awake and looks alert.
Pavel is also known as Pavel, Pavel_Curtis,
Haakon, Lambda, The_Archwizard,
Keeper_of_the_Server, and God.
Pavel seems, perhaps, to sense the Author's
wish that there were even the slightest
note of drama to be wrung from this
profoundly uneventful moment.
Pavel says, "Well you know, I brought
PennyAunty down here once and do you know
what she said?"
Pavel says, " 'My world is in there.' "
Pavel mimes, with outstretched hands and
eyebrows raised, the wonder that his
earlier visitor felt before the silent,
bone-white presence of the Server.
The_Author smiles awkwardly. He is the
slightest bit embarrassed. He knows now
what it is he was expecting to find here,
and it's ludicrous: He really felt, without
admitting it to himself, that he was going
to see what PennyAunty only pretended to
see. He thought that he was coming here to
finally gaze directly at a world he had
been living in for months.
The_Author realizes now that during all those
months he never really doubted LambdaMOO
was in this box, compact, condensed, its
rambling landscapes and its teeming
population all somehow shrunk down to the
size of the server's hard-disc drive.
The_Author remembers with a twinge of
newfound understanding the way the people
there sometimes attached the curious prefix
"tiny" to the features of their world, the
way they spoke of "tinyscenery," and
"tinygovernment," and so on.
The_Author thinks of how impossible it was to
ever quite believe the place was not, in
fact, a place. Of how he never could quite
shake the thought that LambdaMOO existed
somewhere in a concrete sense, that
somewhere, out beyond the scrim of fantasy
and distance through which he interacted
with the MOO, it waited to be seen unveiled
-- an X on the map of the material world, a
thing as tangible as any rock, or house, or
The_Author knows he isn't the first person to
make this kind of mistake. He knows that
new technologies like this one have a
history of sowing metaphysical derangement
in the minds of those who first behold them
-- that in the middle 19th century, for
example, even educated Frenchmen were known
to fear the camera's gaze, suspecting that
it could not work its representational
magic on a person without stealing a little
of his soul.
The_Author, come to think of it, is carrying
a small camera in his pocket at this very
moment. Why not? he asks himself.
The_Author pulls the camera out and aims it
at the Server, and shoots. Perhaps, he
muses (deciding to indulge his metaphysical
derangement just a little longer), perhaps
through some strange alchemy of
representational technologies the camera
has captured an image of the Server's soul.
Perhaps it will produce a photograph of
what he came to see: The tiny world of
LambdaMOO and all the tiny people in it.
The_Author puts the camera back in his
pocket. Three weeks from now he will hold
in his hands the photo he's just taken and
he'll look at it and think, "My world is
not in there. The 1s and 0s of it maybe,
the nuts and bolts. But not its soul."
The_Author will have to start all over then.
He will have to try and find another way of
representing what the camera failed to show.
He'll have to go back to the night it all
began for him and trace his steps from