Marriage in the Metaverse | 2218

8th May 1996, 26 years ago tomorrow. Tomas Landhaus and Janka Stanhope were married in the metaverse. Plus my chapter in the new book Lost Zone.

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Marriage in the Metaverse

The word metaverse becoming a buzzword over the last year has exposed how vapid, shallow, and incurious the media is. The โ€˜new thingโ€™ is always the hot thing, and the โ€˜new hot thingโ€™ canโ€™t possibly be an โ€˜old thingโ€™. 

Some of the most frustrating headlines are โ€œThe Metaverseโ€™s First Runway Show Is Hereโ€, โ€œMetaverse Fashion Weekโ€ described as the first event of its kind, โ€œFaceless to Create the First Fashion Show of the Metaverseโ€. Are all factually incorrect. 

The first documented virtual fashion show in the quote unquote Metaverse, took place in the virtual chat world โ€˜Minds Palaceโ€™. Launched by Electric Minds and Zenda Studio in 1991. 

The longer I work alongside teams doing worlding and building metaverse related things. The more I ask myself: What did they do the first time round? What did they do in the 90s?, how did it work, and how did it fail? 

As a result Iโ€™ve been reading loads of old books about the Metaverse. Reading about MUDs and esoteric shared mainframe environments from the 1970โ€™s. There is so much out there.

Since the pandemic kicked off, Iโ€™ve spent many hours playing the 1995 metaverse game Active Worlds. So much so that I have a chapter in a new book published this week: Lost Zone. Hiking the dawn of Metaverse. 

Hereโ€™s the books blurb: 

For a decade, from the mid-1990s, Active Worlds was the most popular user-created virtual environment on the internet. It was an online zone full of precedent and potential; a worldbuilding exercise and infrastructure holding the promise of a self-electing global citizenry amidst virtual constructions of their own imagination and creation. Coming from a background in architecture, editors Andrea Belosi and Joana Rafael have led an expedition through the remains of Active Worldโ€™s principal territory, AlphaWorld.

Infused with principles of psychogeography and urbanism, and sprinkled with the dream logic that seasons virtual realities, four avatars were enlisted to walk in relay the 655 digital kilometres that separate AlphaWorldโ€™s northern and southern limits.

Alongside an atlas of AWโ€™s 495 public and private worlds, and details of the online platformโ€™s social and technical construction, rules and labor, Lost Zone draws a line through the ruins of our recent digital past, to gain insights into our hybrid present.

My chapter is about 90โ€™s online worldbuilding as a luxury good. The American Frontier, junkspace, and the aesthetics of American Sprawl. If that sounds like your thing – the book is published by Viaindustriae Publishing and distributed by Idea Books.

One of the more egregious media trends are the articles treating marriage in the metaverse as a sort of new and quirky subject.

Yet Bruce Damerโ€™s 1997 book: โ€˜Avatars: Exploring and Building Virtual Worldsโ€™ tells the story of the first Metaverse wedding. Not the first on-line wedding, but the first to take place in a three dimensional virtual world on the Internet. 

26 years ago tomorrow at 6pm CET. May the 8th 1996 – Tomas Landhaus then 27, and Janka Stanhope 31, were married inside a pavilion specifically constructed for the occasion by users of Active Worlds. The couple first met at the game’s spawn point, got chatting and then met in real life and fell in love. I do wonder if they are still together? Itโ€™d make a fantastic documentary.

The wedding itself was an elaborate affair. Besides the building of the pavilion, music was arranged and piped in via MIDI. Custom avatars were made for the bride, groom and best man. In the game, many coordinated actions by participants were required to make it a success. Including: Wayfinding guides to take people to the pavilion. Crowd control measures to keep the event from degenerating into unstructured chaos. Photojournalism to capture the event for coverage by the many web-based community newspapers. Iโ€™ll include a photo of the wedding from Damerโ€™s 1996 ACM Interactions conference paper (previously) in the show notes. 

Inhabited Virtual Worlds: A New Frontier for Interaction Design

After the wedding, Tomas, the groom, drove 3,100 miles from San Antonio, Texas, to Tacoma Washington to kiss the bride.

But this wasnโ€™t the first online wedding. The very first was in 1876.

Yes, 1876.

Back when on-line meant โ€˜on the telegraph lineโ€™.

The story is recounted in full in Tom Standageโ€™s excellent book โ€˜The Victorian Internetโ€™. With information sourced from the 1891 edition of the Telegraph Journal Western Electrician. Which can be found online, scanned at google books.

146 years ago, the telegraph operator William Storey was posted to Camp Grant military base in Arizona. In April of 1876 he applied for leave to travel to San Diego to marry his fiancee, Clara Choate. His request was denied.

Crestfallen, Storey hit upon an idea. ‘Why can we not be married by telegraph?‘. Contracts executed over telegraph lines were binding after all.

So he did. Choate travelled 650-miles by wagon to remote Camp Grant and a minister in San Diego agreed to perform the ceremony via telegraph.

The coupleโ€™s plan caught the attention of Lieutenant Philip Reade – the man in charge of government telegraph lines. Who loved the idea. He issued the following order to all line operators:

โ€œYou are hereby informed that the wires of this division after 8 pm, April 24th will be used for the purpose of conducting a marriage ceremony by telegraph between San Diego and Camp Grant, and you and your friends are specially invited to be present on the occasion, to assist if necessary and to see that good order is maintained.โ€

The ceremony took place in real time. Well at the 40 words per minute the telegraph permitted. The reverend spoke slowly at one end – his words dotted and dashed – then read aloud again at the other.

When it was time to say โ€œI Doโ€ both Storey and Choate tapped on the telegraph key, and signed the transmission with their names.

The whole story is just delightful. 

Anyways, the point is: There is nothing new under the sun.
Neither now in 2022 is there anything truly new online.


The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.

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One response to “Marriage in the Metaverse | 2218”

  1. […] Iโ€™m trying in my own small way to prevent that. The thing is, Iโ€™m excited about the idea of the so-called metaverse, because Iโ€™m still the same person who was obsessed with the Internet as a […]

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