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"The world is really so surreal these days that it's necessary for us to blunt it somehow in order to stay sane. The artist functions to short-circuit the buffering mechanism, so that people can occasionally perceive the weirdness of things as they are."
- William Gibson

Metaverse  
  A virtual universe.  

In the novel, people could use their computers to enter the Metaverse, and use their avatars to meet with their friends and explore.

As Hiro approaches the Street, he sees two young couples, probably using their parents' computers for a double date in the Metaverse, climbing down out of Port Zero, which is the local port of entry and monorail stop. He is not seeing real people, of course. This is all a part of the moving illustration drawn by his computer according to specifications coming down the fiber-optic cable. The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse. Hiro's avatar is now on the Street, too, and if the couples coming off the monorail look over in his direction, they can see him, just as he's seeing them. They could strike up a conversation: Hiro in the U-Stor-It in L.A. and the four teenagers probably on a couch in a suburb of Chicago, each with their own laptop. But they probably won't talk to each other, any more than they would in Reality.
From Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.
Published by Bantam in 1992
Additional resources -

From the outside, it looks like this:

Through the use of electronic mirrors inside the computer, this beam is made to sweep back and forth across the lenses of Hiro’s goggles, in much the same way as the electron beam in a television paints the inner surface of the eponymous Tube. The resulting image hands in space in front of Hiro’s view of Reality….

So Hiro’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer generated universe that’s drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse. It beats the shit out of the U-Stor-It.

For earlier takes on the idea of a virtual universe, take a look at the entry for cyberspace from William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer and the entry for Portal from Vernor Vinge's 1981 novella True Names.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Snow Crash
  More Ideas and Technology by Neal Stephenson
  Tech news articles related to Snow Crash
  Tech news articles related to works by Neal Stephenson

Metaverse-related news articles:
  - Second Life - Your Virtual World Is Ready Now
  - Second Life Now Has Reporters, Taxes

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