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Making the Metaverse

A personal history


Boston. Summer, 1993

Go west, young man.

Marina and I had pretty much decided we were moving to the west coast. She told me in no uncertain terms, “I’m not turning 25 in Boston.” The clock was ticking.

I was working in a Cambridge-based tech startup. My awesome, supportive bosses were amenable to me trying out this new “telecommuting” thing. Many of us were alumni of a local tech powerhouse called Bolt, Beranek and Newman. BBN was hatched as a consultancy specializing in audio engineering and IT, and by the time I had come and gone, the company had developed software products for networking, simulation and data analysis, too. No strangers to the fledgling Internet, my founders were more than willing to let their star software engineer and first hire go forth and try out the remote work thing, maybe even establish a west coast beachhead.

For a while, the wife and I debated between the tech hubs San Francisco and Seattle, finally settling on SF. We reckoned that its proximity to Silicon Valley and storied rebelliousness would present us with a broader canvas and richer palette. Right around then our dear friend Ken informed us that his boyfriend Greg’s high school bestie was visiting from San Francisco and throwing himself a party at their house — a wild Cambridge group home filled with former Mass College of Art folks (Marina’s alma mater) and for many years one of our touchstones in the Boston Area.

Ken declared, “he’s some super nerd and does weird cyberspace stuff,” and begged us to come so that the guy would have somebody to speak geek with. We had anchor friends ready and waiting for us to move out to San Francisco, but it’s always good to have a few more; bonus if they were in tech. So we were happy to wingman. I knew about the idea of “cyberspace” already, having read William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I also had some exposure to virtual reality, as Marina had helped organize a lecture by Jaron Lanier at her school. I had seen the 250-polygon flying purple lobsters; I was amused but not impressed.

Party time, and we were introduced to this tall, imposing, and — compared to most tech types I knew in the northeast — surprisingly self-assured fellow. Mark regaled us with tales of the SF scene, a goulash of coding, coffee, and counterculture. He was affable enough, though slightly aloof, or at least that’s how it seemed at the time. (I’ve since come to realize that it must require a significant effort on Mark’s part to converse with mere mortals. He is uniquely brilliant and, basically, from the future. I feel singularly blessed that Mark has continued to indulge me over the course of our nearly thirty year friendship and I do my best to keep up. And he really is a treasure of a human being.)

Mark explained that he had recently shuttered his startup, a foray into building the first consumer virtual reality system that ultimately flopped — for all the reasons that tech companies don’t make it. It was a high-flying and lurid tale. We were suitably impressed, but we had other priorities as we then proceeded to tell Mark we were moving to San Francisco later in the year, and by any chance does he know where we can score good psychedelics? Mark blurted out a perfect evil villain “MUAHAHA,” capped it with an “oh, honey let me tell you — ” and left it there.

And that’s how I met Mark Pesce. Six months later, Marina and I moved to San Francisco and looked him up. And soon the trajectory of my career — and my life — would be forever changed.



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Tony Parisi

Tony Parisi

Metaverse OG. Entrepreneur. Investor. Co-Creator, VRML & glTF. Head of XR Ads/E-Commerce, Unity Technologies. Pre-apocalyptic author. Music. @auradeluxe