PlaceCoin, a Narrative (Part 3)

PlaceCoin imagines a near-future where augmented reality glasses are commonplace, and miraculously aren’t controlled by a single big tech company

Instead our glasses show us information, art, and history placed there by other users, who earn points and even money for placing great content that gets upvoted, and explores what that world might look like, good and bad.

This story is continued from PlaceCoin - Part Two

We were going to lose.

“Sam...”

“I know.” she said, still frantically working the controls in front of her, snapping up as many of the gaps as she could. Then she was out of Coin too.

Suddenly, Washington’s statue turned red on the map again.

“What?!” I heard her shriek next to me, and I saw it too. 4096 PLC. Someone had just dropped a quarter of a million cash on that spot, the most expensive buy I’d ever seen, even in Times Square. We snapped up the gaps around it, but it was futile. They quickly started to flip red again.

“We’re going to need help.” I heard myself say, and I started to pull up a terminal window.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, our plan has to change. We’ve have to go public now. Put the install up, show people what we’re trying to do, and what these trolls are trying to pull.”

Sam made one more big purchase, locking up the intersection at 16th and Broadway, and that was it. She was out of options unless she sold everything she’d worked on before. She hesitated.

“Do it.”

I keyed in a few triggers and started the deployment. Within a few minutes, each of the root nodes of the Coin we held was populated. As the transactions propagated, we could see the experience go live in the virtual world around us. I pulled off my VR headset, looking at the real-world Sam standing in my small apartment arms outstretched, watching the world inside the glasses.

“Sam” I said. “Let’s go see it live. Even if It’s just for a minute.”

She pulled off her VR headset, the impression of the light-blocking foam leaving a red mark around her cheeks. She nodded, we grabbed our gear, and started across town.

“I forgot that it was daytime!” I said, blinking at the early afternoon sun as we walked down 14th st. We’d been working in VR on the nighttime set, and it was jarring to return to a real world so different than the one we'd just inhabited. I'd remarked many times as we built Sam's installation - our installation now, I guess - on how much of the city was the same. So many of the buildings survived the ages, and even when they didn’t, their footprints endured and the invisible lines of real estate acted like force fields as new buildings grew in their place, taller and brighter.

We walked in silence until we came to the park.

People were pouring out of their offices and looking out their windows. I hadn’t realized what a stir this would create. We were standing amid the crowd now, and turned on our glasses.

We’d just unveiled the largest PlaceCoin installation in the world, and it was slowly crumbling in front of our eyes, and in front of the eyes of all the New Yorkers who were coming out to see. We could hear people ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the details, looking at the ways we’d changed the facades of the stores and the different shapes of the skyline around the park.

Sam looked up at me and smiled, and we heard the crowd gasp, sounding like a cross between a 4th of July fireworks audience and an angry mob. We looked in their direction, and the big banner hanging above the north end of Union Square to announce the electric lighting ceremony disappeared piece by piece as the patchwork of Places underneath it were bought out from under us. In their place, the worst of the internet emerged. A disgusting pastiche of memes, swastikas, dickbutts, and worse spewed forth from the dark corners of the internet. This was a huge, coordinated attack by well funded trolls, bots, and hate mongers, and people were getting pissed.

“Sam. We’ve gotta use this. We need help, and these people are pissed off that someone’s destroying what we just built before they even get to see it. You need to get a message out.”

She thought for a moment. I assumed she was worried about exposing herself to the internet masses - she already got enough hate mail just for having Girl in her name - then she just nodded.

“I’ll film” I said, nodding back at her as she climbed up onto a concrete block at the corner of the park. In my glasses, I could see the install behind her, partially damaged, and continuing to blink out of existence as we watched.

“Okay. Here goes” she said, and I pointed at her silently, to indicate that I was now streaming live through my glasses. “Hello internet. My name is Sam, but you probably know me as HistoryGirl. I’m standing in the middle of what was supposed to be the biggest and most ambitious AR installation in the history of PlaceCoin. I’ve spent the last year quietly gathering up the Places between Union Square and Madison Square Park to create a historical reenactment of the first run of electric lighting in New York, from the year 1880. Every corner, every storefront, every building has been restored to period in the experience, and as many of you guessed, I’ve been working with Will White to integrate my historical reenactment experience into his experience which digs deeper into the science and math of early electrical systems in partnership with the Museum of Math.”

“We’ve worked hard to bring this to life so everyone with a pair of AR glasses can explore the city as it was almost 150 years ago. But now, something has gone wrong. An army of trolls is buying up all of our places to ruin the installation and we’ve spent every Coin we have trying to fight them off. We’re broke and they just keep coming. Someone behind them has deep pockets.”

“So we’re calling on all of you. We need your help. PlaceCoin exists so that we can share free and open information integrated with the world around us. Information not controlled by Apple, Google, or Snap, but created by the people, for the people.”

“Every day detractors and pundits claim that PlaceCoin shouldn’t be part of the default experience on glasses. That the PlaceCoin community can’t be trusted to govern the information around us. We’ve proven them wrong before, and it’s time to do it again. Help us stand up to trolls and hate groups. Help us create something ambitious, beautiful, and amazing for everyone to share. We’re here in Union Square, live right now, fighting for what we’ve built. I hope you’ll join us, even if it’s just tonight before it’s all destroyed.”

Behind me, I heard a yell, and I startled, shaking the camera view along with my vision. I turned quickly, and saw that while she spoke, Samantha had gathered a crowd 100 people. They shouted in unison, and I smiled in amazement at the sound and suddenness of it.

I gestured to stop the video and looked back at Sam, and she was smiling too. Win or lose, we were going to fight for this.

I heard a chime in my earpiece, and saw the notification at the top right of my vision. I’d just been given control of a root node. Just a small one along the periphery, but someone had staked it with their own Coin and then given me control.

I looked over at Sam, and recognized the same thousand-yard stare. She was reading notifications as well, and they kept streaming in. The community was fighting back.

I climbed up on top of the concrete traffic-control block that Sam had perched on, and took my place next to her, as we’d been for the last few weeks. We set up a control center of screens in a half-circle around us and made them public so anyone could see them, trailing the latest transactions and showing the map of control as well as a heat-map of latest activity. We made community-controlled Places on the map Blue-Green, a mix of our two colors, and the map was starting to change back.

The battle raged into the evening. From the recesses of the internet, the trolls had decided to make this stand, and they were getting the attention and publicity they craved. But they were also losing.

While Sam and I worked, back to back, to purchase what we could and install the experience on nodes which had been bequeathed to us. Upvotes on the installs we had were pouring in, giving us more Coin to work with, as we worked, the crowd settled in as a type of encampment around us. Placers came in all different shapes and sizes, and we were surrounded by young and old, people in business suits and kids coming out of school. A few people had even dressed in old-timey costume or steampunk regalia, looking much like the NPCs that now wandered the streets among us as long as the install was up.

By dusk, it was clear. The tide had turned, and we were going to win. The crowd, both here and online, was downvoting the invaders en-masse, and that cost them real Coin and shrunk their places.

Sam and I pooled our own Coin into a consortium account along with everything we’d made in upvotes that day, and opened the account for contributions. By dusk, we knew the simulated sun towers would come on, brilliantly lighting the installation, and the NPC mayor would begin the lighting ceremony. We timed it perfectly, and at exactly that moment we repurchased the statue of Washington at the south end of the park.

Crowd+at+15th.jpg

I heard the cheer erupt from two blocks away and work it’s way north, and turned to Sam. We’d done it. Even at the edges of the install, the little incursions of red on the map were being stamped out by the community, and in the battle, the prices had been run up so high that it was unlikely that anyone would be able to afford to give us any trouble for a long time to come. In the meantime, the kerfuffle had gotten Sam a live spot on Cheddar from the front of the FlatIron (which now found itself surrounded by our installation), and the Curbed article had front-paged on Reddit and every other internet news source by dusk. Half a dozen Placer live streams were covering the event both in person and from VR, and the internet’s eyes were on us.

Sam turned towards me and I couldn’t think off anything less-cheesy to say than “we did it” so I just smiled at her.

Disembodied, I heard the crowd cheer, and at some point, I must’ve stumbled off the traffic block with her, because the next thing I knew we were walking hand-in-hand up Broadway among the crowd, looking up at the lights, and marveling at the stars behind them.

“Sam, this is....” I trailed off.

"You can say it."

“This is... magnificent."

"I know."

"You're going to make a *lot* of money.”

"I've already made a lot of money. What I want now is a lot of upvotes, and a lot of Coin. What I've got planned next is even bigger."