I just finished reading “Neuromancer” by William Gibson. It’s one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Along with several others, it was the book that launched the whole “cyberpunk” genre in science fiction. What’s that? It’s hard to pin it down exactly, but there’s a lot of being on the net in a virtual way, total technology domination of the world, amoral and vicious characters, and a general world weariness… The original “Max Headroom” gave you a taste of it. You can also look to the “Ghost in the Shell” movies and series to get a more modern take on on the genre.
Neuromancer war written in 1984, and it shows. To me, it reeks of the 80’s. I remember what the future was supposed to hold, a never-ending cold war with the soviets, japanese corporations running the world, and a general disintegration of all moral orders. As a story, it’s OK. Truth be told, sci-fi books have always left me flat, but at least I was entertained.
The most interesting thing for me was how his vision of the future looked and how closely it resembled today’s reality. Gibson’s view of cyberspace is still in the future. In his world, cyberspace is an all-encompassing virtual world. When you “jack in” you leave this world and enter a totally different one. You float in space, appearances are dynamic and can shift at an instance. We’re still a ways from that although I wouldn’t argue about how far away. Technology moves so fast that it’s difficult to have any good idea about what’s going to happen even in the near future.
That’s where Gibson had some trouble. The birth of the internet as we know it today happened 5 or 6 years after he wrote this book. He understood the extent of information that would be involved, but not the amount. At one point, we were supposed to try and even conceive of thousands of megabytes being transmitted across cyberspace. Can you imagine? Thousands of megabytes! LOL, I have 100,000 (or so) megabytes of storage on my computer, I can’t really imagine what something like google of you-tube goes through, and neither could Gibson at the time.
What we might consider the more pedestrian things that he missed are actually much more influential that his big ideas. Things like cell phones are totally absent from his world. Along with that is the ubiquitousness of the internet. In his world, only certain people with the right equipment had access. In our world, anyone with a decent cell phone has access.
I’m not picking on Gibson, nobody could see how things were going to unfold. It’s a good lesson to be taught from time to time, even the most visionary of artists can’t imagine how little things like cell phones will totally transform the world. We need to keep that in mind whenever we engage in long term plans. Things in the future will not be the same as they are now. That seems obvious enough, but we tend to only think of the big things that will change, not the incredible number of little things that totally transform day to day life. It’s also important to remember than things can indeed get better. Technology doesn’t have to be dehumanizing the way it is in so may sci-fi books. The internet has made the world a smaller one, and I think that’s real progress.