Gibson’s “Neuromancer”

I’ve read some of Gibson’s work in the past, and despite the numerous awards and critical acclaim he’s received, I never really enjoyed the stories I had to read. I was wary about reading Neuromancer because I know in the other Gibson stories I read I had a really difficult time following the plot and keeping up with the glossary of terms he uses. While the same thing applied while reading Neuromancer– I had to read many pages more than once and made a list of definitions and terms, I found that I enjoyed it more than the other works I’ve read. I think that what made Neuromancer so much more enjoyable for me than, say, Burning Chrome was the context in which we read it. Following last week’s discussion on The Social Network and the previous discussion on 1984, I was able to appreciate the visionary nature of Neuromancer and the technologies it presented.

“Cyberspace” as imagined in Neuromancer isn’t just a tool; it has become an all-encompassing culture and way of life. Chiba City and the subculture that flourishes there are direct products of a way of life centered around the Internet and cyberspace. Case in particular belongs to this world so completely that when he loses the ability to “jack in” he falls into the depression that we find him in at the beginning of the book. Case constantly refers to things as being a part of the “meat”- the need to eat, use the bathroom, even have sex. Those are separate and distinct from what he wants for himself. For example, in Chapter 5 it says: “With his desk, he could reach the Freeside banks as easily as he could reach Atlanta. Travel was a meat thing” (75). Essentially, Case felt like he didn’t need to actually get up and go anywhere, because he could reach the same place with his deck and cyberspace; travel was only a “meat” or a physical body thing.

This world that Gibson created where subcultures and people such as Case exist- where cyberspace is almost their reality and the physical world is derogatorily considered a “meat thing”- has not come to fruition. With websites like Facebook, E-bay, iTunes, Wikipedia, Google, and online shopping prevalent, our world has slowly become more and more dependent on the Internet; however, we haven’t reached the point where Gibson’s Neuromancer world is. Furthermore, as far as I know the technologies present in Neuromancer do not exist in our world: the livable space colonies and the incredible AI technology are simply not there yet.

I did a quick Google search on Neuromancer and found this really great article: http://www.pcworld.com/article/167670/neuromancer_at_25_what_it_got_right_what_it_got_wrong.html

Essentially, this article reviews what technologies Neuromancer got right (and wrong) 25 years after its publication. So what did Gibson get right? For one thing, he got the whole “World Wide Web” thing right; the worldwide system with millions of computer linked in was still ten years away when Gibson wrote Neuromancer. Nevertheless, his image of a world where millions of people are “linked in” to the Internet is truly here; while we connect through computers (and not through wires and our brains), the concept is the same.  According to the author of this article, Gibson also got right our “fixation on technology.” To quote the author:

“Ultimately Neuromancer is a book about the increasing presence of technology in the life of human beings. This may well be the dominant story line of the 21st century. People in Neuromancer constantly use, wear, think about, and talk about technology in its various forms.”

While we don’t have the same fixation with wearing technology (like Molly’s eyes, Ratz’s teeth, etc.) technology is a constant presence in our lives and continues to increase in influence every day and with every new development.

So while Gibson definitely got some aspects right, there are several technologies present in Neuromancer that aren’t a part of our everyday life. For example, simstim technology (whereby one user is “jacked in” to another person’s consciousness) is referred to by the author of this article as “Far-fetched, far out, and far off, but pretty damn cool.”

Another technology that seems far off is the construct technology. As a quick refresher, construct technology (like the Dixie Flatline/McCoy Pauley construct) is basically a person’s entire consciousness- talents, memories, personality, and all- copied onto a ROM disc and able to be plugged in and accessed when necessary. While a person’s body might die, their consciousness can be saved. For the people in Neuromancer‘s world, technological concepts such as simstim, constructs, and AI raise a ton of philosophical and ethical questions that need to be addressed.

The world Gibson imagined in Neuromancer has not arrived. Whether technologies such as simstim and constructs will ever be developed is still to be seen. We live in a world where technology is constantly evolving and growing; it could be sooner than we expect that the implications of technology such as AI and simstim need to be addressed. What differentiates the technology of today from that seen in Neuromancer is both the scope and applications of the technology. Today’s technology, such as the world of Facebook that Mark Zuckerberg imagined, is definitely pervasive, but has not yet reached the point as seen in Neuromancer. Furthermore, technology within Neuromancer was far more advanced and capable of doing more things; as such, in some ways our technology can’t even compare to the technology present in Neuromancer. Gibson created an incredible world in Neuromancer. Nevertheless, it’s not hard to imagine a world in which those technologies exist.

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The Social Network

As an active Facebook user myself, I was interested in seeing what “The Social Network” would offer in terms of a greater picture of Facebook’s development and impact on the real world. In my everyday life it’s easy to see how much Facebook has exploded since I first opened my account five years ago; these days, nearly everyone I know has a Facebook account and spends much of their online time on the website. It seems like you can’t get away from it- a girl I know recently announced her engagement on Facebook and made her wedding a “Facebook event” in lieu of sending out real invitations! So to go back to Facebook’s humble beginnings in a dorm room at Harvard University is a fascinating thing to look at.

Whether or not Mark Zuckerberg took the idea of Facebook from the Winklevoss twins Mr. Narenda is irrelevant; what’s important is that the small idea they had turned into a cultural phenomenon. Like the Winklevoss twins explain to Mark near the beginning of the movie, their idea for Harvard Connect was much more than Myspace or Friendster: it would remain exclusive. Mark took that idea (or not) and ran with it: he wrote the code for this site and began opening it to Ivy League and top rated schools. Mark recognized what people wanted to use the internet for: to connect with people and to find out information about people they want to connect with!  Since its founding, Facebook has become much more than that. It now includes a marketplace, games, ads, personalization across multiple platforms and websites, and groups for anyone and everyone.

One of the most interesting lines from the movie is from Napster founder Sean Parker: “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” Like I mentioned before, Facebook has become so much more than just a way to connect: it has evolved into a website that includes within it nearly everything people may need on the internet. The Facebook world is fascinating; it’s an environment where people can come together, connect, reconnect, and meet new people with shared interests or networks. However, what it has also done is create a world where people have no need to socialize in real life; all people need to do is sit on their computer for hours and have no need to go out and actually do things! Many people get caught up in the ease of Facebook and forget the importance of real-life socializing as well.

Facebook is playing an integral part in the world of the internet, where Sean Parker claims the future will live. It’s just important to remember that there’s a real world out there as well. I still use Facebook, but I’ve learned to organize my priorities and not become absorbed by the internet culture at the expense of the outside world.

Also- if you have a free minute, I highly recommend this article: http://uwire.com/2011/10/24/column-too-much-facebook-use-stunts-conversational-skills-of-youth/ that talks about the downside of Facebook use among today’s youth. In case you don’t want to read the whole article, the gist of it is: “If this time of our lives is spent under the aforementioned “Facebook stalk” mentality, than we will lose the opportunity to develop these skills entirely. If we do not branch out from the comfortable confines of our computer screens during the few years we have at college, we run the risk of having little to no face-to-face conversational confidence or experience when we truly need it in the professional world.” That’s a scary thought!

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Orwell’s “1984”

“You understand well enough how the Party maintains itself in power. Now tell me why we cling to power. What is our motive? Why should we want power?… Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the goods of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power… Power is not a means; it is an end” (Orwell 262-3).

Throughout the entire novel, we’ve witnessed the absolute power of the Party; it has power over the past, present, and future. It utilizes various technologies (from the Telescreens to the implementation of a new language) to continually assert their power over everyone and everything in Oceania. While we see what the Party is able to do, it’s not until this point that we’re given the why. According to O’Brien, the why is actually very simple: the members of the Inner Party want power. According to O’Brien, unlike the Nazis or the Russian Communists, who hid their true motives behind the hope of ideal society just around the corner, the Party recognized their true motives.

Now that we understand what drives the Party, it becomes clear why they employ the technologies they do. Until this point, there has been no clear motive: the Party came about as a revolution, but where are the benefits to the people? At this point, we can recognize that the motivation all along has been pure power. To keep this power, the Party uses the Telescreens, Thought Police, Newspeak, etc. All the technologies we’ve witnessed throughout the book are used as a means of controlling every aspect of the Party member’s life.

The Party actively utilizes technology in order to control the people and keep them subjugated. While today we have no power actively doing this to us, I do wonder if in some ways we’re headed to a place where our whole lives are controlled by technology as well.

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