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.