Daily Archives: August 8, 2012

Neuromancer: The Internet as The Sprawl

Hello again, everyone! Last week we took a brief look at the influence of William Gibson’s book Neuromancer on the science fiction genre and brought it into the mainstream. This week I want to get down to a more specific area in which I believe Gibson’s book truly innovates, and arguably prognosticate (to use another fun buzzword).

**Warning: Book Contains Graphic Content. Reader Discression is Advised.**

            Gibson’s Internet Future: The Sprawl

the internet cyberspace the sprawl

The Internet of our imagination…

Scenario time: you have a relative that’s been in a coma for 25 years (car crash, illness, very dramatic, etc. etc.). They wake up, and miraculously make a full recovery. Confused and overwhelmed, they ask you to explain to them what this “Interweb” thing is. How would you describe it? Maybe you would start with the dictionary definition:

 Internet: an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world.

But you likely wouldn’t stop there, because such a clinical description doesn’t give an adequate understanding of what the internet means That definition is correct, but the Internet is not just about connecting computers together, it’s about connecting people together, and any time people are together, culture is created and the world changes.

In Neuromancer, Gibson defines the system of networked computers as “the matrix” (yes, the Wachowski brothers borrowed the term for their movies). Here’s how he describes it in the book:

            “The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games… in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks… Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.  Like city lights, receding…”

internet diagram

…The Internet of reality, for now…

Not quite our internet yet, but we’re getting closer every day, aren’t we? Keep in mind, it was 1984 when Gibson’s book was published. Internet protocols were only standardized two years earlier, and in the year Neuromancer was published, DNS (Domain Name Servers) were introduced, letting people type in website names (like lanternhollowpress.com) instead of ip addresses (123.456.789.10). The best internet modem speed they had was 2.4 kilabits per second, so even simple text documents could take hours (click here if you’re interested in reading about the history of the internet!).

Video games, particularly Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s for short) make a mint creating worlds for players to connect to and play in together. Some, like the infamous Second Life, focus not on creating a fantasy or science fiction world to fight monsters in and blow each other up, but basically just do whatever you want.

Brain-computer interfaces are in the works (although seemingly far off… I talked about this a bit here). Augmented and virtual reality, however, is right around the corner with things like  Google’s Project Glass and the much-anticipated independently developed Oculus Rift headset. In many ways, Gibson’s vision of cyberspace has become the vision that everyone strives for, consciously or no. It has become a collective dream not unlike the “consensual hallucination” Gibson describes, and a standard for science fiction that persists and will likely continue until it becomes a complete reality.

That’s it for now! Next week we’ll take a look at another pillar of cyberpunk (and sci-fi by extension), cyborgs. Until then, how close do you think we’ll get to Gibson’s dream? Let me know in the comments below!