Sunday, September 25, 2011

Naming cyberspace

Marking Penguin's reissue of six of William Gibson's novels, yesterday's Guardian ran a good article on the godfather of cyberpunk. Most of it is drawn from the Paris Review (here), but what is so interesting is Gibson's account of how he coined the term 'cyberspace'. There's no reason to doubt him, is there? I was reminded of the way that Jaron Lanier claimed the term 'virtual reality'. Because these histories are recent, the people are still around to tell the story. Like 'virtual reality', the term 'cyberspace' has entered the vocabulary in a way that makes us think we know what we're talking about when often we don't. It's ten years now since I wrote a paper titled 'Teenagers in Cyberspace' (here), but I'll own up and say that at that time I hadn't read 'Neuromancer'. It was pure imitation, I'd heard the term cyberspace, liked it and used it. And so it goes on. The cyberspace/virtual reality meme really was nailed by Gibson as the Guardian article explains: 'Case, the hero of Neuromancer (1984), applies the dermatrodes of his cyberspace deck to his forehead, powers it up and jacks in to the matrix, his "inner eye" sees a "transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity", on which, or in which, is "a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system".' The idea was a stunning mash-up of drug sub-culture and what new technology was beginning to promise, and it generated a fascinating interplay between this imagined future and what computer labs were trying to develop.

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