Space Ramblings

William Gibson Predicts the Future

I’ve never been enamored with William Gibson. His original cyberpunk novels were brilliant and startling, at least until you read more than two and realized they were all variations of the same story. A technological future, dislocated characters and the birth of a digital entity that can be considered almost godlike. It was great until you saw it done over and over again. These days William Gibson has been reduced to writing thrillers (if you don’t count his weak X-Files episode) which is no doubt a better career choice than writing cyberpunk, a rather endangered genre these days, but not exactly hugely credible.

As usual interviews play up the Cyberspace angle, some even going as far as to credit William Gibson with inventing the internet. I don’t think that one even merits addressing but the milder claims that treat him as a prophet are rather iffy.

Gibson, despite a modicum of false modesty on his part, is a man credited as Wells’ equal as a prophet.

Considering that H.G. Wells was hardly a prophet, he was a socialist elitist with a belief in technology giving rise to a one world government. His books are interesting but what exactly does War of the Worlds predict? Or The Time Machine? Nothing that came true.

Gibson is often referred to as the man who coined the term “cyberspace”, in 1982, nine years before Tim Berners-Lee created the internet programming language HTML

Yes but so what? We use cyberspace as a term but what it refers to doesn’t much resemble what William Gibson used it to refer to. One is Science Fiction. One is Science Fact. The first space shuttle was called the Enterprise but it couldn’t hit Warp 6.

Gibson’s 2003 novel Pattern Recognition describes a minority population obsessed by online video clips, two years before YouTube started casting visual titillation across the world’s computer screens.

I hate to break the news to the good folks at the Belfast Telegraph but people were watching video clips online long before YouTube. YouTube simply added a one stop popular site, site embedding and rode the broadband wave.

When pressed to predict, he will describe a plastic-free tomorrow; a world in which the computerised and physical worlds become less clear-cut; a place where people’s social standing is defined by their “connectivity”, or access to communications technology

Oh gee whiz. I doubt plastic is going anywhere but at least that one is plausible. A “world in which the computerised and physical worlds become less clear-cut” that old chestnut? It’s a generic statement that means nothing. As for people’s social standing becoming define by their connectivity, that’s always been the case but social status is what gives you connectivity in the first place.

“It won’t be a lack of money that defines you,” he continues, describing how in his Canadian home, being “plugged in” is chillingly ubiquitous. And he doesn’t just mean that the rich have the gadgets. “In Vancouver sometimes I see homeless people with mobiles. You can go into 7-11 and buy these disposable phones. I always assume they are calling other homeless guys, or their mothers.”

Yes but how many homeless people have iPhones? How many have WiFi enabled laptops? How many have blackberries? The people who have those things usually have some amount of money and a social or professional life that requires connectivity. A disposable mobile phone is not connectivity. A blog with 300,000 readers a month is. Or 40,000 friends on MySpace. Or a high PageRank or Digg popularity rating.

“We are headed for a world where refrigerators and fountain pens have more RAM than a Mac.”

So what? We’re nearly there anyway. Pen USB flash drives can hold gigabytes. Of course if we’re talking RAM then we’re probably talking some sort of scanner built into the fountain pen. Again existing technology. A good expensive restaurant fridge can already give the Mac a run for its money but what’s the point?

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