Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Addicted to Cyberspace

I want to build upon Shelina's post, in which she compares the cyberspace in Neuromancer to our current experiences with the internet, arguing that "we seem to be capable of entering a type of virtual reality without the physical melding of human and machine."

My initial reaction to Gibson's cyberspace was extreme discomfort. To Case, at least, cyberspace seems a way of escaping reality. Without the ability to access it, Case becomes a suicidal drug addict, desperate for a way to escape the bleakness of reality. Once he reconnects, he cries "tears of release" (70), and quickly allows cyberspace to take over his entire existance: "This was it. This was what he was, who he was, his being" (79). As we saw in Tiptree's story The Girl Who Was Plugged In, virtual reality completely replaces Case's actual reality, with his virtual self become more real that the person he is without the assistance of the matrix. "He forgot to eat" (79), because real life no longer matters. And this addiction appears to be because real life is too boring, too painful, too unbearable. When he remembers Linda Lee, and her death, for example, "he jacks in and works for nine straight hours" (79), hiding from his own thoughts, his own reality, by immersing himself in a vibrant world where he gets to rule.

This resonates with our own current relationship with the internet, and with computers in general. Many people have become addicted to gaming, whether World of Warcraft or Farmville, with some individuals even literally playing themselves to death through extended gaming marathons. Even casual users can find hours of their day disappearing to constant refreshing of Facebook and PrincetonFML, clicking links of Wikipedia, or watching cats playing the piano on Youtube. Neuromancer seems to have predicted not only the existance of this network, but also its ability to help us to escape from the stresses and worries of our everyday lives, and the addictive nature of this possibility.

However, the more of Neuromancer I read, the more troubled I became by my initial definitions of "real" and "imaginary," and my condemnation of Case for prefering to abandon "reality" in favor of comforting cyberspace. Shelina's discussion of how novels produce a similar experience particularly made me rethink this dismissal, as I can neither deny that my novel addiction involves escaping into a fictional world for a while nor claim that there is something "weak" or "delusional" about engaging in such activities, I think I must reevaluate my original black and white definition. Poe asked, "Is every thing we see or seem but a dream within a dream?", and if the answer is "yes," and life is just an illusion in our consciousness, does it matter whether that life takes place in the "real world," or in a consuming virtual reality?

To add to this debate, I found an article on BBC news that claims that a connection has been found between excessive internet use and depression. However, the researchers were unable to determine whether excessive internet use causes depression, or whether people use the internet more before they're depressed. In the first instance, "escaping" from reality through cyberspace is mentally harmful. In the other, it provides a welcome and useful form of escape when the "real world" becomes overwhelming. The problem, I guess, is discovering which is the truth.


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