Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cyberspace as it Affects Concepts of Distance

Neuromancer is a surprising piece of fiction in that it is predictive of issues relating to technology that could only be guessed at before. Through Case's obsession with jacking into cyberspace and the world therein Gibson creates an arena in which he explores the question of the affect of technology on physical and psychic distance. Characters in the novel travel from Japan, to the Sprawl of the United States, Turkey, to the space stations of Zion and Freeside. The actual physical locations are of little import, for in a world where technology allows remote access to information from anyplace a character such as Henry Dorsett Case finds more intrigue in Cyberspace than in the physical realm.

From the novel's opening we see reality through the lense of technology, with the words "The Sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" (4). Reality is a sort of fiction to Case and others, as he interacts with and describes the world in terms of the digital in order to evoke substantive feeling. The world of cyberspace bleeds into the world of the real to such an extent that the "artificial" characters of Wintermute, Neuromancer, and even McCoy Pauley/The Dixie Flatline often blur the lines between the physical reality and the psychic reality.

Wintermute cannot actually interact with the characters without assuming the form of another character they have met in their lives. His personality is diffuse and relies on accessing the memory imprints of people and places from others in order to actually have access to the world outside a computer. Similarly  Neuromancer is able to call upon the dead memories of others (i.e., Linda Lee) and develops them in a way that Wintermute cannot. Rather than merely accessing the form and familiarity of a character Neuromancer can evoke them in all of their complexities while maintaing an actual separate consciousness from them. As contrasted by the two AIs central to the story this separation of the mind from the body either representing it or a fundamental part of it is reflective of the greater issue of man's separation between the realm of the mental and the physical as shown by Case.

Case routinely decries his own seemingly foolish actions as resulting from "meat" and exalts a form of union with technology in which he is psychically distant from his own body. There is a sort of rebuttal against this desire to severe yourself wholly from the realm of the physical. Before I forget I should address the character of McCoy Pauley as presented through the construct The Dixie Flatline. Dixie or Dix is a remnant of the deceased mentor to Case who suffered from a fatal case of "black ice" when he was probing into the AI Neuromancer's security features. Dix appears dissatisfied with his position as a sort of cyber-ghost, a remnant of a man confined to a computer. His existence does not appear enjoyable. He routinely expresses his desire to be erased as a payment for completing his one last job, which makes sense considering his position: he was literally comodified by a corporation as he now exists in state of pure spirit in the matrix and is solely defined by his role as a hacker. This case of actual psychic and physical severing through Dix's remaining as a cyber imprint whose continued existence is contingent on his role as a hacker shows a fatalistic end to Case's addiction to the realm of the purely psychic.

As real as unreality can get.

Physical places take on traces of the digital to display Case's fundamental disinterest and removal from the realm of the physical. Even when he returns to his home "BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis" from his two-year exile to Chiba city Gibson's narration denies us a stark physical description of the place. Instead the cities and places of the Sprawl are described in the abstract concept of data exchange. The place is not determined by its physical description but rather by how much abstracted information passes through the city.

~“Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta...” (40)

Digitizing the real.


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