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Jan. 27, 2012

William Gibson Looks Both Ways

by Sam Flatow

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"My first impulse, when presented with any spanking-new piece of computer hardware, is to imagine how it will look in ten years’ time, gathering dust under a card table in a thrift shop.”
–From Distrust that Particular Favor by William Gibson (Putnam, 2012).
 
William Gibson is often touted as the science fiction writer who predicted the Internet. And while it may be true that in Neuromancer, his first novel, he invented the term ‘cyberspace’ to describe a digital location inside a computer network, his foresight extended well beyond that catch phrase. His writing is not only about what not yet is, but what ‘used to be’ will look like, when ‘not yet’ becomes ‘now.’ He does not stop at our inventions, but asks what our logic machines will allow us to do, and what changes they will impose.
 
Gibson’s latest book Distrust That Particular Flavor is a collection of his non-fiction articles on several topics, most of which revolve around technology–where it’s been, where it may go, but most importantly, how it will change us. Nowhere, it seems to Gibson, is the interaction between silicon and sapien more pronounced than in Japan, a place which he writes “seem[s] to the rest of us to live several measurable clicks down the timeline.” In the essay “Modern Boys and Mobile Girls,” he explains both the reason for Japan’s quick adoption of technology, and his fascination with the island nation.
And while he mostly covers the positive things that technology can bring us, his essay “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” explores how it can also be used to control us. (That article, Gibson writes, got the magazine Wired banned in Singapore.) Gibson also has a great answer to the enduring scifi question in an article titled, “Will We Have Computer Chips in our Heads?”
 
It’s hard to compare Distrust That Particular Flavor with Neuromancer, or any of Gibson’s other works, but it’s interesting to see how an accomplished science fiction writer views the passage of real time in terms of people and their creations.
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About Sam Flatow

Sam is an assistant producer at Science Friday where he prepares the tasty SciFri snacks and blogs about smart cephalopods and zombie ants.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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