ראיון עם וויליאם גיבסון – הסופר של ניורומנסר

ניורומנסר נחשב לאחד מספרי הנבואה אשר חזו את האינטרנט. וניתקלתי היום בראיון עם הסופר שלו.

אני מביא אותו לכאן בשביל כמה ציטטות מעניינות, אשר עונות לשאלה כיצד גיבסון הגה בכלל את ניורומנסר ומגישתו אל ההווה. קיבצתי עבורכם חלקים אשר בעיני היו מעניינים:

The present has recently caught up with William Gibson. The great prophet of the digital future, who not only coined the word ‘cyberspace’ in his debut novel Neuromancer in 1984, but imagined its implications and went a long way to suggesting its YouTube and MySpace culture, has stopped looking forwards. ‘The future is already here,’ he is fond of suggesting. ‘It is just not evenly distributed.’

I have become convinced that it is silly to try to imagine futures these days.’The problem, he suggests, is one of time and place: things, technologies, now happen too fast and in unpredictable locations.

It’s an obvious question, but where does he get his ideas from? ‘Well, when I start a book, I just look for things to be interested in. Often, they don’t have much to do with the final product and I am never quite sure how they have informed the process, but they are there at the beginning.’

These things are not news in the old sense, but cultural peculiarities that resonate with him in some way. ‘I then keep all of them in proximity until they start to generate connections, the more unlikely the better. The beginning of a book is a good place, but when I am a little further in, I completely lose faith in the process. At that point, strange things start to emerge, things I would never have dreamed of.’

One of the strangest of these things was the idea of cyberspace. Neuromancer was built around the story of an out-of-work computer hacker induced to commit an unlikely crime. It was, along the way, a meditation on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and genetic engineering, and the place these things might come to occupy in pop culture. ‘Cyberspace’ was the name Gibson gave to the novel’s digital terrain.

Gibson started writing when he married and had his first child in his late twenties. He had stopped reading science fiction, but went back to it to discover it had ceased to be ‘cool’. It was still all about space travel and little green men. ‘I remember thinking: what can I do that is alien without aliens?’ he says. ‘That is where Neuromancer came from.’

Two particular things inspired him. One day, waiting for a bus, he saw a poster for the Apple 2c, a relatively small personal computer with a handle on it, like a briefcase. ‘I stood there and remember thinking: Wow, computers can be small.’

It was also about the time of the first video arcades and Gibson would look in and see kids playing. ‘I was always struck by the idea that the kids pushing the buttons wanted more than anything to be on the other side of the screen. The look on their faces suggested that.’

He started to invent a world where subcultures, particularly urban youth subcultures, might meet digital technology in a way that had not happened yet. He evolved the language for this place in part from overhearing conversations at science-fiction readings. He’d go to Seattle and ‘just eavesdrop guys in a bar or whatever, guys who were maybe in working at the early days of Microsoft’. Once he overheard two women who worked as keypunch operators at an army facility have a brief conversation about viruses on the machinery. ‘I didn’t ask, I just took it home and thought: this sounds good. The idea of computer viruses was generally unknown at that time, but I could see how it might work in Neuromancer.’

It seemed to write itself, he suggests. ‘I had no way of knowing then that no book gets written by the guy who walks around thinking about writing books. The conscious ideas I had for the book were not very good ideas. They never are. The book is what happens when your fingers are hitting the keyboard.’

Was he a prophet? ‘Not a very good one: there are no cellphones in Neuromancer. A 12-year-old would spot that straight away. There’s no email either, no websites, no internet really. But there is a lot of heightened language about the possibility of computers to transport us out of ourselves.’

That possibility has taken us a long way in the years since. Does he have any idea, I wonder, where it will lead next?

‘Well, as time has gone along, it has become more apparent to me that people don’t sit down in parliament and say, “What this country needs is the iPod!” This stuff is called into being by people trying to make a buck, or out of curiosity, and it is now completely out of control.’

I’m reminded of something Gibson once said: ‘I didn’t imagine that art girls in the Midwest would be flashing their tits in cyberspace… but I’m glad that they’re doing it.’ Does he retain that optimism?

‘You could say, in some ways technology and entertainment culture does not look that good from outside. I mean, if you looked at the internet objectively, sometimes you would think it was just a tsunami of filth, something you would not want anywhere near your children.’

It is though, he believes, an intimately human form of culture. ‘I think that one of the things that sets us most thoroughly apart is the ability to preserve our individual memory. The information of the cave paintings becomes Borges’s library, Borges’s library becomes a laptop computer.’ The internet is the shared memory of the species.

I wonder if Gibson, an inveterate blogger, thinks it possible to have human relationships in cyberspace that are as close as in the real world?

‘If they are text-based, I would say yes. I have some friendships conducted almost entirely through email that are very intimate. I think we are getting to the point that a strange kind of relationship would be one where there was no virtual element. We are at that tipping point: how can you be friends with someone who is not online? In a couple of years, we will be no more disturbed by our relationship with virtual worlds than we are by our relationship with broadcast television.’

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