Neuromancer Revisited

by Mike Shea on 16 March 2003

I started reading William Gibson's Neuromancer again. This was the book that defined social technology for me as a kid and it's amazing to read it again, 15 years after it was originally published.

It's amazing to me how my mind falls into short fragmented sentences with lots of proper nouns for an hour or so after reading it. It's almost hypnotic.

I am amazed by the differences of our world today as it was when I read it. I got a scary vision of how much our world has changed when I watched the movie Starship Troopers, but Neuromancer is even deeper. I got a particular crack out of the idea that Case is trying to sell three megs of stolen RAM. Three megs. I remember when my room mate paid almost $1000 for 16 megs of ram and I thought he was crazy, what would someone do with 16 megs of ram? Now both of my desktop boxes have a gigabyte each. They didn't have gigabyte hard drives back then, 20 megs was a lot. I could have fit the entire contents of my first PC in the ram of either of my two current ones about fifty times over. That was only 12 years ago. Fifteen years ago, 10 meg hard drives cost almost $500. Now I have 128 megs of solid-state ram in my pocket to carry around recordings of the Rolling Stones and Elton John.

In Neuromancer "microsoft" is some kind of hardwired chip that punk kids plug into their brains. Now we can't even think of the word Microsoft without feeling bile well up in our throats.

Cell phones sold in bubble pack at the local Best Buy. Today we have game consoles that would have been the wet dreams of the pentagon only a decade ago. I have five different addresses. My meat address, phone, pager, email, aim, and everquest character name. I can be reached in three different worlds.

No, we haven't rigged hardware straight to our nervous system. The blending of biological and technological seems forever bound to keyboards based on the needs of 1920s typewriters and monitors with CRTs that cost more than my first car. In some areas, like memory and processor technology, we grow in orders of magnitude every decade. In others like physical interface, we seem forever stuck behind these walking bags of water we call bodies.

Still, for the first time I have friends I've known for three years who only know me as Loral the Cleric of Tunare. I've had friends I don't share a language with. I have a 21" window into a world that cannot exist. We have cyberspace. We have a network that connects almost every human being on earth. And I know that I can fly five thousand miles away and still get a big mac.

If you've never read Neuromancer, give it a read. It is one of the best science fiction novels ever written and it defined much of the technology we have today.