cyberspace, mirror worlds, tron and the unabomber
i am a diehard cyberpunk fan, and information pattern junkie. as i started reading about the history of the making of the movie "tron", patterns started to emerge that were interesting to me. here is a brief timeline of some interconnections that might surprise you...life imitating art, and the inevitable feedback loops.
1975: john brunner's "the shockwave rider" is published. often regarded as the first literary concept of cyberspace, and a primary influence on william gibson.
1979: william gibson describes his first conscious thought of cyberspace, living in vancouver, b.c. with a group of fellow vietnam war draft dodgers:
"I was walking down Granville Street, Vancouver's version of "The Strip," and I looked into one of the video arcades. I could see in the physical intensity of their postures, how rapt the kids were inside were. It was like one of those closed systems out of a Pynchon novel: a feedback loop with photons coming off the screens into the kids' eyes, neurons moving through their bodies, and electrons moving through the video game. These kids clearly believed in the space games projected. Everyone I know who works with computers seems to develop a belief that there's some kind of actual space behind the screen, someplace you can't see but you know is there."
1979-1981: bonnie macbird writes original script for "tron", about the struggle of technology against the monolithic structure of corporate america--hackers vs. the suits--and humanity's simultaneous excitement and fear of technology. while researching for the script, she met and later married dr. alan kay, who is one of the most influential futurists and thinkers of modern times, and "...is best known for the idea of personal computing, the conception of the intimate laptop computer, and the inventions of the now ubiquitous overlapping-window interface and modern object-oriented programming."
1982: "tron" released in theaters, stunning audiences with its visual effects. disney mainly tried to capitalize on the video game craze for kids, but the movie's adult themes appealed to many and confused others. the academy awards refused to nominate "tron" for special effects, calling the use of computers "cheating". "tron" is considered prophetic and way ahead of its time, and its visual representation of "cyberspace" was to have huge ripples of effect to this day.
1984: gibson publishes "neuromancer", which was first to coin the term "cyberspace". character finn--who is technical engineer and has his personality digitized--is hypothesized as a reference to flynn character in "tron" [or at least a strong coincidence]. gibson's description of cyberspace is closely tied to tron's "mirror world": "Lines of light ranged in the non space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receeding..."
1992: neal stephenson publishes "snow crash", about a pizza delivery man who jacks in and out of cyberspace, in a world where corporations have almost completely "won". stephenson is heavily influenced by gibson, and dramatically builds upon the cyberspace concept. it is interesting to note that in tron's original script, the protagonist flynn was a pizza delivery boy.
1993: david gelernter--yale professor and highly influential futurist--publishes "mirror worlds". gelernter's influential book attempts to manifest the cyberspace concepts--popularized by gibson, tron and others--into reality. the rise of the world wide web, the creation of the java language, and advances in artificial intelligence are cited as being heavily influenced by "mirror worlds". gelernter--a self-described anti-technologist--discusses the fusion of art, music and history into the next technology revolution.
1993, june 24: david gelernter receives a mail-bomb from ted kaczynski (unabomber) and is nearly killed by the blast. kaczynski singled out gelernter as one of the most influential technologist of the era, and someone to be stopped by any means necessary.
1995, april 24: kaczynski sends a letter to gelernter, stating: "In the epilog of your book, 'Mirror Worlds,' you tried to justify your research by claiming that the developments you describe are inevitable...They are inevitable only because techno-nerds like you make them inevitable...But we do not believe that progress and growth are inevitable."
1999: the movie, "the matrix" is released. the movie makes direct and intentional references to gibson's "neuromancer", and the whole concept of virtual "mirror worlds".
present: searching, cataloging and data warehousing are megatrends in this information age. google's designers cite gelernter's "mirror worlds" as an early influence. microsoft's new search engine competitor to google incorporates ideas from gelernter. the "total information awareness" and "lifelog" data warehouse projects of the department of defense are influenced by "mirror worlds" concepts and chronological indexing.
was the unabomber right, are we manifesting our own future demise with our unbridled embrace of technology? or is technology setting us free? who the hell knows, but this question has sure captured a chunk of our collective unconscious.
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