Section 1.2 :: Post-human
THE VOICE: Bill? Are you there?
WILLIAM GIBSON: (a disembodied voice, image not visible) Hello…
TV: How might humans become post-human?
WG: Technology based in its assumed…to be the result of the advent of “functional nanotechnology,” or of some sort of a synergism in…in these various emerging…all these different emerging technologies. We have…somehow…if somehow there could be a synergism between computation and genetic research.
(Gibson has appeared in what was originally an image of an empty rear passenger seat, of a car in motion)
TV: What might that mean?
(the car disappears for a moment, replaced by microscopic image of genetic cellular material. When the car reappears, Gibson has been replaced by the infant child, but his voice continues from elsewhere, soon joining his image as the baby disappears)
WG: Well, immortality, the end of economics…functional nanotech would pretty much guarantee both of those, because there would be, you know, no reason to die, (laughs) if you had sufficient nanotech to keep resetting the little cellular clocks. And, with even, even sort of half-assed nanotech, you could make anything out of anything. So, you could make gold bars out of McDonald’s burgers, and McDonald’s burgers out of garbage. And there’d be…there’s no basis for this whole thing that we’ve always done about value. Anyone could have anything…anything they wanted at any time. And everything, including human beings, would be completely protean. We could look and act like anything at all. It’s a compelling vision, but it’s not just one that I’m able to get…get my head around. There’s no traction for me there. It’s the point where I really do belong to “The Old Order.”
Section 1.3 :: Technology
WG: Well, I think what I’m most aware of is…is the extent to which people are unaware of the extent to which they’ve been interpenetrated (laughs) and co-opted by their technology. And I take it for granted that I’ve…that I’ve been. But I don’t think most…I think most people…I think a lot of people…a lot of people today have as this sort of a Rousseau-esque idea that it’s possible for humans to return to…to “The Natural State.” But, in fact, I think…it’s it’s not, and if it were, they really wouldn’t like it. I mean, I’m immune to a number of really, really terrible diseases because I was inoculated against them as a child. That’s technology. I’m…I’m a male human in my 50’s, and I still have most of my teeth. That’s technology. I’m myopic, to the point of near-blindness, and yet I can see. And that’s tech…that’s technology. It’s too close to us to be very aware of it. If we were suddenly…if we could be stripped of it — which we can’t be, because it’s actually altered our physical being — we’d be pretty unhappy, you know? And we’d start (grins)…we’d start dying, big-time.
Section 1.4 :: Future past
WG: The strange thing — it may be a byproduct of what I do for a living — but I probably worry less about “The Real Future” than the average person. We’ve gotten to the point where in some ways, it’s not knowable. When I was a kid, we were told that it was. That was when, you know, when the Future with a capital “F” was a…was very much a going concern in North America. That was a part of our culture in the ’50s, that the future was coming, and it was going to be planned. It was going to happen because grown-ups were making decisions.
My childhood, sort of, was split down the middle by the Cold War. So there was one future that was very, very much the future of the Willy Ley Rockets, Missiles and Space-Travel books. And the other future was a sort of atomic wasteland. I mean, it’s very easy, it’s amazingly easy for me to forget that I lived most of my life accepting that the world could quite literally, and horribly, end any moment.
Section 1.5 :: Television
(a voice counts off, “One, two, three, four…” Lilting, rustic, mountain guitar music plays. Images of old things, automobiles, landscapes, some of which Gibson goes on to describe)
WG: The only memory I have of a world prior to media is of standing in a peanut field on a farm in Tennessee, looking down the hill at a black, 1950s, sort of, late ’40s panel truck, driving along the road.
One of the next earliest memories is of my father bringing home this wooden, box-like thing, with a cloth grille on the front, and a little round, circular television screen, which, I believe, we had for some time prior to there actually being any broadcast to…to receive.
And then there was a test pattern. I think the test pattern…the test pattern preceded any actual broadcast for several weeks, and the test pattern itself was only available briefly, at scheduled times. And people… neighbors, would come, and they would look at this static, non-moving pattern on the screen that…promised something.
And then television came.
(on the previously blank screen, there is now an audiovisual cacophony)
It’s funny…I walked out of the Matrix last night and went to an ATM, and got some money out of my checking account in Vancouver, without even using a credit card, just using a bank courtesy card. And the ATM in Santa Monica told me exactly how much money was remaining in…in my account in Vancouver. And just for a minute, it struck me as miraculous, and kind of spooky. I had that kind of feeling of, you know, that kind of post-geographical feeling.
Section 1.6 :: Voices of the dead
I think we’ve been growing a sort of prosthetic, extended nervous system for the last hundred years or so. And it’s really starting to take, you know? (laughs) It’s…it’s really, really starting to grow, now. We’re dealing with something that’s…that has penetrated virtually every…every corner of the human universe, now. It’s increasingly difficult to find people who have not been affected by media. It’s very difficult to find “non-mediated” human beings. Whereas, in the 1920’s, you could go back in the Appalachians and record musicians who had never heard recorded music. And I think that music, those early recordings, sound fundamentally different. Something very…something very different was going on then. And something changed.
I remember once, I was very, very struck by finding a diary entry, finding a diary entry somewhere that…a man had…a man had heard a Victrola for the first time. An English clergyman had gone to a garden party, and he’d heard an Edison, wax-cylinder Victrola. And he’d come home and was just completely traumatized by it. And he described it as being, you know…he said that he had heard “A voice from Hell”: this “undead, hideous parody of the human voice,” and that mankind was “doomed,” and, “how could God let such things be?” And he was, like, completely sincere. I doubt if he would’ve had the same reaction, you know, the next time around. But, you know, this diary entry caught him at exactly the… on the cusp of the change. We don’t, you know…we don’t find it extraordinary that we can hear the voices of the dead whenever we wish to.
Section 1.7 :: Mediated world
WG: The “Non-Mediated World” has become a lost country. And I think that, in some very real way, it’s a country that we cannot find our way back to. The mediated world is now THE WORLD. We are that which perceives a mediated reality. I don’t think it’s possible…I don’t think it’s possible to know what we’ve lost. We just have…I think there is a pervasive…there is a pervasive sense of loss, and a pervasive excitement at what we seem to be gaining. And they seem…those two feelings seem to go together, in effect, to be parts of the same feeling. It’s like Frederic Jameson’s “postmodern divide”: you have it right there. That sense of loss, and that sense of Christmas morning, at the same time.
I think that most people, myself included, are most comfortable, conceptually, living about ten years back from whatever point in time we’ve reached. And I think we all have these…these moments that are vertiginous and terribly exciting, and very frightening, in which we realize the contemporary, absolutely. And I think it induces terror and ecstasy, and we retreat, we retreat from it, because we can’t stay. We can’t stay in that state of panic, which is, I think, the real response to what’s happening to us. We’re most comfortable with an earlier version of who we were, and what we were. It makes us feel more in…more in control.
I think the last time…the last time I had one of those “CNN moments,” where I was slammed right up against the windshield of…of the present, would have been flipping on the television one day, and seeing that Federal Building in Oklahoma City lying there in its own…own crater, and listening to a little bit of the audio, and…and getting the idea that something, something bad had happened in Middle America. And I had…some…very, very deep within me, something seemed to say, “Everything is different from now on. Something, something very fundamental has changed, here.”
Somehow it upped the… Whenever this…whenever something like this happens, and I have one of these moments, it ups the ante on being a science-fiction writer. It changes…it changes the nature of the game. Another example — maybe a better one, in a way — was when it was confirmed that Michael Jackson was going to marry Elvis Presley’s daughter. (loud, game-show buzzer noise) A good friend of mine in the States faxed me, and he simply…he said, “This makes your job more difficult.” And I knew exactly, I knew exactly what he meant. ‘Cos something that seemed to…a scenario that seemed to belong to the universe of the late Terry Southern, was suddenly, suddenly real. It’s that “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” factor keeps getting jacked up on us on a fairly regular, maybe even exponential, basis. And I think that’s a peculiar…that’s something that’s something that’s peculiar to our time. I don’t think our grandparents had to live with that.