I saw Ender’s Argument’s post prior to writing my own and I do agree with the contrast between nature and technology being a common and questionable recurring theme. Another interesting point you made referred to the thought of nature and technology being entwined in each other throughout the story. This raised an important thought for me that in order to create a plot within the subgenre of cyberpunk, you have to fuse both humans and technology in the story. I literally mean having the computer and man become one within the story, biologically as well as scientifically. I think Gibson’s article supports this thought by him saying “slug it all back into the skull and watch it run on blood sugar, the way a human brain’s supposed to.” He’s thinking toward the essentials of having a human body and having that body connect with technology in order to have a cyberspace. So as long as there are humans that are being shaped and changed by technology, we can say that we are in a world that is controlled by cyberspace.
It is easier for us to explain things physically rather than abstractly. A computer is a combination of plastic and metal, but what makes it work? When we talk about computers, we use medical and military terms like protection and defense; we create firewalls and anti-viruses. In Gibson’s story, this is imagined similarly. The narrator says, “Trying to remind myself that this place and the gulf beyond are only resentations, that we aren’t ‘in’ Chrome’s computer, but interfaced with it, while the matrix simulator in Bobby’s loft generates this illusion. . .” (555). The figurative language we use to speak about computers comes to life through illusions in “Burning Chrome”. Even the narrator needs to remind himself that they did not actually get into a physical place.
The passage that most stuck out to me in Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” was “Black ice. Don’t think about it. Black ice. Too many stories in the Gentleman Loser; black ice is a part of the mythology. Ice that kills. Illegal, but then aren’t we all? Some kind of neural-feedback weapon, and you connect with it only once. Like some hideous Word that eats the mind from the inside out. Like an epileptic spasm that goes on and on until there’s nothing left at all.” (558-559). It isn’t hard to imagine how this works in a SF story, guy goes into some virtual representation of reality, something kills their virtual avatar and then they die in the real world somehow. The reason it jumps out at me is because of how prevalent the concept of dying in virtual worlds equate to dying in the real world is. It has me thinking, why is this idea so common? Are we meant to take some lesson out of it, like don’t make virtual reality a reality? Or converting your mind into data or anything similar is bad? Furthermore, “Burning Chrome” was published back in 1982, yet even today, fiction involving the death in virtual reality equating to death in the real world is being written and published. It’s an interesting concept and I personally like it myself but I’m both amazed and weirded out by the fact that the idea hasn’t gone “out of style” or anything. Just what makes it such a captivating idea?
Cyberspace. What is it exactly? Wikipedia ascribes a Dr. Don Slater as describing it as a “social setting that exists purely within a space of representation and communication”. I don’t know how reliable this quote is or if this dude actually wrote this in a paper. What I do know is that this phrase sums up to me quite elegantly a cyberspace which exists today and which I can comprehend (though perhaps I can only really comprehend it because it exists). What are web pages but the translation of code into color and shape? Just as the meaningless syllables we string together somehow constitute a deep and complex communication, a chunk of letters, dashes, and squiggles can convey information that is more than the data itself (or rather very few people can see the result from the hard data itself, and to most it is quite magical that a few keystrokes here can transform itself into a unicorn leaping across the page every ten seconds).
[“The matrix is an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems.” Gibson]
But while this kind of cyberspace exists, and we interact with it everyday, I don’t think we exist within it. To be in cyberspace involves a third dimension to what we have that just does not exist yet. What I think of is something more along the lines of the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (the book was truthfully the first thing that came to mind when I read the heading for this section of the class). In “Burning Chrome” there are strong visual analogs for technical happenings that give me this feeling of immersion much like the Metaverse, though not quite. In fact the narrator explicitly compares it to a 3-D chessboard, giving coding, something we know of as purely 2-D, a much more tangible impact in a physical sense. It reminds me of cartoons when a character falls into the television or the computer or a video game; a very Matrix like scene generally follows where the new existence is pure data, composed of binary bits, ones and zeros, stretching in all directions.
Anyways sorry if my ramblings were a bit unintelligible, I am half asleep at this point in time.
On page 548, Gibson writes, “He did it with the tight grace of a kid slamming change into an arcade game, sure of winning and ready to pull down a string of free games. A silver tide of phosphenes boiled across my field of vision as the matrix began to unfold in my head, a 3-D chessboard, infinite and perfectly transparent.”
I love this section for a few reasons. I like how he juxtaposes the familiar and the “futuristic” together. He compares the action of sliding the program into the slot to something old and familiar. Everyone can image arcade games. The older graphics and game style comes to mind. Then suddenly our brain is transitioned into this futuristic imagery that is a bit more abstract. The imagery of the phosphenes transitions us from this familiar arcade game to the more futuristic computing and lets us know we are transitioning into this “other” world. Now 3-D images aren’t so special, but compared to the idea of the 2-D, grainy images of an arcade game, 3-D transparent graphics are more futuristic and unfamiliar. Gibson emphasizes this kind of bridge between the new and old in technology. He wants the readers to see how things are transitioning, but the old hasn’t been abandoned yet.
There were two parts in this story that really struck me when I read them. The first was this, on page 555: “Trying to remind myself that this place and the gulf beyond are only representations, that we aren’t ‘in’ Chrome’s computer, but interfaced with it, while the matrix simulator in Bobby’s loft generates this illusion. . .The core data began to emerge, exposed, vulnerable. . . . This is the far side of ice, the view of the matrix that fifteen million legitimate console operators see and take for granted. ” I’m not sure why, but it just seemed extremely conscious of the nature of image and representation, and it triggered a whole stream of thoughts for me. How exactly does programming work in that world? Is there a reliance on the the matrix simulators, to be able to manipulate code “physically”, in order to change coding in reality? Or are they both on the same plane? How does the matrix simulator translate things, and how is it coded to do so? It’s interesting, because everything online, on television, on screens in general, is just a stream of zeroes and ones, and we (even right now) see them as language, as images. I just felt an extreme awareness of the artifice of imagery online. Bright colors and borders and interesting fonts are just hiding that stream. That is something we take for granted. The fact that this website exists is a marvel, when you think about it. There’s an entire world, an entire universe, really, in our computer screens and our phones, and it’s constructed by clever numbers.
Also Jack talking about Bobby’s problems with women was gREAT but I won’t elaborate because I could talk about it for centuries.
In Gibson’s “Burning Chrome”, I found the references to replacement body parts to be very interesting. Although not quite advanced, in recent years there have been developments in many prosthetic devices. This includes, of course, the arm which was referred to during many parts of the story. The arm is mentioned to be extremely high-tech, with connections to nerves of the user’s body, for direct control; arms, like this are being perfected everyday now, to improve the life of the one who needs it.
We are not yet in “cyberspace”. The world is not yet ready to enter technology the way it is in Gibson’s work. We may not be cyberpunk, but we might get there in a few years. With the way technology develops now-a-days, we might reach that point in fifty years or so. Even then, I don’t think the world is yet ready for such endeavors. When is it too much?
One of the things that strikes me about Gibson’s Burning Chrome is his portrayal of people as “connecting” to manipulate programs. In a lot of ways, Burning Chrome feels incredibly anachronistic. The technology at play seems at times, for lack of a better word, clunky. I think this is the case because Gibson tries to imagine a future where this technology is at play, and even though he gets it right in some regards he really misses the mark in others. The programming jargon sounds kind of 80s in a way and everything about the story gives off a vibe of alienation. It feels kind of like I’m watching an episode of classic Trek, where there’s all this futuristic technology and yet they’re still using tapes. It seems very at odds with the times we live in, where the technology seems slick and fluid and just sort of sneaks into your life before you know it and it consumes you. I can’t even imagine life without my smart phone and I only upgraded from a brick a couple of years ago. Burning Chrome feels outdated in certain regards and yet it hits the bullseye in others. I dunno, I guess in this metaphor a couple of arrows didn’t even hit the target. I don’t really know what I’m saying here.
Overall though, it was definitely an interesting read. It reminded me a lot of visual media like The Matrix and Serial Experiments Lain. It had kind of a philosophical bent to it without directly being a philosophical story. That’s the great thing about Science Fiction. You can ask a lot of questions by asking different questions.
When asked whether or not we live in cyberspace I inevitably, and probably selfishly, ask whether or not I feel myself floating through the subspace particles of ones and zeros. The answer is invariably a large “No.” Then the question of everyone else lops its flabby self onto the coffee table and I’m forced to investigate beyond my own rubber padded containment field. I do serve as the A-typical subject in the matter of technological know-how and possession. You see, I still wander around my networking with the anachronistic caveman tech known as the flip phone. While the rest of the world, New Jersey that is as everyone knows “the center of everything,” plugs into that little square device colored with the Alan Turning icon on the label, while little Rob can’t figure out the workings of T-9.
So are these Borgian species in cyberspace? The guy on the bus with that stern look of intensity yesterday seemed to be. Of course, who wouldn’t want to ignore the rest of reality’s mundane covering when birds can help knock over green pigs? Who hasn’t been on a date with a chick sporting a little pink rectangle over her nose and mouth. I hear comp-sci guys find it sexy (beats me). wires seem to nullify the use of sirens, everyone in the library knows that head phones have a farther audio range than blue tooth and nothing gets through the blaring of Kesha. And we can’t forget texting-while-walking has become a serious public health hazard. People keep bumping into shit. But is all this evidence substantial enough to point fingers at technology and web? I seem to find myself wondering through the alternate dimension of existence, that is everything alternate to an alert understanding of the external world. More than once while turning onto the Lewis off Sumerset Ave I turned to my passenger and calmly proclaimed, “You don’t live at my house do you?”
Time slips off the clock and slides across the floor like water down a drain for many of the members of human society. Many ask, where it went, the details of Earthly rotation seem distant and fuzzy. So what if they miss the spin dressing for the cyborg look with wires and screens and little blinking lights minimizing the sunset and trees and all the other two eyed two eared creatures with interesting things to say and do. The rest of humanity that’s a little bit more squishy, cell phones and wires are hard, spends almost as much or even more time wrapped up in the fog of head space ignoring that physical phenomena called the outside world. Cyberspace is just another distraction the majority of distracted beings will learn to ignore. In meantime, I’ll wait at this bus stop not knowing when it will come. The thing with the red lights that supposedly tells the times is broken, and I hope that girl I asked just really likes Kesha and isn’t just pretending to listen to her iPhone because she thinks I’m creepy.
The passage that sticks out to me is the second sentence of the story “Out in the malls and plazas, moths were batting themselves to death against the neon, but in Bobby’s loft the only light came from a monitor screen and the green and red leds on the face of the matrix simulator” (Gibson, 548). What frustrates me about Cyber Punk stories is the over emphasis of darkness and light being expressed only in shades of neon. There is no contrasting natural light which presents life with computers as completely artificial separate from nature. Why is there a stereotype that hackers only hack late at night in a pitch dark apartment with only the light from the screen illuminating a face; more like a batted moth? Why is technology always contrasting with nature, wouldn’t be more interesting to see some natural light through technology? Maybe the reason why the characters in Gibson’s stories always need new eyes is because they ruined their old ones by staring at a screen in the dark. Gibson fails to emphasize a wide enough spectrum of color, simply emphasizing neon, leds, and chrome isn’t enough of a color palate. What’s unrealistic about the image that Gibson paints in his short story “The Burning Chrome” isn’t the ICE, the towers, and the holograms, it’s the complete lack of night and day.