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William Gibson’s Cyberspace as a Map or Territory


Science fiction is similar to maritime or space exploration in that it places us as a species before new perspectives.

The first mention of the term cyberspace was in Neuromancer, William Gibson’s science fiction novel. Through works such as Idoru and Pattern Recognition, Gibson has built a solid place for himself on the shelves of cyberpunk, a tag which the author, incidentally, is not entirely pleased with. But the magnetism and pertinence of the term cyberspace seem to be far from an unwanted stigma for Gibson.

As it happens when a philosopher develops a concept, Gibson continues to ponder about cyberspace, and part of that process can be seen in Mark Neale’s 1999 documentary No Maps for These Territories.. Just as Gibson’s work, Neale’s documentary gains pertinence as the Digital Age advances.

This is because “space”, and the topology implicit in the term “cyberspace”, speaks of a territory that is hard to conceive. Gibson affirms that it is less a descriptive term than it is an “effective buzzword”, “evocative and essentially meaningless”. In 1999, Gibson pointed out that the prefix cyber- has the same luck as the prefix electro- had at the beginning of the Industrial Era.

What does that say about our society? That just as we have taken the electronic world for granted, we know take the digital world, through the sign of “cyberspace”, for granted, conceiving it as a thing instead of a series of relations.

The documentary also allows us to explore other of Gibson’s ideas in terms of the ease with which we have accepted technology’s absolute control in the mediation of our personal, professional, political and economic relationships.

Finding a structure that enables us to think of modern and future life forms was the fuel to talk about cyberspace, which does not imply that by having a map of the world we effectively know anything about the world.

William Gibson is a science fiction writer, yes, but his stance reminds us more of navigators and pirates ––land rebels that set out to sea, who question the precision of maps. Explorers are the true discoverers of new continents, regardless of cartographers getting the credit.

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