Existentialism, children’s rhymes, and cyborgs
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Li͇̲̤͖̠fe̼̫͕͍ ̩͇͉̬i̲̬s͈͉͖̝̥͖ ͙̲̥̼̳̦̼bu̟̪̗̭͚t̼͎͓ ḁ̼̤̯͓̤ ̮̱d̦̰̞r͔̣̖͙̝̣͕e̹̝̟̟a̻͎̯̘m͍̥̥̮͔̭̱
Neuromancer blurs the line between reality and imagination with reckless abandon. It begs the question- what is reality? What is our place in it? The fact that Cyberspace is referred to as a “consensual hallucination” lets us know that it is not the physical world, but it is as intense and real of an experience as what we consider to be reality. Where, then, do we draw the line? To us, dreams feel real as long as we experience them. Where would simstims and recorded memories fit in?
In class, we discussed the nature of AI and free will. In Neuromancer’s conversations with Case, he says “I call up the dead […] If your woman is a ghost, she doesn’t know it. Neither will you.” and “To live here [in his world] is to live. There is no difference.”. Linda’s postmortem life is real to her, and who is to say otherwise? Even in the ending, we can assume that Neuromancer managed to upload Case’s consciousness to the Matrix, possibly out of kindness to Linda Lee. After all, Neuromancer has said himself that personality is his medium. In that case, what makes him different than a human? I’ve met people with less personality than this fictional being.
This leads us to reflect on our own lives- how can you tell if you’re living in reality? Does it even matter? Lucid dreamers will tell you that there are several ways to know if you are dreaming. The numbers on a clock will be wrong, a mirror will show the wrong image (a monster if you’re unlucky), or any number of personal tells.
In today’s world, many of us spend more time engaged with technology than people. I know I do, and my optometrist is never very happy with me. Could we be classified as cyborgs, then? Living in two worlds at once, but never fully immersed and integrated with either? With the normalization of biotechnology and wearable tech, our current reality is not terribly far off of Gibson’s vision. Nobody bats an eye to silicone injections, robotic arms, pacemakers, or the fact that we have tiny supercomputers in our pockets that can access huge amounts of information nearly instantaneously. You could even say that we are physically attached to our tech- much like Molly’s body enhancements. We use artificial intelligence to assist us with common things like calling customer service, performing phone tasks, or just cleaning our floors. Whether this is a benefit or detriment depends on the user, of course, but temptation is all around us. Though we don’t quite have the cowboys and black markets of Chiba, cybercrime is incredibly common with roughly three attacks per minute and 17% of the online population becoming victims of digital theft.
So, was Gibson right? Like the open ending, we can’t be sure. The nature of life is that we all muddle through it together. Some wade through the muck, wether by circumstance or choice. Some carry others on their backs, or help along those who can’t swim. Some row in their boats. We change situations and companions, but in the end, the stream will lead us all to the same destination.