There’s no there there

When I’m not travelling, I can spend time travelling in cyberspace. As my grandmother knew, it is a place first described by Gertrude Stein in 1937 as "There’s no there there"

The word cyberspace is said to have been invented by the cyberpunk writer William Gibson in his story Burning Chrome. His science fiction is often called prophetic. Wikipedia writes that before Gibson’s work science fiction was "widely insignificant". So it was fun to put together this table which correlates Gibson’s bibliography with hardware and software advances.

Year Publication Hardware Software
1982 Burning Chrome   Atari Virtual Reality lab founded; 4th anniversary of Minitel; emoticons invented
1984 Neuromancer 10th anniversary of the first PC (Altair 8800); 9th anniversary of the portable computer (IBM 5100); Telebit’s Trailblazer modem uses 18,432 bits/s 15th anniversary of internet; 10th anniversary of Maze war; 9th anniversary of Adventure
1986 Count Zero    
1988 Mona Lisa Overdrive    
1990   Virtual reality headsets developed Birth of the web: HTML, CERN web server, CERN browser
1993 Virtual Light   NCSA Mosaic browser
1994   First smartphone (BellSouth’s Simon) IPv6 development starts; QR codes invented
1996 Idoru    
1999 All Tomorrow’s Parties    

As you can see, in reality Gibson’s work trailed behind development in many ways. When he began writing, the internet was a decade old already, as was internet chat and usenet. In France people were already buying train tickets and shopping online via Minitel. His most wonderful image, of cyberspace as a consensual illusion which organizes all data, never came to pass. Cyberpunk was always steampunk,a re-imagination of old technology. But Gibson’s language still carries a certain resonance.


As soon as we met in the evening, The Family told me about yesterday’s quake in Nepal. She was on whatsapp with my cousin’s wife in the US, who was, in turn, worried about my aunt, her mother-in-law, who was spending some time with another cousin in Patna. In China our first source of news is the TV. We switched it on and saw what few visuals are available with CNN. This and HBO are the two channels we watch occasionally, because the other channels are in Putonghua, which we do not understand.

Our access to the net from China is severely limited. Yahoo news is available. We looked at the news from India through this. Some low-bandwidth VPN gave us access to a trickle of other sources of news. This is a really bad time for the Nepali people, and the Indians who live in the plains just below.

What can we do for Nepal this time around?