The New New Frontier

“The lights shined like a neon show,
Inserted deep felt a warmer glow,
No place to stop, no place to go,
No time to lose, had to keep on going,
I guessed they died some time ago.”

Joy Division, Interzone

When Gibson coins and uses the phrase “console cowboy” to describe Case in his glory days as a hacker, he naturally begs a comparison to our notions of the American old west. Evoking images of the Lone Ranger and Clint Eastwood, Gibson paints his protagonist as a kind of noble outlaw, a troubled loner who explores a foreign terrain under his own terms while existing on the fringes of society. To this end, Neuromancer’s portrayal of the hacker follows the archetype that we began to flesh out in class: Case is nomadic, solitary, anti-social, morally questionable, a kind of anti-hero for the digital age. Even in his descriptions of performing “the hack,” Gibson evokes the hacker-work ethic outlined in The Hacker Ethic—at the opening of chapter 3, with addressing the reader in second person, Neuromancer reflects Hinanmen’s characterization of hacking as a joyous, playful, challenging enterprise:  “Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million mega-bytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core Atlanta” (43). Gibson portrays hacking as something exalting, to the point where true hackers like Case find life somewhat challenging, even meaningless, without it.

With characterizing hackers as a kind of cowboy for the modern day, Gibson implicitly and simultaneously characterizes cyberspace, or “the matrix,” as the new new frontier. In contrast to  BAMA (The Sprawl) and Chiba City, two high-tech, fast-paced, gritty metropolitan environments that are heavily “colonized” and saturated with humanity, the matrix remains enigmatic with much to be explored and, perhaps, exploited. Wark describes the hacker as alway seeing “a surplus of possibility expressed in what is actual, the surplus of the virtual.” In Neuromancer, this infinite possibility and suspicion with representation of “the real” manifests in Case and co.’s confrontations with the enigmatic matrix.The hacker in Gibson’s novel seems, so far, fairly archetypal next to comparable figures like Edward Snowden, Mr. Robot’s Elliot Anderson, and Lisbeth Salander. His portrayal of the hacking frontier, however, poses challenging questions about their world, and about the possibility that cyberspace is the last true beacon of possibility and freedom in a hyper-advanced, hyper-optimized world.

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