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Watch William Gibson predict internet culture way back in 1997
The famed science fiction author coined the term "cyberspace" before it existed.
- In 1984, science fiction author William Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" in his debut novel Neuromancer (which he wrote on a typewriter).
- In a 1997 interview with the BBC, he said we should respond to new technologies with "profound ambivalence."
- While he doesn't think his original vision of the internet has come to life, he might have been premature given the centralization of power of the digital world.
In 1996, William Gibson published the second book of his Bridge trilogy. Idoru tells the story of Colin Laney, who has the uncanny ability of quickly sorting through massive amounts of data in order to recognize "nodal points"—a skill Gibson claims requires a "non-rational process" of identifying "bits of the literal future right here." Here, biography and fiction clash, as the author wrote a bit of himself into the character.
When Gibson was interviewed for the BBC program, The Net—the network's five-year exploration of emerging technologies—host Benjamin Woolley claims most futurists get numerous details wrong, citing 1984, 2001, and Brave New World as examples.
Woolley's claim could have just been premature. The late media theorist, Neil Postman, wrote the prophetic Amusing Ourselves to Death in 1985. In it he claims that everyone thought we were going to see an Orewellian future, but it turned out to be much more Huxleyan. The basis of his work is that we have not been imprisoned by the state so much as our own ceaseless drive for constant distraction and pleasure. As his son, Andrew, writes about his father's work:
"An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, than a Huxleyan," my father wrote. "Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us … [but] who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?"
Maybe Woolley couldn't have foreseen the widespread dispersal of smart phones and the pleasure addicts they would create. He qualifies his above statement, however, claiming that these authors weren't writing about the future, but the present—a sentiment that segues to Gibson.
Credit: Fred Armitage, 2007.
During the interview, Gibson comments on celebrity culture, an essential aspect of Idoru. In the book, SlitScan is the infotainment organization that exists to destroy media personalities; Colin Laney is a former employee. Who could possibly imagine a society in which massive amounts of data are mined to discover pain points to expose celebrities, politicians, and other public figures?
Gibson was informed by his own minor celebrity when penning Idoru, which he called "homeopathic doses" when compared to "rock stars." Still, he observed a massive shift in what we term "celebrity" on the horizon.
The digitalization of media will change the nature of celebrity in the future. I wouldn't hazard a guess as to how exactly that would happen. I think the most important difference with the internet and world wide web is that they're not top-down hierarchical structures on the order of broadcast television.
Even then Gibson recognized a power shift occurring in who would thrive in the emerging digital landscape.
A really talented and determined fifteen-year-old can create a website in his bedroom that's a more entertaining environment than something a multinational entertainment conglomerate might come up with, and in fact that happens rather consistently. The good ones tend to be put together by kids and the ones put together by major corporations are rather dull and behind the curve.
The heart of this interview revolves around Gibson's coining of the term "cyberspace," from his breakaway 1984 debut, Neuromancer. Turns out he wrote that book on a typewriter, envisioning what the awesome power of computers would become. It just so happens that his book was published the same year the first Macintosh personal computer was made available to the public.
Gibson claims that he got it wrong in that Orwellian year. He had envisioned the world wide web as a corporatized prison, not a vehicle for exchanging recipes with relatives in West Germany or other seemingly benign personal uses. In 1996, true decentralization of information seemed right around the corner.
When I wrote Neuromancer, there was effectively no internet to extrapolate from. The cyberspace I made up isn't being used in Neuromancer the way we're using the internet today. In Neuromancer, it's all corporate, effuse cybernetic car thieves skulking through it attempting to steal tidbits of information. In my later work, I've had to deal with what the internet has become.
William Gibson: Technology, Science Fiction & the Apocalypse
Yet again: too soon. Tear down one corporate structure another comes rushing in. Net neutrality remains a serious threat to the democratization of information and power online. Our data is being shared and sold in increasingly troublesome ways. We can still share recipes with German relatives, yet those ingredient lists are its own cottage industry. Mention spätzle within earshot of Alexa and expect an assault of pasta ads to dominate your browser.
Hoarding information in hopes of discovering "nodal points" has become a lucrative occupation for corporations. Gibson was certainly not wrong in his assessment, it just took a little longer than he expected. As he notes in 1997:
We're still in the phase where computation is still a sort of middle class pastime. Given the market forces driving the computer industry, we'll see it spread through the whole society. It should fairly soon, I think it would evolve into something like television to the extent that it penetrates every level of society.
Gibson claims all of his work centers on uncovering the "unintended consequences of new technologies." He does not believe fear to be the appropriate course of action, however, an interesting observation given how information is used to drive political fearmongering today. His suggestion is more nuanced, requiring foresight that many don't seem equipped to offer given where we've ended up.
Technophobia or technophilia are not appropriate responses to new technology. The only appropriate response is the most profound ambivalence. That's what we owe new technologies—we have to teach ourselves to be absolutely ambivalent about them and imagine their most inadvertent side effects. The most inadvertent side effects are the side effects that tend to get us.
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A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.
- Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
- The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
- According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.
Be fruitful and multiply<p>Scientists in the United Kingdom collected data on more than 13,000 mothers and their children. Most of them were religious, but 12 percent were not. The data included information on their church habits, social networks, number of children, and the scores those children achieved on a standardized test.</p><p>In line with previous findings that religious women have more children than secular women in industrialized countries, a connection between at least monthly church attendance and fertility was confirmed. However, religious parents showed they could avoid the pitfalls that having more children can bring. </p><p>Typically, more children in a family leads to reduced cognitive ability and height in each <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/37/6/1408/729795" target="_blank">child</a>. Some studies find that children do less well in school for each <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13524-016-0471-0" target="_blank">additional sibling they have</a>. This makes a kind of intuitive sense, as parents with more children would have to divide their time, energy, and resources among more people as families expand. One would expect that the larger families would also lead to things like lower test scores. </p><p>Despite the expectation, the children of religious parents didn't have lower scores on standardized tests. There were small positive relationships between the size of the mother's social network, the number of co-religionists helping out, and the children's test scores. However, this association was small, didn't show up in all of the testings, and was unrelated to other variables. </p> These effects might be explained by the size and helpfulness of the social networks around the more religious. Women who went to church at least once a month had more extensive social networks than those who never go or who attend yearly. These social networks of co-religious people mean that there are more people to turn to for help with child-rearing, a point also demonstrated in the data. The amount of aid women got from their fellow churchgoers was also associated with a higher fertility rate. <br> <br> Conversely, an extensive social network was associated with fewer children for secular women. This finding is in line with <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1207/s15327957pspr0904_5" target="_blank">previous studies</a> and suggests that the social networks comprised of co-religious individuals differ from those found elsewhere.
So, how quickly should I join a local religious group?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="6RrmYM8M" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="9eb4740a7d1e10108a75fd2ed627a90f"> <div id="botr_6RrmYM8M_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/6RrmYM8M-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The study is not without its faults, and more investigations into the relationship between fertility, childcare, ritual, and social networks are needed.</p><p>These findings all show correlation, not causation. Though it might be said the results point towards causation, various alternative interpretations of the data are apparent. The authors note that most religions are explicitly pro-natal. It is possible that religious women have internalized these values and simply choose to have more children than secular women do.</p><p>This idea is similar to a potential interpretation of why large social networks have the opposite effect for secular women. The authors suggest that, in some cases, these more extensive social networks are associated with work and exert an anti-natal influence. Again, the people who build such networks may be people unlikely to have large families under any circumstances.</p><p>However, the researchers' hypothesis endured. The help religious women get from their church-based social networks allows them to have larger families than those who lack these support systems. In some instances, these support systems also prevent the adverse effects of larger families. </p>
The community religion offers<p>As we've mentioned <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/what-is-secular-humanism" target="_blank">before</a>, religion offers a community, and a community provides social capital. As religion continues to decline in the West, the social bonds of faith communities that used to tie social communities together begin to decay. However, as has been noted by a variety of observers for the last few decades, fewer and fewer new organizations appear ready to replace religion as a source of community in our lives.</p><p>While many different organizations might offer social support that religion once provided the whole of western society, this study shows that different social circles can differently affect the people in them. This finding must be considered by those trying to find new communities to join or the authors of future research. </p><p>The community offered by religious groups provides real benefits to those who join them. As this study shows, having the support network religious community offers allows some parents to avoid pitfalls that bedevil those lacking similar support. It suggests that previous studies demonstrating that group ritual offers benefits like increased amounts of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797612472910" target="_blank">group trust</a> and <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1069397103037002003" target="_blank">cooperation</a> are onto something and that those benefits have a variety of applications. </p><p>While this study is not without its blind spots, it offers a strong starting point for further investigations into the nature of ritual in our modern lives and how local support networks remain vital in our increasingly globalized world. </p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>