ambivalent imbroglio home

« Big World of Law | Main | Dean's Progressive Cred »

June 30, 2003

No More Secrets?

William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and many other sci-fi classics (including Idoru, which I'm currently reading), wrote a fascinating yet odd little essay last week in the NYT. In "Road to Oceana" [link via Scripting News], Gibson looks back at George Orwell's 1984 and argues that its dystopic world was based on a now outdated paradigm. Whereas Orwell was afraid of the power broadcast media could give fascist governments to brainwash and control their populace, Gibson says today we've moved beyond broadcast to virtual media via the internet. This means that we no longer need to fear the propagandistic power of broadcast media, or even so much the surveilling power of government- or corporate-controlled networks of cameras. According to Gibson, we need not fear these things because information is now hyperlinked and massively ubiquitous, with the end result being that "It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret."

Gibson's track record as an almost prophetic visionary is incredible, so I'm reluctant to disagree with his conclusion. Still, I'm skeptical. For example, the Bush administration has come up with the "military tribunal" and the status of the "enemy combatant" as new and improved ways to throw a thick blanket of secrecy over important government and military actions, not to mention the many Bush executive orders to lock down presidential records and who knows what else. And perhaps Gibson hasn't yet read Lessig's The Future of Ideas, which argues that networked information may only be as free as those who own the networks want it to be.

In the long run, Gibson is undoubtedly correct: The truth will eventually come out. Unfortunately, that truth may come too late to help address the problems of today or tomorrow. Yet, Gibson's conclusion rings remarkably true and demonstrates again why he's such a great writer and visionary. Gibson writes:

"1984" remains one of the quickest and most succinct routes to the core realities of 1948. If you wish to know an era, study its most lucid nightmares. In the mirrors of our darkest fears, much will be revealed. But don't mistake those mirrors for road maps to the future, or even to the present.

We've missed the train to Oceania, and live today with stranger problems.

Indeed. (I hope to get a chance to say a few things about Idoru when I'm finished with it...)

Posted June 30, 2003 11:04 AM | ai books general politics

about   ∞     ∞   archives   ∞   links   ∞   rss
This template highly modified from The Style Monkey.