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"If you’re not getting it wrong really a lot when you’re creating imaginary futures, then you’re just not doing it enough."
September 15, 2012 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Wired talks to William Gibson: on Why Sci-Fi Writers Are (Thankfully) Almost Always Wrong, on Twitter, Antique Watches and Internet Obsessions, and and on Punk Rock, Internet Memes, and ‘Gangnam Style’.
posted by Artw (55 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is it strange that I got halfway through reading the text of the post before going " I bet this is an ArtW post"?
posted by The Whelk at 7:08 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really like his reaction to Videodrome getting an action remake. I really wish I could cultivate a reaction like that, an "oh course it is, how silly to think it wouldn't be, and how irrelivant that it is" rather wanting to throw my computer across the room or anything.
posted by Artw at 7:23 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


great interview - looking forward to the third bit.

thanks for posting this.
posted by jammy at 7:26 AM on September 15, 2012


oops - wait! there's the third bit, linked right there in the post - yay!
posted by jammy at 7:28 AM on September 15, 2012


'Gangnam Style' you say... well hello back Deadpool
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:33 AM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


> William Gibson is excited to see the next video from ‘Gangnam Style’ singer Psy.

I'm sure he is, and that's cool, but I don't think that's the best caption for that particular photo.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:41 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love Geeta Dayal's writing; her book on Brian Eno's album Another Green World is terrific. Looking forward to reading her interview with Gibson.
posted by FrauMaschine at 7:41 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The reason that Science Fiction authors are rarely accurate in their description of the future is the same reason that most authors of historical dramas are not fully accurate in their descriptions.

Their writing is done to sell books. They are not actually making predictions on the future so why should we expect any accuracy?
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


People that can predict the future with any accuracy don't become science fiction writers, they become investors.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's mostly of Park or Psy having fun on set, but at one point he pauses in filming. "Human society is so hollow, and even while filming I felt pathetic. Each frame by frame was hollow," he sighs, apparently deadly serious. It's a jarring moment to see the musician drop his clownish demeanor and reveal the darker feelings behind this lighthearted-seeming song. Although, Hong noted, "hollow" doesn't capture it: "It's a word that's a mixture [of?] shallow or hollow or vain," he explained.
Gangnam Style, Dissected

Great read.
posted by notion at 8:20 AM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]



Wired: In your essay in the new book Punk: An Aesthetic, you write that punk was the last pre-digital counterculture. That’s a really interesting thought. Can you expand on that?

Gibson: It was pre-digital in the sense that in 1977, there were no punk websites [laughs]. There was no web to put them on. It was 1977, pre-digital. None of that stuff was there. So you got your punk music on vinyl, or on cassettes. There were no mp3s. There was no way for this thing to propagate. The kind of verbal element of that counterculture spread on mostly photo-offset fanzines that people pasted up at home and picked up at a print shop. And then they mailed it to people or sold it in those little record shops that sold the vinyl records or the tapes. It was pre-digital; it had no internet to spread on, and consequently it spread quickly but relatively more slowly.

I suspect — and I don’t think this is nostalgia — but it may have been able to become kind of a richer sauce, initially. It wasn’t able to instantly go from London to Toronto at the speed of light. Somebody had to carry it back to Toronto or wherever, in their backpack and show it, physically show it to another human. Which is what happened. And compared to the way that news of something new spreads today, it was totally stone age. Totally stone age! There’s something remarkable about it that’s probably not going to be that evident to people looking at it in the future. That the 1977 experience was qualitatively different, in a way, than the 2007 experience, say.
posted by donovan at 8:49 AM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like this Beatles bit (from the second article):
There’s a thing that parents have known ever since the advent of The Beatles, as the vast cultural trope that they are. Parents have been watching their children discovering the Beatles. Kids are still discovering the Beatles; it takes about two weeks for them to ingest the whole thing. It’s often quite a big deal for them over those two weeks. And then they have the Beatles.

The bizarre thing about that is the way in which the Beatles live outside of time — the trope of the Beatles and their recorded music. It’s not like a ’60s thing. But really it’s … eternal. Really very weird.
posted by nobody at 9:27 AM on September 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


a single lexical item for shallow/hollow/vain?

Is this all a dance version of Ecclesiastes? Truly, there is nothing new under the sun...
posted by Earthtopus at 9:28 AM on September 15, 2012


Excellent stuff:

...we think they were tragically flawed, incomplete beings, who were totally full of themselves. And I think that’s what the future will think of us, exactly, but in a different way. But we don’t see it any more than the Victorians could see it, because we are it...

posted by ovvl at 9:37 AM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


That bit almost makes up for inventing Steampunks.
posted by Artw at 9:44 AM on September 15, 2012


Videodrome action remake? Ah, crap. One of the few movies that really made my skin crawl, but for the right reasons, and now they'll prolly turn it into car chases, and machine guns in the hallway. Maybe car chases in the hallway.

Oh, I guess it doesn't matter. I fell asleep and dreamed I accidentally fell through the membrane into this parallel universe, where G Bush beat Al Gore, and then we...um.

Never mind--too stupid for a movie plot anyhow. I will wake up in a minute.
posted by mule98J at 10:01 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm actually pretty pleased at how little Total Recall has impacted on my life. Did it flop? Or am I just not plugged into any media that would pay attention to it? Either way ignoring it was pretty easy and hopefully it will fade from history pretty fast.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on September 15, 2012


in the future, mistakes we are making now will be obvious, this is my prediction

also does anybody else find it weird that we are ascribing all these world-changing socially revolutionary qualities to Twitter, when it's essentially a brand name? was there a time when people talked about the democratizing power of Coca-Cola?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:06 AM on September 15, 2012


McDonalds once had astounding powers of global peace.
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This, of course, alludes to you: "was there a time when people talked about the democratizing power of Coca-Cola?"

The universal shared experience of a global brand has been a cornerstone of Coca-Cola's marketing strategy going back to the I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing ad and even further.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:52 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pepsi and the Soviet Union (they first sold Pepsi in the USSR in 1973). Coke was allowed in in 1985.

I remember as a teen in the 1980s reading that photocopiers - basically Xerox machines - were tightly controlled in the USSR. Why? Because you don't want people to be able to disseminate a message - to publish their own newspapers. Xerox was a brand name that in some sense meant freedom of the press to me then.

Twitter and other social networks can carry the same weight some places. Listen to this from the Berkman Center: Narcotweets: Reporting on the Mexican Drug War using Social Media. People use Twitter to get information out about drug violence, about activity, that in some cases officials and official news outlets are less willing to be forthright about.

I remember William Gibson, in an interview years ago, talking about how the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers used cassette tapes to record speeches/sermons and disseminate their message across borders. Telecommunications technologies, no matter how pedestrian or corporate, CAN be used to cause disruptive political change. That most of it use it to take photos of our soup is a function of our relative safety and happiness as a society. Then again, Occupy used social media extensively too, no?

Great find ArtW, thanks for posting.
posted by artlung at 10:53 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's alway app.net...

Yeah, not really going to happen outside of a select circle, is it?
posted by Artw at 10:57 AM on September 15, 2012


@radwolf

boy, that's something that isn't creepy and cynical at all that I'd like to see more of
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:57 AM on September 15, 2012


Then again, Occupy used social media extensively too, no?

and look at all they achieved
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:59 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This, of course, alludes to you: "also does anybody else find it weird that we are ascribing all these world-changing socially revolutionary qualities to Twitter, when it's essentially a brand name? was there a time when people talked about the democratizing power of Coca-Cola?"

I don't think anyone ever used Coca-Cola to communicate between continents, inform first-hand about protests, revolutions, and wars, or talk about celebrity haircuts.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:03 AM on September 15, 2012


William Gibson on The Past, Present & Future of Sci-Fi (yt)
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on September 15, 2012


@Joakim Ziegler

the internet is not the same thing as twitter though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:12 AM on September 15, 2012


Then again, Occupy used social media extensively too, no?

But the Tea Party and their shadow owners use it much more effectively. See #tcot
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:29 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would like to revise my remarks to say that activists use social media in the US as well, to different political ends. I was not trying to make any point one way or another about the rightness or effectiveness of Occupy. I was more pointing out that despite the fact much of the usage of twitter is trivial, it can be used to political ends. I regret mentioning Occupy to the extent it's a derail.

You can look at Gibson's actual twitter feed at @GreatDismal.
posted by artlung at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2012


boy, that's something that isn't creepy and cynical at all that I'd like to see more of

Coke wants to build a better world for you
posted by euphorb at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2012


People that can predict the future with any accuracy don't become science fiction writers, they become investors.

Science Fiction Investing, Part 1: William Gibson

tl;dr: "Yo! Graphics and stuff! Buy some tech stock!"
posted by Artw at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This, of course, alludes to you: "@Joakim Ziegler

the internet is not the same thing as twitter thoug
"

No, but people have indeed used Twitter specifically for those things.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:15 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the thing people sometimes misunderstand about Mr. Gibson's writing is that he is, essentially, the literary equivalent of a physical anthropologist who examines the various relationships we have with our Things. SF was (is) an interesting way to do that, for you can make the Things as extreme as you must to reveal the underlying aspirations we have wrapped up in those Things.

So, yeah, he writes somewhat cerebral fantasy whether he's talking about the future or the present, but the point people miss is that he uses Things to talk about what we really, underneath it all, want. And what that says about who we are now and where we are going.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:45 PM on September 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Went to see him speak since I thought author talks were more like BookTV book reports. Instead he just read from his new novel. But I wonder if he overheard me saying that I wished he would write a set of essays. Now he has and I still need to read it. .

I've only read his Idoru which I think of as the Brittany Spears novel, and Neuromancer. Didn't want to read any more of his books since I wanted to have my own ideas. I believe in his Steam Engine Time, but I call it You Had to Be There. Neuromancer hit me in the same way that hearing "My Name Is" did. I wanted to pull over the couch and just listen, so to speak with Neuromancer. Nowadays people haven't read it.

With regard to Steam Engine Time, instead of his idea of rush to publish the obvious, I think history makes crucibles, so like the earlier Metafilter post with the great Hungarian mathematicians, they must have been in one. The Vienna Circle would be another.

Thanks for the post. Need to make room for his Distrust That Particular Flavor in my queue.
posted by saber_taylor at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or the phonographs with recordings of dead people, that Gibson references, is another You Had To Be There. How did they feel about something new under the sun? We can only imagine, and not as well.
posted by saber_taylor at 1:22 PM on September 15, 2012


Just to say, I love Gibson but I'm totally off Wired since their climate change denier cover article last month. I cancelled my subscription. I won't be going back.
posted by newdaddy at 3:03 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the sheer pointless pleasure of learning this vast, useless body of knowledge.
posted by Twang at 5:02 PM on September 15, 2012


The gangnam style video they talked about.

Yikes!
posted by bukvich at 5:19 PM on September 15, 2012


The best thing I ever heard about the nature of science fiction was a quote to the effect that science fiction is always about now. It's a perfect quip to remind us why The Martian Chronicles is still so lush and vital and wonderful, even though every single detail about its future is wrong.

So many of my favorite sf books and stories are about futures already rendered obsolete by change. The Cities in Flight cycle by James Blish, for instance, exists in a world that was implausible almost at the date of its publication, but it's so rich and detailed and full of character and critique, echoing the Okie expansion in the West with a series of tales that tell us about our history using the tropes of the gee-whiz world. Gorgeous renderings of an immense city rocking its way off the earth are an inspired armature, but the stories built on those grand bones are close and personal.

Is The Lathe of Heaven about the future? It could be. It might just be a fantasy, too, and the brilliance of its construction creates a place for it outside the universe. Maybe we're all living in the jumble left by Dr. Haber's intrusions. Maybe it's just a fever dream. It's immaterial. Still, I can read it again and again and find something new and wonderful every time. In the worst flushes of this tea party era, I can mumble er' perrehnne in the grips of a knot of frustration and I don't believe that I'll get by with a little help from space turtles, but I know what Le Guin was saying—let go of the controls.

As a kid, my favorites were often the most gadgety, conspicuously futuristic books I could find, and when you're a kid, if you're the kind of kid I was, there's a great comfort in the notion that the world of the future will be somewhere new and better. The brilliant satirical works and the pieces that balanced the compelling future with the familiar now worked their way in, though. When I look back at the books that never wear out their welcome for me, like the astonishing The Stars My Destination, it's not really about the rockets, the whiz-bang wonders, and the kind of magic we disconnect from the fantastic fireside plasticity of tales told over ten thousand years of storytelling by attributing it to our imaginary separation from nature, and yet it is all still so vibrant with the energy of myth.

When I think about a book like Vermillion Sands, a quiet little collection of stories existing in a common, unclear world that's never name-checked among Ballard's more incendiary work, it's both about the now of its time (the late fifties through the early sixties) and no time, and it foresees nothing of the world we have today, but my—what's there is so perfect and so deliciously clear.

If you'd described the world of today to me at ten, I'd have been titillated and desperate to leap forward, but much of what's here isn't really all that great. That handheld computer that's connected to all the information in the world just keeps picking up junk emails offering to enlarge my penis and facebook updates from idiot relatives forwarding along dire warnings that America as we know it will end unless we vote Romney. I live in a household humming with miracle machines, but it's still the same old life, and the same old stories, except that my pen pal letters no longer come with beautiful stamps from foreign lands and I now have access to more and better pornography than I would have ever dreamed possible. It's easier to get information on how to reattach the rear view mirror that came off in my hands last night and I can buy a pair of shoes while I'm on the bus, but life continues on, and is still a pain in the ass.

This is the world of the future and here I am. I'm not bothered by my lack of a flying car.

Tomorrow, some ridiculous fashion trend will emerge. Tomorrow, something I think of as normal and regular and eternal will become something that I smirk at in a year, wondering who still uses those things? Tomorrow, I will make do at the intersection of the desirable, the necessary, and the boring. I am flying through outer space at something like sixty thousand miles an hour, and life is so immense and varied and complex that I'll never fully understand it.

Along the way, some stories will give a shape to all that.
posted by sonascope at 5:50 PM on September 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Steam Engine Time is Charles Fort's phrase.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:54 PM on September 15, 2012


Science fiction is never, ever, ever about tomorrow - it's always about today. Yeah, extrapolated tech, yeah, breaking these and those laws of physics, or worse, ruthlessly adhering to known physics, whatever, yawn.

Science fiction is always about where you are now, and where you've been. Where the people you love are now, and what they went through. What haunts you at night, what insurmountable problems will be even more insurmountable tomorrow.

You want to open your eyes, just a bit?

Molly is a werewolf. Flatline is a ghost. Riviera is a sorcerer. Armitage is a possessed soul. It's not a science fiction novel. It's a horror novel, set in the '50s, re-written with a 1980's jaded sense of inevitability. The best part, is that as cynical as you can look at them with a 2012 eye, Neuromancer and Count Zero, the novels already know, and are trying to tell you something even more sinister and true to mock you for your lack of vision.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:14 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've always liked Gibson's books. I share his bewilderment about how the toys are going to fit into the next generation's notions. I don't see how anyone can be sure what it will look like, except that it won't look like our past, even if all the samo samo bullshit will still be flung about.

Roger Ramjet--we should be so lucky.
posted by mule98J at 10:05 PM on September 15, 2012


If you'd described the world of today to me at ten, I'd have been titillated and desperate to leap forward, but much of what's here isn't really all that great. That handheld computer that's connected to all the information in the world just keeps picking up junk emails offering to enlarge my penis and facebook updates from idiot relatives forwarding along dire warnings that America as we know it will end unless we vote Romney.
That's the thing about cliché science-fiction futures that's always bothered me. People in cliché sci-fi worlds are always aware of history in a way that nobody ever is. In a post-apocalyptic world, do you think people would really think of themselves as living in a post-apocalyptic world? Do you think the people living in a positive future where we know no hunger or pain would think of themselves as living in a perfect future world? No, most likely people in either world would be complaining about their jobs and their families while chugging away within whatever circumstances they happen to live. The future is banal.
posted by deathpanels at 11:53 PM on September 15, 2012


Every once in a while, I get one of those in my car and I mess up the tuning on the radio and I get a classic rock station. I get this really weird science fictional feel: Could I be listening to this exact same playlist in 2046? Could somebody be listening to this in 2046? Maybe. What would it mean? Will that stuff ever go away? That’s the one way in which I think we’re in some seriously new territory. Possibly.
This is an interesting question. On one hand I think the predominance of nostalgia and continued popularity of acknowledged classics is a side effect of the breakup of mass culture. We're splintering into 10000 little interest groups that have less and less to say to each other, so the things we do still agree on have a special kind of staying power. But what happens when all the people who grew up with mass media are dead? When everybody alive has known nothing but fandom and niche interests, will they still think the Beatles are rad? Will they even use words like rad or cool when the interests of different peer groups radically diverge? Or is there something in human psychology that makes us want to agree with each other, that will act as a counterbalancing force to the drift?
posted by Kevin Street at 12:00 AM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked this:
Well, nostalgia is kind of the warning, always — the warning sign for so many of our species. Whenever I find myself thinking what “X” used to be — “X” used to be more fun, “Y” used to be better in the days of my youth — I check my pulse for conservatism [laughs]. I mean, really. What else should one do? The whole of lit and human history is filled with anguished voices crying out: “What’s wrong with these kids?… They no longer know how to do it old-school.” I’ve heard that every decade of my life since I was old enough to hear it, and I’m desperately holding off doing it myself. Because once I do, I think, in some sense, I’ll be done for.
posted by maxwelton at 12:34 AM on September 16, 2012


Will they even use words like rad
yes :(
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:29 AM on September 16, 2012


slap*happy: Molly is a werewolf. Flatline is a ghost. Riviera is a sorcerer. Armitage is a possessed soul. It's not a science fiction novel.

This. I really don't consider Gibson to be a science fiction writer; he admitted as much in early interviews, and there's the whole schtick (beautifully alluded to in Patrick farley's The Guy I almost Was) of Gibson as techno-throwback, pounding out his stories on an ancient manual typewriter. And of course he invented steampunk.

It's a fair point that people in the future won't think of themselves as living in the future any more than we do, and we very definitely live in the future compared to the time when I grew up, where little boxes that could let you talk to anyone in the world with another similar little box and self-opening doors were found only on fantasy starships.

But there are science fiction writers who get that and project it. David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself is actually about that very oppressive banality. It shines through in the works of writers like Philip K. Dick and Alfred Bester, of whom Gibson should have been aware even as he pounded out Neuromancer on his manual typewriter. It's true that much Golden Age SF climaxed with the solution of specific problems, many SF writers have moved on to an understanding that solving today's problems will only introduce us to tomorrow's problems, and that the most interesting problems can't be solved by technology at all.

This is, of course, why you see so few stories about the Singularity, because by definition the Singularity is merely the solution to all possible problems. If you can't see something past that point you don't have a climax, you have an ending and a rather cheesy one at that.
posted by localroger at 6:40 AM on September 16, 2012


Psy on SNL.
posted by homunculus at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this, I always find Gibson to be an unceasingly interesting person who is a very perceptive commentator on the world we live in, rather than any world yet to come.
posted by reynir at 2:36 PM on September 16, 2012


Earthtopus: a single lexical item for shallow/hollow/vain?

I consulted a native informant on this. Here's my paraphrase of what she told me. (Errors are of course mine.)

Psy says that human society/history is 허무함; the translator in the article says "hollow" here. It doesn't mean hollow literally, like an empty box is hollow, or shallow literally, like a puddle of water is shallow, but hollow/shallow metaphorically — meaningless, useless, pointless, in vain. Effort is made but has no lasting effect. My informant says that Sisyphus is a good example.

Psy says that each frame is 한심하고; the translator also says "hollow" here, but my informant prefers "pathetic". The translator does use the word "pathetic", but for Psy's feeling during shooting, which is 허망해요; my informant asserts that this word means about the same as the first word, 허무함, but more so.

(I neglected to take notes on which forms were adjective forms and which were noun forms and so on, so I've probably made a mess above.)

Is this all a dance version of Ecclesiastes? Truly, there is nothing new under the sun...

Ecclesiastes 1:2 uses a different word for vanity, 헛됨.
전 도 자 가 (preacher) 가 로 되 (says) 헛 되 고 헛 되 며 (vanity and vanity) 헛 되 고 헛 되 니 (vanity and vanity) 모 든 것 이 (all) 헛 되 도 다 (is vanity).
posted by stebulus at 8:47 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


when it's essentially a brand name? was there a time when people talked about the democratizing power of Coca-Cola?

Don't know if this counts, but Coca-colonization is a Thing.
posted by the cydonian at 12:51 AM on September 17, 2012


Every once in a while, I get one of those in my car and I mess up the tuning on the radio and I get a classic rock station. I get this really weird science fictional feel: Could I be listening to this exact same playlist in 2046?

I got that same weird feeling the other day passing by some stencilled graffiti of Marilyn Monroe's face. She's been dead fifty years...
posted by rory at 3:04 AM on September 17, 2012


Warren Ellis - How To See The Future
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on September 17, 2012


Previousy.
posted by homunculus at 7:49 PM on September 17, 2012


William Gibson the complete io9 interview
posted by Artw at 3:33 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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