Thinking ahead to the research paper I’ll be writing, I turned particular attention to the visualizations of cyberspace that I encountered while reading Neuromancer. Here’s a smattering of the imagery:

  • “bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void” (5)
  • “disembodied consciousness…the consensual hallucination that was the matrix” (5)
  • “rich fields of data” (5)
  • “Cyberspace…A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system…Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding” (51)
  • “a blurred fragmented mandala of visual information” (52)
  • “rainbow pixel maze” (59)
  • “the infinite neuroelectric void of the matrix” (115)
  • “cyberspace shifted, blurred, gelled” (115)
  • “delicate arches of shifting polychrome” (192)
  • “traceries of rainbow lattices” (201)
  • “rainbow tints gradually dominated by the green of the rectangle representing the T-A cores. Arches of emerald across the colorless void” (204)

I can recall invocations of many of these exact images in films such as (of course) The Matrix, and Hackers.

Hacker Ice
Hacker Ice

What the Matrix looks like
What the Matrix looks like

But data doesn’t look quite so beautiful (to the layperson, anyway). Under the covers, we’ve got this:


Interestingly, everything that I’m finding so far seems to suggest that visualization of data (i.e. the matrix, cyberspace) had their heyday in the mid-1990s–about the same time that your Joe the Plumbers were picking up their AOL CD-roms at every checkout counter and “jacking in” through their phone lines at $6.00 an hour (adjusted for inflation). Perhaps the current lack of interest in visualizaing the Web these days is a consequence of our becoming ever more married to our GUIs, to the point where we’re literally unable to believe that there’ textual programming and, beneath that, numeric binary, underneath the cover of our popular WYSIWYG applications. The other day, for example, I was in Tharon’s office, and we were talking about the power of “transparent” interfaces. He pulled up the pre-loaded Windows Vista calculator and said (a la Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics), “This is not a calculator.” And you know what? For about 45 seconds, I simply did not believe him. I think I even said, “Yes it is.” To which he of course replied something to the effect of you’re-rediculous-it’s-a-colleciton-of-code. Which it is.

In a very “real” sense, cyberspace is noplace. It’s a collection of fiber optic cables networked together, constantly sending packets of data around and around and around, coalescing in hubs and radiating out in a gillion “directions”–as many links as there are on the web. When a programmer jacks in, he’s looking at text. Perhaps Neuromancer is so popular among “cowboys” because it romanticized an otherwise doldrum job. Programmers are professional sitters, their eyes brightened constantly by the glow of extended screens. They don’t fly anywhere when they hack. They type code, and receive code in return. But my, wouldn’t you love a book which would do for English majors what Neuromancer does for programmers? I’d love it…

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