Reading Cultures: The Construction of Readers in the Twentieth Century

By Molly Abel Travis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Reading (in) Cyberspace: Cybernetic Aesthetics, Hypertext, and the Virtual Public Space

■Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts.... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data....

-- William Gibson, Neuromancer

T he development of cybernetic theory and technology marks a paradigm shift: the basis of the economy is transformed from material goods to information, space and communication are reconceptualized in terms of electronic virtuality, and text and intertextuality are extended into hypertextuality. Cybernetics includes not only information technologies but the complex of effects -- epistemological, ethical, social, political -- that accompanies these technological developments.1 As is true for all paradigm shifts, the effects of cybernetics have inspired fear and loathing in those committed to an earlier paradigm characterized by visual or material presence, linearity, and monologism. Conversely, those who abandoned the old paradigm years ago and who form the advance guard of the new movement exhibit an optimism that verges on rapture.2

In this chapter I begin by analyzing various cultural responses to cybernetics.

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