November 6, 2010
I’m having a thoughtful Saturday.
My first housemate out of college didn’t get the Internet. Not as in she didn’t have it. She didn’t get it. When I asked her to let me know before she used the phone, if I was on the computer, because I might be using the modem, I had to explain it all to her — using the phone lines, being online, communicating with other computers. “But I don’t understand how you can talk to Los Angeles for free,” she kept saying, when I got to the part about e-mail. It was 1995, she didn’t use computers at all, and she can be forgiven, I suppose. But she really didn’t get the Internet.
The Internet used to be the purview of the elite.
Back when the Internet was mostly networked university and government computers, BBSs, and skreechy slow modems, cyberpunk literature showed netrunning — decking, jacking in, moving your consciousness into the computer network in order to manipulate it — as an elite activity. You had to have the skill, training, know-how, equipment. These were the cowboys, the deckers, the net warriors. The heroes (or Hiro). Tron was one of the first, if not the first, fictional depictions of netrunning. The next big one was Neuromancer. Characters with metal jacks in their skulls was a mainstay.
What really happened: It turns out that anyone who can use a telephone can be a netrunner. This is what the World Wide Web has done to cyberpunk.
I’m wondering what Tron Legacy is going to do with the issue. Is it going to go old school, working on the old assumption that only the elite have the power to travel the net? Or is it going to acknowledge that everyone can get online? Is there a difference between various “users” — everyone can get “on” the Web but only the old-school decker elite can manipulate it?