Two things interested me the most about this book…
First, the amazing ability to predict the “future” of the Internet. Written in 1992, when I was still thinking of the Internet as a mere fax machine on steroids and wondering how many trenches were going to be dug for all of those Internet lines, Stephenson was predicting 3D virtual worlds. Thank heaven for people with imagination and intelligence, a wonderful partnership. If it were left up to people like me we would still be using outhouses and burning candles.
Second, we humans aren’t actually all that evolved, despite indoor plumbing and electricity. The future mystifies us, whether that future is man and machine racing to reach various monoliths or whether it is computers that can spread a physical ailment. We love a good story, particularly involving action and a hero, about the “scariness” of what is to come. Whether seriously or satirically, we assume in the future all of our advances will come back to bite us in the behind. Man versus machine, be it three legged-Martians in War of the Worlds (1898) or The Terminator (1984), was and is an engaging topic for a plot. I mean really, who doesn’t like watching Maximum Overdrive (1986) on a rainy Saturday afternoon? And who among us hasn’t seen War Games (1983) more than once? It doesn’t even have to be fiction. Millions of people tuned in to see man vs. machine on Jeopardy in February 2011 (MSN, 2011). Be it 1800, 1900 or 2100, evolution, technological advancements, and the future make for a really good novel and/or movie.
I guess that my point is that while technology continues to move forward and continues to change, human emotions will always be human emotions. We are always going to want technology to develop into products and services that make our lives easier, and we are always going to fear the repercussions of being too dependent on machines and artificial intelligence. The line between life and technology will always be fuzzy, particularly with 3D worlds, avatars, and the like, and this conflict will always make for great fiction.
P.S. – I’m not sure if so many of my references above are from the 80s because I am a child of the 80s or because it was an especially hot topic at that time. Something I’ll have to investigate.
MSN. (2011). Man and Machine Tied in ‘Jeopardy’ Game-Show Match. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41582125/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/man-machine-tied-jeopardy-game-show-match/