Monday, December 27, 2004

Marge Piercy Days

These are Marge Piercy days, the future she envisioned less than ten years ago in her novel, He, She and It with cyber attacks and pirates, firewalls and protected zones.

Two immediate springs of thought have come to me: one, that the literary Cassandras of 2004 have less leeway nowadays to articulate their visions before those visions become reality. And two, that the internet is the contemporary battleground sans the blood. Smart bombs are those brains who can best use language, manipulate code, communicate. The artificial lines of defense in internet assaults are the speediest, most proactive, protective applications.

Think about it. Even now, collective islands are coalescing in cyberspace to recruit or to protect, accessed through keys and cryptography with checkpoints requiring proof of identification. Forums, message boards and blogs act like refuges of free expression and havens for the exchange of ideas; language meccas where like-minded netizens assemble and build bonds. Others are rehab and rescue outposts, where the geek is god because the geek knows the language of the virus. Or there's the dynasty of the evil twin: crackers and intruders whose maliciousness can turn PCs to pudding, steal money out of your savings account or pervert the machinations of every computer-dependent operation on earth.

None of this is news.

In her scifi novel, Piercy has fashioned a totally believable environment with cyborgs who plug in and patrol the "Base" or internet. It's their job to keep safe their creator's pockets of cyberspace. Why use borgs? Because the consequences of plugged in humans range from "fused user syndrome" to burned-out brains.

This passage from Piercy's 1991 book gives an overview of what once sounded like imaginative fiction:

Embedded in a base, plugged in, a person was vulnerable to mental warfare. The very neural pathways that the impulses from the machines traveled into the brain could be burned out, the brain rendered passive as a sponge. The mind could be forced into a catatonic loop. A program could be launched that froze the ability to breathe. The brain could be simply shocked to death like an electrocuted rat. If information pirates, if raiders or assassins broke into a base, they could set traps, they could ambush and kill as well as steal the artifacts created there. There were multi raiders and freelance pirates.

The meta conversation here is about the intimate proximity of fiction and reality. Boundaries between these two worlds are becoming diaphanous.

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