By Edward Hopper –, Public Domain,

I love the serendipity when two ideas come at the same time, and a storm of connections are made just because I came across them at around the same time.

The first item is The Schedule and the Stream, a Medium article by Matt Locke which frames the algorithmic stream (Facebook’s News Feed and others, mostly from social media) as a broadcast technology, not just as important as radio and television but representing an even more fundamental shift. One thing that I appreciated so much about the article was that it presented something I’ve never come across, the idea that radio and television could be considered a killer app for the 24-hour schedule:

Unlike a theater audience, the telephone audience was not bound by the limitations of being in the same place. But they were bound by time: When they picked up their receivers, they were all listening to the same content as it was broadcast live. …

…Nobody had ever had the problem of organizing over 12 hours of human attention before, and the solution Puskás came up with had an impact way beyond the short-lived Telefon Hírmondó. As radio, and then television, grew to dominate mass media, the schedule became one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

Matt Locke, “The Schedule and the Stream”

Thus, the 24-hour schedule becomes a way to structure live content, which trains the audience to be conscious of time in a new way, which creates a bigger audience for scheduled content, which causes the audience to schedule other activities—eating, sleeping, working—into the new framework.

The second item is the great profile of William Gibson in the latest The New Yorker. If you have any love for science fiction, please read it, it’s great.

Drawing connections between these two ideas, it made me look at the cyberpunk noir writers that I love so much—Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling—and consider why they work so well for me. I think it has to do with the way that it draws a parallel between the new feeling of disconnection and dislocation that characterized urban city life in the 30’s and 40’s and the de-contextualization that has emerged in a globalized, internet connected world now. In detective fiction, usually our detective hero is detached from the city around him, a morally good figure that struggles to complete his quest against all of the vices violence, and capitalist exploitation around him. Often, crime victims are part of categories of people that emerge with a certain amount of density: sex workers, women and men that move to the city for work, people who get involved with petty crime. Just as often, the villains are the demigods of these shadowy worlds: corrupt cops, crime bosses, property developers, politicians. Almost like the island effect, cities have a way of making some people powerless and small and less than human, and others powerful, rich, and superhuman.

What the cyberpunk writers did was realize that that uneasy feeling of dislocation, anonymity, and constant fear of ever-changing predators would translate to a connected and globalized world. It is everywhere, in our economic anxiety, mental health, fear of foreign competition, fears for children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *