About ten years ago—a point at which some stage of an advanced technological future already seemed to have arrived—I sat with a friend at the People’s Republik, a bar in Cambridge, Mass., looking around the room and noting how nothing really looked too different than it would have in the 1970s or the 1990s, aside from the faint glow of phone screens illuminating some people’s faces, and maybe the stronger glow of Big Buck Hunter in the corner. In contrast to so much of the science fiction that had informed our ideas about what a technologically sophisticated future would look like, the version we actually got seemed to lack a distinct visual identity. A decade later, that’s basically still true—but then as now, it’s mostly just true when we’re sitting at the bar and looking around. This future we inhabit does have its own incredibly rich imagery that primarily exists in virtual space. We have to look at screens to see it, and we spend plenty of time doing so. That was already the case a decade ago, but the digital environments we access through variously-sized computers are no longer alternative spaces—they’re a robust world of their own. William Gibson and
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