The Apocalyptic Retweets of William Gibson

The Apocalyptic Retweets of William Gibson
Image: Gizmodo/@GreatDismal

Because you presumably read this website, you, too, may suffer from a semi-annual realisation that — my god — I’ve spent years of my life thinking about Facebook and U.S politics. You’re probably also aware that no place on the internet captures this dread better than William Gibson’s Twitter feed.

What do I do with this fucking information, you may have wondered. Here’s what the mind that predicted late-stage capitalist tech hell does: wordlessly observes like a retweet bot broadcasting our descent into madness in real-time. It is, in other words, the perfect portal into our relentless, Very Online batshit reality. Marjorie Taylor Greene goes ballistic over women’s rights. An internet rumour has asthma sufferers putting bleach in their nebulisers. Israel assassinates a nuclear scientist with a remotely-operated artificial intelligence sniper rifle. Glenn Greenwald gives Bari Weiss an interview about vaccine passports. No comment. No limit. The future is and always will be more depressing and stupid than Gibson has foretold in his volumes of sci-fi novels.

Gibson leaves only faint fingerprints on all this — most of the time, a ghostly William Gibson Retweeted. He lives it.

Gibson’s own narratives (from the 1980s Neuromancer series — admittedly, the only ones I’ve read, yet, sorry) surface back in the news all the time. There are the obvious parallels like privately owned surveillance operations and drone strikes and influencer culture and that everyone is damaged and people are never quite friends, just that their circumstances overlap. Even more granular, a friend, art critic Michael Farley, pointed out that Count Zero almost precisely nailed NFTs in 1986. Take this passage he flagged about a gallery manager:

Picard, if that was the man’s name, was speaking with a broker in New York, arranging the purchase of a certain number of “points” of the work of a particular artist. A “point” might be defined in any number of ways, depending on the medium involved, but it was almost certain that Picard would never see the works he was purchasing. If the artist enjoyed sufficient status, the originals were very likely crated away in some vault, where no one saw them at all. Days or years later, Picard might pick up that same phone and order the broker to sell.

The only truly disappointing inconsistency between his early work and now is that the protagonists and semi-human despots in the Neuromancer series are smarter and savvier than our real-life operators. They pour over information and set plans in motion. We lived to the future, and all we got was this idiot in a cowboy hat. Last year, Gibson told NPR a more eloquent version of the same thing: “Cyberspace, as described in Neuromancer, is nothing at all like the internet that we live with,” he said, “which consists mostly of utterly banal and silly stuff.”

So that’s the Twitter account, like a brain short-circuiting from staring at a flaming rolled-over semi that dumped a basket of uninjured puppies on the highway and trying to decide whether to be sad about the incinerated driver or thrilled about the puppies. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reveal that our still-unjailed former president pressured officials to help him overthrow democracy. But a passing motorist rescues a ram from a barbed wire fence. Except Texas is getting away with more abortion restrictions. On the other hand, Angela Merkel holds parakeets and cockatiels.

The tweets churn faster than the retweeter could possibly read the source or listen to the podcast. Important stuff about governments shuffle in with dumb stuff about animals until it’s all milled down to the same inscrutable bland meal. Why not rubber-stamp it with the name of a dystopia novelist and send it back again? Does it make sense? No. And yes. And no. And dogs.

Comments

  • I usually decide it’s time to take a break once the density of “William Gibson retweeted” tweets gets too high, but it has led to finding some very interesting and cool stuff over the years, and he’s absolutely worth a follow.

    Also, The Peripheral may be the most prescient novel I’ve ever read (I still need to get to reading its sequel, Agency, though).

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