William Gibson on individual privacy, governmental secrecy and the future of history

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/12/08/william-gibson-on-individual-p.html


But history, the long term, is transparency; it is the absence of secrets.

Does the end of transparency mean the long-awaited end of history? It sure doesn’t look like the one Fukuyama promised us.

and the future of history

That’s looking kind’a iffy right now.

1 Like

I liked his short reflection… (I really liked the humble honesty of confusion and insight together). I think that the assumption of an increasingly clear view of the past is questionable one… do we assume there will be no more dark ages in the future? No more information bottle-necks? Do we assume that ‘post-truth’ will not provide one of the strongest obfuscations… more opaque than any non-purely random keyed encryption? Do we assume the ontological lens of the future will even be able to map onto the meaning of our own times (since we don’t even have a word for the flhedrv’ling around which some possible future’s culture will be based, what with the bio-social differences in embodiment now to then)?

“We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?”
—Septimus Hodge from Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia

The question of what to do with the panopticon is excellent. Cory recomennded Ken MacLeod’s Intrusion a few years back, and I found it to be one of the most in-depth meditations on what happens when virtually all levels of human agency, from individual, to supra-state governance rely of pervasive surveillance as part of the day-to-day.


Gibson shaped my thinking very deeply, from a young age (13 maybe? I’m 38 now). When I was in college, I wrote a paper for an independent study (maybe 98 or 99?) where I talked about a period we were soon approaching I termed “The Post-Historic Age.” My argument was one more about how such rapid, constant change would lead to a lack of an ability for history to be “locked-in” to the cultural memory. I don’t think I hit on the encryption and surveillance state aspect of post-history in my paper, but of course it makes sense that those trends would also contribute to this state.

I freaking love you, William Gibson! :slight_smile:


“Secrets are very essence of cool” - Hubertus Bigend


Speaking of history and encryption, does everyone still have a “cracked” text copy of Gibson’s Agrippa? Like the original transitory diskette version, my copy survives from computer to computer, lurking in the back of disks, continually being deleted, but, so far, not quite gone. Deleting it completely would feel like a kind of surrender.

1 Like

I like this. A good thought-provoking reflection.

And also reinterpretation based upon the then-contemporary culture of the future historians, after being translated and re-translated. Crafted from pieces from the vast sea of recorded data stitched together with suppositions, suppressing or discarding data contradictory to that which gives the desired impression. If indeed it is becoming a sea of transparency, it is the opaque bits swimming around in it that will be most visible and draw the most attention.

Perhaps a pragmatic compromise - allow the FBI or other agencies to unlock our phones 3000 years after we die.

1 Like

There may not have been any in the past.


Just make sure that waiting period isn’t cut too short. Your government - any government - would be all too happy to expedite your demise if it only had to wait say a year.

Ah… nice video! But I meant dark ages, not Dark Ages. Specifically the kinds of destructive forces that nail a culture and impose a bottleneck on the future’s understanding of it. For example, the burning of the Library at Alexandria (hence the Arcadia reference :), the fall of the Bronze-Age city states, etc.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.