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A Consensual Hallucination

Yesterday I bought a copy of David Bell's Cyberculture Theorists: Manuel Castells and Donna Haraway (Routledge, 2007), which is a great read and a very welcome change of pace from most of the economics I have to work through at the office.

The first chapter is primarily about defining terms, beginning with the concept of cyberspace. According to Bell, William Gibson coined the term in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, where he wrote:

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by millions of legitimate operators. ... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

Which is an uncanny description of the World Wide Web written several years before it existed in any socially meaningful way.

Bell goes on to cite a 1991 essay by Gibson, which recounts how he came to invent the term:

Assembled word cyberspace from small and readily available components of language. Neologic spasm: the primal act of pop poetics. Preceded any concept whatever. Slick and hollow -- awaiting received meaning. All I did: folded words as taught.