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Participation Mystique

Re-reading William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition made me sadly wistful for a time in the recent past, when the book’s heroine Cayce Pollard could seem hip, cool, and high-tech by cabling up a cell phone to an iBook and sending emails to people. She could do almost everything she does in the book now with an iPhone, as owned by every high school student.

Why sadly wistful, when nothing (technically) has been lost, and a lot of technology has been gained, that makes all the same practical effects just – easier?

That’s what I’m struggling to put into words. Certainly some of it could be a none-too-attractive case of “there goes the neighborhood.” To the extent there ever was a time when participation in the “information superhighway” meant you were a cut above mentally (and I’m not sure there ever was), that effect has been lost as the general population has adopted the technology.

And it may be that there was just some youthful idealism on my part when I was younger and read this book. I thought that I, too, was at least a little hip for hanging around in Starbucks or other coffee shops, typing away on a laptop or even – remoting in to my work computer! I had a bit more hair, and perhaps more the image of myself as the dashing entrepreneur.

I think that last thing is the thing I’m mourning, mainly. The flip-side of that; the hangover of the morning after, is the feeling that we’re all more connected by more-or-less necessity than Cayce was by high-tech ingenuity and the generous provision of Blue Ant. Far from giving our lives more control, communications technology has increasingly caused us to have to choose between being constantly wired up or seeming a bit like an odd man out.

Which oddly enough may be a regression to a more primitive culture, a hive.

Participation mystique is a phrase used by Cayce in a more or less opaque sense in the book – the link goes to a very interesting WordPress blogger I discovered on the subject. So there is that, at least…

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