Modern technologies made notions of virtual reality and cyberspace especially popular in recent decades. The word “virtual” means both true condition and possibility of it. These concepts appeared as a result of technological revolution and are quite new. In my research I’d like to examine the origin, peculiarities and future of cyberspace on the example of films and literary works.
Virtual reality differs from real material world and is based on such concepts as information, thoughts and images.
Cyberspace however is connected with computer technologies, intended to create and imitate virtual reality. The word “cyberspace” was introduced by William Gibson in his novel “Neuromancer” to define the global virtual environment. I must admit that he managed to describe in details the artificial world, but the very ideas of reality were investigated long time ago. In the middle of the twentieth century Ray Bradbury wrote his famous “Veldt” where he described a family living in a house with “nursery” imitating another reality. It modified the environment according to one’s thoughts. Kids liked that room very much, but parents soon got to know that it cultivated violence in their children. That’s why they decided to “turn off” the room. In revenge for such actions furious children left their parents in “nursery”, and let them be eaten by materialized lions. What is more, similar system called “CAVE” was really invented in 1996. I pay attention to this story because for the first time it raised the problem of mass media influence on people. Bradbury was inspired by the rise of TV popularity. More and more families began to buy TV sets, but were not aware how this new device would affect family relations. Many people began to ask themselves whether this powerful informational stream could really become extremely dangerous. How can it be controlled? To what extent does it influence the vulnerable psyche of children and people in general? All these questions are still being under consideration. But before investigating virtual reality it is important to understand the reality we are living in. I doubt someone can prove it exists at all. We experience everything through emotions and feelings. In this way exterior world depends on our inner image of it. Talented painters are a nice example of it. They paint the images they see, but the quality depends on their imagination.
I’d like to clear out the structure of virtual reality. Everything visual and perceptible in the world of cyberspace doesn’t exist in reality. Every object in it is noting more than non-material (informational) idea. We can’t talk about reality without taking into account time, and we can’t imagine it without space. In this way in order to understand virtual reality we should consider these two aspects. Marshall McLugen’s “Understanding Media” is a revolutionary work, which examined how the process of informational transmission influences the society. This book was first to describe our society as informational. Different informational environments serve different messages. New kinds of mass media influence the process of communication. The ideas introduced in McLugen’s book as well as some other hypothetic works began to materialize. Nowadays the Internet occupies the whole world and became leading way of virtual communication, connecting people of different countries. Such changes were highly beneficial, but at the same time undoubtedly led to certain problems. I mean that nowadays more and more people, especially children, prefer to spend time in cyberspace rather than communicating with real people. But cyberspace needs to be kept in order which is hard to achieve. Nowadays informational space becomes independent and self-sufficient. On the other hand people are able to control the space. Virtual space is no longer a limitation of life.
The development of 3D-technologies allows creating more or less realistic image, and audio problems are nearly solved. The real world needs an unlimited variety of rules, which would give enormous opportunities. An image of virtual reality is now represented by Internet. It’s hard to say whether it exists or not. But it is certainly a great space of pure information and communication. It is partly abstract and partly real. Films and books help to understand how World Wide Web developed in the past and will develop in future. They reveal problems of humanity in a new world penetrated with computer nets and immersed in virtual reality.
The end of the XXth century as we know is characterized by rapid growth of informational technologies which brought changes in culture and literature. Recent movement CYBERPUNK came to our lives from science fiction.
Such writers as Bruce Sterling, Rudi Rocker, and John Shirley criticized traditional science fiction literature. It helped to form main features of specific literary stream. “Snow crash” by Neal Stephenson creates a bizarre image of future, in which Mafia would control pizza delivery, and the main hero’s name is Hiro Protagonist. He is a prominent hacker and the sword fighter. Such cyberpunk writers describe a new take on old traditional understanding of reality.
Virtual scenes in their works help to understand the relationships between people and technologies. What is “snow crash”? It is designer drugs, which combines computer virus and real drugs. Stephenson writes that if someone is defeated in a sword fight, it means that the computer was disconnected from the global network (Metaverse). Now the loser is annoyed because he’s out of the system which is an imitation of death, offered by the Metaverse.
Moreover the user can’t return to it, as his avatar can’t exist in two places simultaneously. Stephenson then describes the way to enter the Metaverse again, by burning the old avatar and creating a new one. But this time the user would be more careful not to fail again.
Researchers claim that even thought the father of cyberpunk William Gibson didn’t create the term “cyberspace” on his own, he was first to give a detailed conceptual description of it. The heroes of his books act in the Global Net – an interzone of informational and energetic streams. In other words they lived in the conditions of constant interface of various matrixes. In “Neuromant” for example, one can find a notion of cyberspace. The author defines it as a hallucination, which milliards of legal operators all over the world experience every day. It is graphic datum, kept in the memory of each computer, connected to the Net (Gibson 2004). It seems to be incredibly complex. People discover endless amounts of information in cyberspace, which represents the connection between computers in different places. It is considered as a real place. The idea of cyberspace destroys the difference between cybernetic technology and human sphere, as every computer exists in consensus with neurotic system of its user. Cyberspace is represented by both, pictures on the screen and neurotic system, directly connected to the Net. It is a sign of total technological triumph.
Despite the influence of literary cyberpunk on science fiction it became a real cubcultural phenomenon only in the mid-90th. Films created in the genre of science fiction are undoubtedly popular. What is the atmosphere of science fiction and cyberpunk? It is something that is easy to feel but hard to define. Cyberpunk is a new look on nowadays world. These are technologies which are able to save thousands of people, but instead cause numerous deaths. I want to analyze how original concept of science fiction changed in films. The director Robert Longo made a film version of a famous novel “Johnny Mnemonic”. No doubt the world of future is thoroughly depicted in it. The image of matrix in this film is considered to be one of the most prominent and incomparable. Just like it is in the novel, the combination of modern and future worlds creates an unforgettable atmosphere. Due to skillful use of special effects, unreal things seam to be quite possible. However this film is a bit contradictory because it doesn’t correspond to cyberpunk traditions to full extent. Such elements as rescue of the world and a happy end are not peculiar to cyberpunk novels. Its principle is to avoid established stereotypes and create something radically new. But despite this, “Johnny Mnemonic” proved to be one of the best fantastic films of the nineties.
In Japan cyberpunk was a bit modified. May be at first sight it’s not so noticeable but still one can feel that Japanese cyberpunk animations are out of ordinary. “Ghost in the Shell” reminds me William Gibson’s style of depiction. It was released in the same year with “Johnny Mnemonic”, but became more prominent in any way. I didn’t describe the plot of the researched films because films themselves are not as important as reflected cyber conception in them.
But in this case I consider it necessary to define the plot of “Ghost in the shell” because there are too many misunderstandings about it. Some people for example think it is a cartoon based on Matrix motives, which is not so.
Mamoru Oshii depicts life and adventures of a police officer Motoko Kusanagi, who was absolutely artificial and didn’t remember her past life. But she didn’t suffer from it either, which is a rare case. She felt unhappy because she wasn’t sure about her “natural” origin. How it is to understand you are just a peace of metal? What about soul?
Each scene in the “Ghost in the shell” is very impressive even decades to pass. Absolutely any scene is a masterpiece with deep meaning. Motoko’s thoughts about her place in life are not typically cyberpunk. Traditional cyberpunk ideas concern the place of a human in the system and loss of personality. No doubt, it’s easy to loose personality in “ghostly” world, but it is more like an individual than mass tendency. In other words “Ghost in the shell” has not much in common with cyberpunk as a literary trend of the 80th. It is more likely to be a typically Japanese cyberpunk. Different people choose what they like more: either Ridley Scott or Mamoru Oshii. It’s for them to decide what kind of cyberpunk they need: obscure and merciless, or delicate and beautiful. But it’s worth to watch both.
Originally the term “science fiction” was related only to predictions about the future of technological inventions. In the course of time however the variety of genres widened and nowadays it also includes social fantastic. Imagination is no limits or today’s reality; it gives an opportunity to travel in time and space and to enter virtual reality. In recent decades favorite themes for film-directors became space wars (“War of the Words”, “Star Wars”), unknown forces, which invaded the planet, as well as monsters (the consequences of nuclear catastrophe). Science-fiction films express growing possibilities of modern technologies and often depict possible destruction of humanity.
“Alien”, “The thing”, “The star way: new generation” proved to be out of ordinary examples of science fiction films.
“Alien” by Ridley Scott tells of an event or 1979, which changed further state of things for a long time to come.
“Alien” contains much horror and darkness, combines features of traditional science fiction and a new trend of it – cyberpunk. It represents ideas of “artificial person”. Typical contrast to idealistic image of distant future can be seen in most science-fiction films, but “Alien” is something different. Together with “Blade runner” this film became a nice example of cyberpunk creations. Visual and sound effects (constant screams penetrating the soul) complete the picture of a skillfully done film production. Some people consider such films have much in common with horror themes, but nevertheless they remain imaginary and fantastic, because they depict things which don’t exist yet. But on the other hand the film plots are likely to come true some time. According to specialists, “scientific motives” in these films lie in logic conclusions and hypothesis of modern scientific achievements. That’s why there is a high probability of fantastic predictions. They actually became a norm of our life. Different film directors depict cyberspace differently but they are united with common belief in highly technological future.
The world famous film “Matrix” represents cyberspace in a specific way. Everybody knows the phrase of Morpheus “He is the One”. The name of the main hero is an anagram of the word “one” (Neo). Special effects create a feeling of an interface working non-stop. Remember an episode when Neo was reborn into a new matrix of life, breaking the limits of existence in cyberspace. In comparison with his new image, former agents look less perfect and (what is especially interesting) more humanlike. “Matrix” provides a radically new representation of cyberspace. Neo starts his travel with a red pill which reminds drugs. Heroes freely move between realities as if they were drug-users. It is probably the first film about revolutionary fight in cyberspace, which can be called “The project of Net revolution”.
“Science Fiction” by Adam Roberts is intended for those who want to explore the problem thoroughly and seriously.
He examines great number of contemporary scientific books which try to clear out the concept of Cyberspace and its future development. Roberts admits that modern science fiction works often contain references to those written in the past. Cyberspace is reality closed within the global computer net. It is not simply a visual, perceptive and sound imitation of reality. It’s something more. It begins to define common conscience. In literature it is represented by cyberpunk, in architecture – high-tech, while in music – techno. It forms a specific culture of thinking. An impressive opportunity of cyber reality is unlimited transmission and an effect of presence. A personality experiences direct impact of virtual reality and starts cooperating with it.
Different science fiction works represent a powerful vision of cyberspace, as well as various film productions. “The Matrix” presents material reality as a virtual one, created and ruled by enormous mega computer, which all of us are connected to. Can one possibly spend the whole life in cyberspace? What are the spheres of virtual application? What about a rapid spread of global hacking? What if a man will get lost in the Global Web? Computer virtual reality is the synonym to cyberspace. Nowadays people invented various devices to let them enter cyberspace, feel themselves inside it and do various activities, which are either possible or impossible in our world. Some critics claim that virtual reality, cyberspace and Internet will lead to a generation of people whose inner world will be locked in it. People would be moved away from exterior world. Other critics however are more optimistic. They say everything will be vice versa, because cyberspace contains no prejudices.
In conclusion I’d like to say that different science fiction writers contributed into people’s understanding of cyberspace. Their powerful imagination created impressive virtual realities. Modern science fiction writers move forward in depiction contemporary cyberspace models, but often refer to traditional writers.
Complex social networks have always existed, but recent technological developments in communication have afforded their emergence as a dominant form of social organization (Willson 2001).
AIthough my research is based on Adam Roberts’s “Science fiction” and his understanding of cyberspace, I mostly referred to different science fiction sources which would widen the concept. Thus, I analyzed the works of classical science fiction writers (Ray Bradbury, William Gibson) and modern cyberpunk writers (Neal Stephenson). I referred to films (“The Matrix”, “Blade runner”, “Johnny Mnemonic”, “Alien”, “The thing”), animations (“Ghost in the shell”) and some critical publications like Marshall McLugen’s “Understanding media”. I think that all these works taken of a whole would clear out the notion of cyberspace.