The notion of “viral ideas” is a central theme in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. And the “birther” nonsense is a near-perfect illustration:
“We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information. The only thing that keeps these things from taking over the world is the Babel factor — the walls of mutual incomprehension that compartmentalize the human race and stop the spread of viruses.”
A world where all, or most, of the people speak English would be a dangerous thing indeed.
I love the novels of Neal Stephenson and find that I can read them again and again, always discovering something new and fresh. The excerpt below is from Snow Crash, written in 1976. published in 1984.
“The people of America, who live in the world’s most surprising and terrible country, take comfort in that motto. Follow the loglo outward, to where the growth is enfolded into the valleys and canyons, and you find the land of the refugees. They have fled from the true America, the America of atomic bombs, scalpings, hip-hop, chaos theory, cement overshoes, snake handlers, spree killers, space walks, buffalo jumps, drive-bys, cruise missiles, Sherman’s March, gridlock, motorcycle gangs and bungee jumping. They have parallel-parked their bimbo boxes in identical computer-designed Burbclave street patterns and secreted themselves in symmetrical sheetrock shitholes with vinyl floors and ill-fitting woodwork and no sidewalks, vast house farms out in the loglo wilderness, a culture medium for a medium culture.”
It means nothing out of context, I suppose, but this is where I put things I want to find again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Neal Stephenson do an interview but perhaps I just missed them.
From Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, published in 1976. 22 years before Google; 29 years before YouTube; 32 years before the Bail Out/Melt Down.
“The business is a simple one. Hiro gets information. It may be gossip, videotape, audiotape, a fragment of a computer disk, a xerox of a document. It can even be a joke based on the latest highly publicized disaster.
He uploads it to the CIC database — the Library, formerly the Library of Congress, but no one calls it that anymore. Most people are not entirely clear on what the word “congress” means. And even the word “library is getting hazy. It used to be a place full of books, mostly old one. Then they began to include videotapes, records, and magazines. Then all of the information got converted into machine-readable form, which is to say, ones and zeros. And as the number of media grew, the material became more up to date, and the methods for searching the Library became more and more sophisticated, it approached the point where there was no substantive difference between the Library of Congress and the Central Intelligence Agency. Fortuitously, this happened just as the government was falling apart anyway. So they merged and kicked out a big fat stock offering.
Millions of other CIC stringers are uploading millions of other fragments at the same time. CIC’s clients, mostly large corporations and Sovereigns, rifle through the Library looking for useful information, and if they find a use for something that Hiro put into it, Hiro gets paid.”
Just finished reading the third (and final) volume of Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World). I don’t know what to say about almost 3,000 pages except it was a journey. Perhaps one for fans only. I didn’t care much for The Diamond Age but loved Cryptonomicon (1,168 pages) and Snow Crash. Some day I’ll be at a boring party and meet someone that read and enjoyed the story of Dr. Waterhouse, Eliza and Jack Shaftoe as much as I. And we’ll have a nice, long chat.