Prev page William Gibson inteview page #3/4 Next page

"I do not think an enormous permanent underclass is a very good thing to have if you're attempting to operate something that at least pretends sometimes to be a democracy."

Listen to William Gibson talk about America as a social nightmare
Reasonable sound quality (628 k) Lousy quality, but quick (281 k)
Yesterday night I read some of the newsgroups about cyberspace and cyberpunk and your name comes up all the time. There are some things being discussed that I thought I'd ask you about. Some Americans claimed that the Europeans are more afraid of the kind of society that you describe in your books...
That's interesting... I think that the sort of societies I am describing would be more disturbing to someone who lived in a cohesive, functioning social democracy than it would be to someone who lives in the United States. There are large parts of the United States today that must seem, I would think, to a European as dystopian and possibly more dystopian than I describe in my books. There are large parts of many American cities that are absolute social nightmares. America is a country that may already have an enormous permanent underclass. I do not think an enormous permanent underclass is a very good thing to have if you're attempting to operate something that at least pretends sometimes to be a democracy.
By the same token, I think that computers today allow us one last opportunity to provide something like a level playingfield in America. My colleague Bruce Sterling and I were invited to Washington a couple of years ago to address the National Academy of Sciences special meeting on the computerization of American public schools. The idea was that all schools would be put on line totally and that education would start taking place in the Internet. It's fascinating thing you can do, pedagogical talent can be shared regardless of the physical whereabouts, it's got astonishing potential. Plus you're giving the children something that has the tactile appeal of video games, you're not giving them a sort of 19th century education, which is what we are doing now.
Sterling and I appalled everyone by arguing that yes, this is a great idea, but this sort of technology had to immediately go to only to the poorest and most disadvantaged there is. They had to be taken into the ghetto schools.

As it is today they have no chance of getting it...
No, they have no access to computers. I was watching CNN during the riots of Los Angeles a couple of years ago and they were showing video footage of a mob looting a Radio Shack. Running out of the Radio Shack was hi-fis, video cameras and everything they could pick up. But the Radio Shack was right next to a Macintosh dealership which had powerbooks in the window. And it was untouched. So here these incredible valuable portable very, very powerful computers was sitting untouched behind an unbroken shop-window while the poor people steal Sony Walkmans. I felt that was so sad, and so indicative of our real problem. Because this technology, at this point, belongs to the middle classes and up. It's not available to the underclass at all, they're not interested in it.

Will this result in a permanent gap?
Oh, we have that. It's a result of the systematic dismantling during the Reagan era of what past for our welfare system and the disappearance of the middle class. The middle class drains away in either direction becoming either very rich or very poor. It's a tragic situation, one which I had hoped to see reversed somewhat under the Clinton administration, but with the recent advent of a republican senate I'm afraid that in a sense we are back to the Reagan years. If we want to see what we get when we sustain that sort of political activity for a long time - look at England.

Prev page William Gibson inteview page #3/4 Next page
Feedback is welcome! Mail me at
This is an example of what websites looked like in 1995. The interview is also available in a more contemporary look.
Interview copyright © 1995 Sveriges Television AB