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.