The Origin of Cyberspace

It was third time lucky when William Gibson christened the online environment ‘cyberspace’. Blood red sharpie struck through ‘dataspace’ and ‘infospace’ scrawled above on a yellow legal pad; too bland, not fit for purpose. Gibson was birthing the steampunk genre for his 1982 short story, Burning Chrome, considered the origin of cyberspace. Subsequently, this would become the basis for his debut novel, Neuromancer in 1984. The name for his very own brave new world would need to evoke the raw pace of this electronic frontier.

Cybernetic Space

The novel grew into the Sprawl trilogy, brimming with energy and pioneering ideas about the near future, with cyberspace sitting at the centre. Gibson defined cyberspace as an environment where raw data is represented visually. Cyber, short for cybernetics; the science of communication technologies. And space, an environment, a place you can go.

Science Fiction Predictions

As with any sci-fi vision of the future, there are swathes of errors, stark differences between the real cyberspace of today and Gibson’s painted picture. Yet on those occasions where the nail is hit firmly on the head, all six inches of iron plunge firmly into the helpless wood beneath.

Gibson’s cyberspace is a place where corporations build enormous data structures. Towering obelisks dominate the landscape which house their employees at work. The visual representation of the data aids their work, unaware of the baron matrix grid outside. The novels follow the lives of disobedient hackers, or ‘cowboys’, exploring the digital frontier, seeking to take whatever their criminal employers have hired them to from the corporations.

Sharp Software / Clumsy Hardware

Rather than view cyberspace on a screen, cowboys and workers alike enter into cyberspace using a ‘cyberspace deck’. These decks are connected to ‘trodes’ which transport the user’s consciousness into the space. Meanwhile the corporate structures protect themselves with ‘ice’, and cowboys seek to gain entry with black market ‘icebreaker’ programs. As a result, Cyberspace is a dangerous place, artificial intelligences and counter icebreaker measures can cause physical harm, or worse, hold your consciousness captive.

Grave New World

Gibson’s steampunk world is bustling, neon-lined and dirty, a place where criminality has taken the place of hope. As first impressions go, cyberspace does not make a positive one and leaves readers with a pessimistic vision of the imminent connected world.

In short, The origin of cyberspace is attributed to Gibson. As a result, the Sprawl trilogy‘s status is assured, cementing Gibson’s place in the sci-fi canon.

Posted 23 - 11 - 19


  1. Gibson, W., 1982 Burning Chrome – A collection of short stories which features Burning Chrome.
  2. Gibson, W., 1984 Neuromancer – Part one of the Sprawl Trilogy
  3. Gibson, W., 1986 Count Zero – Part two of the Sprawl Trilogy
  4. Gibson, W., 1988 Mona Lisa Overdrive – Part three of the Sprawl Trilogy

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