Disembodiment in Neuromancer
The Internet is a vast, wonderful place, full of nearly endless knowledge and entertainment. In moments, a person can get help on a homework problem, find a forum to talk about the nuances of their favorite television show, and find a YouTube video showing a cat riding a Roomba. When taking these things into account, it is hard to imagine that the internet, a technology that provides so much, could have any negative effects on us outside of it’s addictive environment. But in On the Internet, Hubert Dreyfus believes “when we enter cyberspace and leave behind or emotional, intuitive, situated, vulnerable, embodied selves, and thereby gain a remarkable new freedom… we might… necessarily lose some of our capacities: our ability to make sense of things…. we would be attempted to avid the risk of genuine commitment…” (Dreyfus 6-7). In gaining the boundless freedom of the Web, Dreyfus believes we become disembodied from ourselves, and from those around us. The disembodiment effect the Internet has is a notable element in the character of Case in Neuromancer by William Gibson.
One of the ways Gibson says disembodiment affects Internet users is that it isolates people from their friends and family. When we come into the novel, Case is alone. He does not necessarily have friends, more like contacts. Interactions between him and others are brief, and casual. Even entering into a pseudo-romantic sexual relationship with Molly happens with almost no real intimacy outside of the bedroom, not even much in the bedroom. Instead, he yearns for the Net. “He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into his custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix.” (Gibson 5). In fact, his curt behavior with characters makes any interaction that is penetrated by emotion deeper than the surface is almost jarring, such as his memory of when he started to date Linda Lee. Still, perhaps his depth of feelings for her are caused less by his attachment to her, but from how he literally reduces her to the code of an arcade game, some of the only code he can interact with outside of the matrix, with his injury. “…features reduced to code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as the Wizard’s Castle burned… mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon.” (Gibson 8). Most of the time, Case seems to view people as something he has to deal with, as opposed to someone he wants to be with.
Dreyfus also states that Internet users show an increase in levels of depression. “…greater use of the Internet was associated with… increases in their depression and loneliness.” (Dreyfus 3). It makes some sense that the Internet isolates a person from those around them for extended periods of time, leading to feelings of depression, because people need physical interactions with others. However, after Case’s injury, all he is left with is the physical. Instead of regaining a healthy level of mental wellbeing, he becomes depressed and feels trapped within his meaty prison, and is intentionally living dangerously so that maybe somehow he’ll get killed and no longer have to deal with a matrix-less existence. This is the reverse of what Dreyfus says. Instead of increased depression with the Internet, Case experiences it sans-Internet. Dreyfus asks, “…can we get along without our bodies?” (Dreyfus 6). For Case, the question should be, can he get along with his body?
“We may lament the risks endemic to the embodied world where we are embedded with objects and others in local situations, but the idea of living in boundless virtual worlds, where everyone is telepresent to everyone and everything, levels all significant differences and offers no support for being drawn into local meaningful events.” (Dreyfus 123). In a way, that is a good summary of the Internet. It is leveling yet isolating, giving a lot of good at a price. This price is seen in Neuromancer. Case has all the wonder of the matrix, yet gives up his ability to be without it and to maintain a normal, emotional relationship. Is it worth it? Case would probably believe so.