There’s one more Neal Stephenson bit from the archives.

This story seems rather ho-hum now — because Stephenson’s vision has largely been realized as we blithely trade our privacy for Google’s baubles of convenience.

Raw Feed (1994): ”Spew”, Neal Stephenson, Wired, October 1994.Spew

Another cyberpunk story by Stephenson.

He has his William Gibson-style patter of technology and science-laden metaphors and similes, mostly original down, but his narrative and plot here don’t pay off.

This story, to re-work a Max Headroom phrase, is set “10 minutes in the future” in a world where our English major narrator-protagonist works as a “Profile Auditor”, someone who monitors the records of the “Spew” – Stephenson’s depiction of just how much of a data trail each of us leaves in our lives and what deductions someone can make from it.

Not only entertainment can be found (the “Virtual Mall” and the “Stalker Channel” – fed by surveillance cameras) but data on individuals. The narrator’s job is to use such personal data on buying and individual entertainment choices to find unexploited market niches.

Most of the story involves the narrator investigating a girl’s profile that is “too normal”.

But the story has no real payoff. He finds a batch of people who illicitly take a hotel room and withdraw lots of encrypted data from the Spew and put lots back in in the form of virtual reality rock and roll.

The narrator sourly concludes they are happier than him. As to why, I’m not sure. I guess because they are unknown, private quantities hiding their true selves via camouflage from would-be investigators and exploiters like the narrator.

If this is a story on the value of privacy, it has no emotional impact, just clever metaphors and humor.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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