Re-thinking Virtual and Physical Space through mobile technologies in William Gibson’s The Peripheral

Vassilis N. Delioglanis


This article sheds light on the ways in which the relationship between virtual and physical space is reconceptualized in the post-digital era within the context of mobile communication technologies and ubiquitous computing in William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral (2014). Important theoretical discussions took place in the 2010s with regard to how the virtual and the physical space are perceived compared to theories of the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, theories that viewed virtual reality as a parallel space are reconfigured by contemporary theorists, such as Jason Farman, Hidenori Tomita, Adrianna de Souza e Silva and Daniel M. Sutko, all of whom, in studying contemporary mobile media technologies, emphasize the hybridity and materiality of virtual space. According to these theorists, since new mobile media (communication) technologies permit different and complex spatial configurations, virtual space should be considered as being part and not separate from external reality. The value of the present article lies in the attempt to view these theories in relation to The Peripheral, a text that was written amidst all these shifts in mobile media technological developments and spatial convergences. In his first novel, Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson opened up literary writing to the envisioning of electronic technologies and a number of previously unprecedented notions, such as “cyberspace” and “virtual reality.” Three decades after the publication of Neuromancer, Gibson attempts once again to anticipate, capture and articulate in literary terms the cultural and technological changes of his time. By inventing the term “virtually physical” so as to describe the afore-mentioned spatial configurations and their effects on the human body, the author merges the virtual and the physical, while also taking the exploration of the interconnection of the two spaces a step further in an effort to examine the possibility of totally effacing the differences between them. Gibson promotes the equation of the virtual and the physical space, considering virtual space to be an actual space (on the basis, for example, of de Souza e Silva and Sutko’s terminology). The article explores not only how Gibson’s narrative enables readers to visualize through language how smartphone technology reconfigures our sense of virtuality, spatiality and embodied location, but also how the author manages to encapsulate through literary practice the latest cultural shifts in the development and evolution of the field of mobile (screen-based) technologies. 

Słowa kluczowe: virtual and physical space, mobile communication technologies, literature, cyberpunk, ubiquitous computing, telepresence, embodiment

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