Upper West Side Story

The back cover of “The Bleeding Edge” depicts a server farm at night.

In “Bleeding Edge,” Thomas Pynchon makes clear that the Internet’s promise of freedom has always been illusory.

When Maxine Tarnow tells her father that unlike TV, “Nobody’s in control of the Internet,” he reminds her that it’s a Cold War relic, the descendant of DARPAnet, developed by the U.S. military for its own geopolitical aims.

You serious? Believe that while you still can … You know where it all comes from, this online paradise of yours? It started back during the Cold War, when the think-tanks were full of geniuses plotting nuclear scenarios. Attaché cases and horn-rims, every appearance of scholarly sanity, going in to work every day to imagine all the ways the world was going to end. Your Internet, back then the Defense Department called it DARPAnet, the real original purpose was to assure survival of U.S. command and control after a nuclear exchange with the Soviets.

Call it freedom, it’s based on control. Everybody connected together, impossible anybody should ever get lost, ever again. Take the next step, connect it to these cellphones, you’ve got a total web of surveillance, inescapable. You remember the comics in the Daily News? Dick Tracy’s wrist radio? It’ll be everywhere, the rubes’ll all be begging to wear one, handcuffs of the future. Terrific. What they dream about at the Pentagon, worldwide martial law.

The Deep Web is still an unregulated territory.

It’s still unmessed-with country. You like to think it goes on forever, but the colonizers are coming. The suits and tenderfeet.

Once they get down here, everything’ll be suburbanized faster than you can say ‘late capitalism.’ Then it’ll be just like up there in the shallows. Link by link, they’ll bring it all under control, safe and respectable. Churches on every corner. Licenses in all the saloons. Anybody still wants his freedom’ll have to saddle up and head somewhere else.


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