Now there was a time when we believed that what a human mind could accomplish was determined by genetic factors. Piffle, of course, but it looked convincing for many years, because distinctions between tribes were so evident. Now we understand that it’s all cultural. That, after all, is what a culture is – a group of people who share in common certain acquired traits.
Information technology has freed cultures from the necessity of owning particular bits of land in order to propagate; now we can live anywhere. …
Some cultures are prosperous; some are not. Some value rational discourse and the scientific method; some do not. Some encourage freedom of expression, and some discourage it. The only thing they have in common is that if they do not propagate, they will be swallowed up by others. All they have built will be torn down; all they have accomplished will be forgotten; all they have learned and written will be scattered to the wind. In the old days it was easy to remember this because of the constant necessity of border defense. Nowadays, it is all too easily forgotten.
The Diamond Age one of my all time favorite books. Among many other brilliant things in it, he invented the word “Anglosphere”:
After a simple dinner of beer and pasties in a pub on the fringes of the City, they rode south across the Tower Bridge, pierced a shallow layer of posh development along the right bank of the river, and entered into Southwark. As in other Atlantan districts of London, Feed lines had been worked into the sinews of the place, coursing through utility tunnels, clinging to the clammy undersides of bridges, and sneaking into buildings through small holes bored in the foundations. The tiny old houses and flats of this once impoverished quarter had mostly been refurbished into toeholds for young Atlantans from all around the Anglosphere, poor in equity but rich in expectations, who had come to the great city to incubate their careers.
I just re-read it for the third time. It is the only book I have read three times since I was in high school.
UPDATE: It was pretty good. Stephenson read some passages from his new book and answered some questions. He said the science fiction writer who influenced him the most was Robert A. Heinlein. This not surprising, I see a lot of Heinlein in his writing. He also said that in terms of style, the “holy trinity of English prose” is “Gibbon, Dickens and Churchill.” (I need to read Gibbon. I need to read more Dickens. Churchill: Yes, absolutely. Churchill himself claimed the two writers who influenced him were Gibbon and Macaulay. But who now reads Macaualy?) It was a large and appreciative audience. A dweeby crowd, not surprising, given the author. I fit right in. My kind of people. The wife and I got ice cream afterwards. For us, that’s a big date.