On Technology (A brilliant excerpt from “The Diamond Age”)

“Harv,” she said, “are you working on a mite?”

“No, dummy.” Harv’s voice was hushed, and he had to mumble around the little button-shaped torch he was holding in his teeth. “Mites are lots smaller. See, look!”

She crawled forward a little more, drawn as much by warmth and security as by curiosity, and saw a limp mottled brown thing a few centimeters on a side, fuzzy around the edges, resting on Hanv’s crossed ankles.

“What is it?”

“It’s magic. Watch this,” Harv said. And worrying at it with his toothpick, he teased something loose.

“It’s got string coming out of it!” Nell said.

“Sssh!” Harv gripped the end of the thread beneath his thumbnail and pulled. It looked quite short, but it lengthened as he pulled, and the fuzzy edge of the piece of fabric waffled too fast to see, and then the thread had come loose entirely. He held it up for inspection, then let it drift down onto a heap of others just like it.

“How many does it have?” Nell said.

“Nell,” Harv said, turning to face her so that his light shone into her face, his voice coming out of the light epiphanically, “you got it wrong. It’s not that the thing has threads in it— it is threads. Threads going under and over each other. If you pulled out all of the threads, nothing would be left.”

“Did mites make it?” Nell asked.

“The way it’s made— so digital— each thread going over and under other threads, and those ones going over and under all the other threads-” Harv stopped for a moment, his mind overloaded by the inhuman audacity of the thing, the promiscuous reference frames. “It had to be mites, Nell, nothing else could do it.”

– from Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”. The book recently came up in conversation, and I couldn’t help but recall how geeked-out I was when I first read this.

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