The ebook version of Hello World has just become available on Google Play. It’s been on Kindle for a while, and you can still buy the print version too. Each of them for less than the price of a latte!
I’ve been thinking about Hello World a lot recently because if I hadn’t written it I would probably never have got to Technobiophilia. Both books have taken me on quite a journey, and reminiscing about that took me back to the Spring of 2000 when I spent three nights on the Indian Pacific train crossing Australia from Sydney to Perth. I’d been invited to present at the Adelaide Festival that year and after all the business was done there was a little time for travelling. I had another speaking engagement in Perth, so rather than fly across the continent I thought I’d indulge myself with a slower journey. It turned out to be marked not just by the lack of internet access for almost five days, which I knew about and rather looked forward to, but also by the surprise of a largely unchanging landscape beyond the window, which I hadn’t really considered beforehand. As I watched the endlessly repeating view of hundreds of miles of the Nullarbor Desert coloured with red sand and pale bushes, I was acutely aware of the way it was framed by the unopenable window and muted into silence by its thick glass. Because I couldn’t hear or smell it at all, I could just as easily have been watching a video with the sound turned off. Nonetheless, I stared into that real life screen for hours, looking for exciting wildlife, looking for anything at all, but as luck would have it I ended up eating more kangaroos in the dining car than seeing them in the desert.
When I could tear my gaze away from the window, I worked on the manuscript of a book that would eventually be published in 2004 as Hello World: travels in virtuality. It was very young then. Part memoir, part travelogue, I wanted it to contain advice, directions, and interpretations of how it feels to live simultaneously in both the wired and the physical. So when, halfway through our journey, we stopped briefly at the town of Cook to climb down the steps and stretch our legs for a while, I was reminded of Erik Davis’s description of the web as an “immanent infinity” (Techngnosis, 1999). The whole place was still and silent, a tiny dot on the hundreds of miles of dead-straight track. It used to be a water stop but now it’s just a cluster of empty houses with a small dark shop that only opens when train passengers arrive. Really, it’s a ghost town not much different from those I would pass by in the Mojave Desert some years later, and also wrote about in Hello World. As I alighted and gazed into the distance I had a sense of that moment of abstract connectedness which lies at the heart of virtual experience, that liminal microsecond when you are here but not here. As it turned out, that trip came to personify much of what I felt then about the web, and largely still do. I’m glad I mapped out the journey in the book because it helps me remember journeying in that metal capsule across some of the emptiest desert on the planet.