In an interview in the early 2000s, Steven Lisberger, director of the first Tron movie (1982), talked about his goals for the film. Artists, he believed, could bring inspiring life to new technologies that might still be dry, baffling, and insular to the general public. With Tron, he sought to bestow a new kind of mythological identity on the circuit boards and spreadsheets of the emerging computer industry, and largely succeeded: the film introduced visions of cyberspace that have endured. Its data-mazes and menacing walls of security encryption laid the foundations for the 3D networks of global interconnection described in William Gibson’s book Neuromancer, published two years later, and its fully -fleshed out avatars (with or without motherboard spandex) have become a virtual reality staple.
Lisberger complained in the same interview that the Web had not fulfilled its promise, lamenting that it had, by the turn of the Millennium, become a dispiriting place of porn and gossip. Few could argue with that, but what might have disappointed him more was that the Web didn’t look like Tron. Humanlike avatars zoomed through pure geometry and clinked glasses in virtual cafes in films such as The Matrix, while actual people, sitting at actual computers, engaged in a form of mass, high speed letter writing. Ten years later, we’re still typing away while our uploaded selves frolic only in cable TV science fiction shows.
The image accompanying the essay (slightly enhanced) comes from Duncan Alexander's tour of Alpha World.
Thanks to ARTINFO for the shout about the essay.
Update, January 2021: The "Pool" journal, inactive for many years, finally seems to have given up the ghost. The Internet Archive saved a copy of my essay.