I have never been to Singapore, and I’m not interested in how accurate this article reflects the city in 1993. What I find enthralling is the image Gibson paints of a city, new and clean to the point of sterility.

“Ordinarily, confronted with a strange city, I’m inclined to look for the parts that have broken down and fallen apart, revealing the underlying social mechanisms; how the place is really wired beneath the lay of the land as presented by the Chamber of Commerce. This won’t do in Singapore, because nothing is falling apart. Everything that’s falling apart has already been replaced by something new. (The word “infrastructure” takes on a new and claustrophobic resonance here; somehow it’s all infrastructure.)”

A totalitarian atmosphere pervades everything. There is almost no counterculture, either on the streets or in the stores. A campaign to lower the birth rate proved too successful, so now there are “mandatory mixers” where your employers are contacted if you do not attend. Television resembles that shown in America in the mid-1950s, strong family values and morals reinforcing the traditional orthodoxy. Suffusing all this is high technology, with centrally controlled traffic lights to redirect patterns for emergency vehicles, that has swept away any sense of past or history.

Disneyland with the Death Penalty by William Gibson

Availability: print, free online

Word count: 4,600

First published: Wired magazine, Sep/Oct 1993 (free online here)

Where else to find it: Distrust that Particular Flavor, collection of essays, 2012, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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