Origin of the term meatspace?
March 2, 2005 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Where did the term "meatspace" originate? I know it entered the OED in 2000 (alongside "gaydar," "cybersquatting" and "Frankenfood"), and I see The Word Spy credits a 1995 article about John Perry Barlow as the "earliest citation," but I think I saw it in cyberpunk sci-fi before that. Anyone got an earlier appearance than 1995?

(Question inspired by shmegegge.)
posted by mediareport to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming you don't have access to the OED online, which tells you the earliest known usage, from a larger base of contributors than MeFi has, I'll cut&paste what it has to say:

1995 Seattle Times (Nexis) 30 Oct. A1 In this sagebrush ranch town where the elevation is about eight times the population, John Perry Barlow is multitasking between cyberspace, meatspace and parentspace about as well as a mere mortal can do.
1997 J. SEABROOK Deeper vi. 209, I suddenly wished we were not actually in ‘meatspace,’ but somewhere on-line, so that I could log out of this conversation easily.
1999 Computing Canada (Electronic ed.) 1 Jan., If you like shopping at The Gap or Canadian Tire in ‘meatspace,’ why not shop them in cyberspace as well?

posted by librarina at 8:57 PM on March 2, 2005

I remember seeing it early 90s--maybe Village Voice or Wired or a Douglas Coupland novel?

it's an awful, disparaging word tho--i hate it.
posted by amberglow at 9:01 PM on March 2, 2005

Response by poster: Ah, Google Groups has a cite from March 1, 1993:

Meatspace update (quick rundown on where/how to interact with net.folks in meatspace, i.e., regular events, social gatherings, restaurant hangouts, etc.)

I *knew* I'd seen it earlier than 1995. Now, how do I search the text of pre-1993 cyberpunk novels?
posted by mediareport at 9:09 PM on March 2, 2005

Although he doesn't use the word 'meatspace' explicity, I think I'd credit this term in part to William Gibson's Neuromancer. He frequently uses meat as a metaphor for the physical world.

"Strapped to a bed in a Memphis hotel, his talent burning out micron by micron, he hallucinated for thirty hours. The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective. For Case, who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace,
it was the Fall. In the bars he'd frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt
for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh."
posted by mmcg at 9:26 PM on March 2, 2005

There is this Bisson story from 1991 which has always made me laugh: They're made out of Meat
posted by vacapinta at 9:53 PM on March 2, 2005

I'm with amberglow on this one. It's a most unfortunate and reductivist term, one that I'm surprise to see persist in the language.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:02 PM on March 2, 2005

Unfortunately, the OED site says says
At the moment, because Internet addresses and references can change, texts that exist solely online cannot be used as a source for quotations. In the absence of other evidence, such texts can be a useful starting-point; but other forms of verification are preferable.

I was going to suggest you all send in your earlier citations, but most of them are ruled out because of that. But just in case you want to try, or have a paper citation, from http://oed.com/general/contacts.html#appeals

To suggest a new word, or contribute new evidence for a word already in the OED, please read (How to contribute words to the Reading Programme and use the submission form, or contact us as follows:
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press
Great Clarendon St.
Oxford OX2 6DP

Tel: +44 (0)1865 353660
Fax: +44 (0)1865 353811
E-mail: oed3@oup.com

I love the OED.
posted by librarina at 10:15 PM on March 2, 2005

It's a most unfortunate and reductivist term

Or a useful reminder of what we really are.
posted by kindall at 11:10 PM on March 2, 2005

what a fascinating AskMe thread. Thanks mediareport! I find it incredible that the community has pulled out the OED citation, refuted it, and provided the means to correct it (admittedly even if they don't accept web pages as primary documents.) Hot damn!
posted by shmegegge at 11:35 PM on March 2, 2005

It's purely anecdotal, but usage existed well before 1995: I used the term regularly -- in fact "overused" might be the proper way to describe it -- during a brief period of time somewhere between 1989 and 1993.
posted by majick at 11:55 PM on March 2, 2005

The OED isn't particularly interested in tracking down the earliest possible usage of a term -- if such a thing were, indeed, possible. Their citations are designed to show the term's acceptance as a widely-understood bit of our language.

Neologisms abound. Most, however, remain jejune.

This one, indeed, is chiefly limited to arch, vaguely self-parodying usage. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by dhartung at 12:01 AM on March 3, 2005

Well, except for the fact that web sources say that Barlow "coined" the term. Apparently a lot of stuff is attributed to Barlow, some mistakenly.

i understood media report to refer to the OED as ancillary to his main question which is: "Where did the term "meatspace" originate?"
posted by vacapinta at 12:19 AM on March 3, 2005

I like the word. Been using it, rarely, since at least '92, when I first got on the web proper. No citations, though, so this comment probably isn't worth the time it took to type it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:26 AM on March 3, 2005

Also, mmcg has it -- 'meatspace' was coined, of course, as a reaction to 'cyberspace', which Gibson coined in '81.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:29 AM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: "They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"

"Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat."

"I thought you just told me they used radio."

"They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."

"Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much."

I can't stop laughing, vacapinta; thanks. For the, er, haters, the reductivist quality of the term is precisely what makes it interesting and valuable to some of us, as kindall and the Bisson story point out. Anyway, OED aside, it's the earliest use that interests me. I'm guessing the WELL archive has pre-1993 citations. Anyone who's a member there care to search and post the results here?
posted by mediareport at 3:00 AM on March 3, 2005

OED does not accept internet sites for citations, but there are usenet citations (i.e., what's in Google Groups). Unfortunately, I can't give any examples but I have seen them before.
posted by zsazsa at 7:04 AM on March 3, 2005

Ah, I found a few. Weblog: 1997 J. BARGER Lively New Webpage in alt.culture.www (Usenet newsgroup) 23 Dec.,...; Perl: 1987 New off the Wall Software Product from Larry Wall in misc.kids (Usenet newsgroup) 13 May,...; Geek: 1984 Bye in net.jokes (Usenet newsgroup) 20 Feb.,.... I have also seen it for more mundane words.
posted by zsazsa at 7:10 AM on March 3, 2005

I can understand the reductivist appeal of the term, but it will always be associated for me with bad and unwelcome early-90s hot chat. (Linked mentally with dreadful typing, spelling, and spelling "come" as "cum" in any context, including nonsexual.)
posted by desuetude at 8:18 AM on March 3, 2005

Are you perhaps thinking about Wetware, by Rudy Rucker, which was published in 1988?
posted by WestCoaster at 9:41 AM on March 3, 2005

Didn't Vonnegut use a similar term in one of his novels? (perhaps it was Bluebeard?)
posted by Vidiot at 10:51 AM on March 3, 2005

Definitely predates the web. I remember seeing the term on BBSs and Fidonet in the mid to late 80s.
posted by Mitheral at 7:00 PM on March 3, 2005

OUP Canada accepts and uses Web sources for many terms, though not indiscriminately.
posted by joeclark at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2005

Best answer: [This turned out to be incredibly long, and I kept it open while I tried to track the answer down. ... Think of it as Gonzo Answering.]

Generally most of these sort of futuristic things go back to Neuromancer. But let's see. Amazon has their lovely search-inside-the-book thing working pretty well these days.

Encyclopedia of New Media (2002) says that it came from the cyberpunk genre.

Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (Tim Jordan, 1999):
... By developing elaborate metaphors and analogies with familiar spaces, cyberpunk began to teach what cyberspace might mean as a place. It is not necessary to survey all these visions to grasp this. Examining two of the more important [...] William Gibson's 'cyberspace' from the trilogy Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, and Neal Stephenson's 'metaverse' from Snow Crash.
[blah blah about Gibson's trilogy] ... By the end of the trilogy several characters forsake their bodies, their 'meatspace', for a pure existence as spirits or angels as cyberspace. ...
On the other hand, Deeper: Adventures on the Net (John Seabrook, 1998) says "In what John Perry Barlow liked to call "meatspace"—the hopelessly postindustrial but stubbornly persistent Real World—..." and The Sociology of Mathematics Education (1998), mentions meatspace and quotes Barlow's (in)famous "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" (Feb 8, 1996) which does not in fact contain the term.

My google fu results in more Barlow vs Gibson warfare confusion.

Luckily, I have some of the coolest friends in the world, and so I have access to the full text of Gibson's novels. A bit of waiting... and... ... hum.
3 uses of 'meat' in Mona Lisa Overdrive, all in the fairly traditional sense.
And including what what mmcg quoted, there are 17 uses of 'meat' in Neuromancer, pretty much all in the as-opposed-to-cyber sense, but none with 'space'.
The word 'meat' appears zero times in Count Zero. (I wish I had used a program to tell me word counts instead of counting manually with the 'Find' feature, because the dialog box popping up to tell me Count: 0 in Count Zero would have been excellent.)

"Barlow Home(stead)Page" mentions that he was the first to apply 'cyberspace' to "the already-existing global electronic social space now generally referred to by that name." Perhaps he did the same with meatspace. I really don't know for sure, though.

A journal named Techné even has cites for "meatspace", it says (Gibson 1984, Barlow 1996). The bibliography points to the above-mentioned "Declaration", and Neuromancer, but, as mentioned, neither contain the term! Three cheers for wishful citations.

Ah. There is a page here that references "Is There A There In Cyberspace?, by Barlow. in the physical world which I call "Meatspace," There's no date on it, but in the source of the HTML it says <!-- Created with xlate.p v 1.4 Wed Aug 3 12:13:34 EDT 1995 DHB (+ SMcC) -->. And all the Usenet mentions, save one, are after that date.

You know what, though? The place where I read it first was in a rules book for the pen & paper RPG, Shadowrun, first published in 1989.

Maybe that was it! Barlow is a blowhard anyway.
posted by blacklite at 4:33 AM on March 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks, blacklite, you eliminated the best contenders *and* provided a few interesting leads. Who'd have thought this would be so tough a question?

Barlow is a blowhard anyway.

Well, to be fair, *lots* of the early WELL pioneers had their blowhard moments. But back to the question: I'll ask again for someone who's a WELL member (or knows someone who's a WELL member) to search the archives (if they're searchable) for "meatspace." I'll ask also for someone with "cool friends" to search Neal Stephenson and Rudy Rucker texts for the term.
posted by mediareport at 6:41 PM on March 5, 2005

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