Hiding behind Butterfly Wings

Karen Kayfetz '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

Technological manipulations of identity pervade the dystopian society of William Gibson's Count Zero. Sophisticated technologies are used to spy on and track the counter-culture misfits and criminals central to this story and they must cover their tracks with their own intricate tools. In the following passage Gibson presents a particularly striking example of this equipment.

"You can take your call from Alain here," he said. "We have arranged to reroute it from your friend's apartment." He drew a chair out for her, an automatic bit of professional courtesy that made her wonder if he might actually once have been a waiter, and placed his bag on the tabletop.

"But he'll see that I'm not there," she said. "If I blank the video, he'll become suspicious."

"But he won't see that. We've generated a digital image of your face and the required background. We'll key that to the image on this phone." He took an elegant modular unit from the bag and placed it in front of her. A paper thin polycarbon screen unfurled silently from the top of the unit and immediately grew rigid. She had once watched a butterfly emerge into the world, and seen the transformation of its drying wings. "How is that done?" she asked, tentatively touching the screen. It was like thin steel. [Count Zero p. 106


1. William J. Mitchell discussed some of the possible negative implications of video phone technology in Me++; how does Paco's hack affect the significance of Mitchell's concerns?

2. Gibson presents all of Paco's moves and lines in this scene with a particular style. What does this convey to the reader about Paco's character? How does Gibson achieve this?

3. Marly's memory of the butterfly's wings is presented without any kind of transition in or out of that aside. Stylistically, does this strengthen or weaken the effect of the metaphor? How?

4. When Gibson wrote Count Zero the cellular phone was just beginning to reach the US market and was not by any means a widespread technology. How do you think this element of the story would have been different if Gibson had written the novel in the last few years?


Gibson, William. Count Zero. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

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Last modified 23 February 2005