In the recent issue of Paris Review, he reveals how he came about the term:
Gibson: I was walking around Vancouver, aware of that need, and I remember walking past a video arcade, which was a new sort of business at that time, and seeing kids playing those old-fashioned console-style plywood video games. The games had a very primitive graphic representation of space and perspective. Some of them didn’t even have perspective but were yearning toward perspective and dimensionality. Even in this very primitive form, the kids who were playing them were so physically involved, it seemed to me that what they wanted was to be inside the games, within the notional space of the machine. The real world had disappeared for them—it had completely lost its importance. They were in that notional space, and the machine in front of them was the brave new world.
The only computers I’d ever seen in those days were things the size of the side of a barn. And then one day, I walked by a bus stop and there was an Apple poster. The poster was a photograph of a businessman’s jacketed, neatly cuffed arm holding a life-size representation of a real-life computer that was not much bigger than a laptop is today. Everyone is going to have one of these, I thought, and everyone is going to want to live inside them. And somehow I knew that the notional space behind all of the computer screens would be one single universe.
Interviewer: And you knew at that point you had your arena?
Gibson: I sensed that it would more than meet my requirements, and I knew that there were all sorts of things I could do there that I hadn’t even been able to imagine yet. But what was more important at that point, in terms of my practical needs, was to name it something cool, because it was never going to work unless it had a really good name. So the first thing I did was sit down with a yellow pad and a Sharpie and start scribbling—infospace, dataspace. I think I got cyberspace on the third try, and I thought, Oh, that’s a really weird word. I liked the way it felt in the mouth—I thought it sounded like it meant something while still being essentially hollow… I made up a whole bunch of things that happened in cyberspace, or what you could call cyberspace, and so I filled in my empty neologism. But because the world came along with its real cyberspace, very little of that stuff lasted. What lasted was the neologism
I love how Gibson describes the enlightenment: the feeling in the mouth, as though he is synesthetic.
Hat tip for this post: Paul Kedrosky.
Related: how Haruki Murakami became a writer.