How serial experiments predicted the future of the internet

Watching something as heavy and thematically dense as Serial experiments Lain while late at night and utterly exhausted but too wired to sleep may not be the best mindset, at least not on a first look. Nevertheless, fortunately, Lain has enormous re-vision value. Really, it’s the kind of show that should be watched more than once anyway, to better understand the story and concepts, if only a little better each time.

If you look at it in some sort of fugue state, it can improve the surreality and the occasional creepiness it offers, not only with its imagery, dialogue and characters, but also with its minimal score of occasional guitar riffs, both acoustic and or trippy, its silences and those moments that are quiet save for the buzz of the telephone wires in an otherwise quiet suburb. And while the story, as it is, may stray into the occasional philosophical discourse, the part that discusses the fundamentals for and historical primacy of the Internet is one that could resonate even on a first look, regardless of exhaustion.


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Internet and wired are one and the same

In this nebulous cyberpunk-esque possible future, at least the future seen from 1998, what’s known as the Internet is here referred to as “The Wired,” but the two are essentially analogous. January 1, 1983 is actually considered the official birthday of the Internet or ‘World Wide Web’, and even then it was a mortal sin at best. It wasn’t until about ten years later that CERN made its foundations public domainso five years after that, in 1998, that was probably when its popularity was really past the point of no return, in terms of how it irreversibly changed the modern world.

Like the best sci-fi and all the subgenres it brings, like cyberpunk, Serial experiments Lain coming out at this point was prescient to say the least. Maybe too farsighted. While it gained enough following back then and has since been rescued its license by Funimation and given a blu-ray/DVD reprint, too like good sci-fi, how prescient and predictive of the future it really was is something that can really only be appreciated in retrospect. In case of Lain, that would be how much the internet has permeated modern life to the point where reality and “cyber reality” really blend into each other. Maybe not as trippy as The Wired does in Lain, but like most good emotional stories that use abstraction to convey their ideas, the tripping itself can honestly be taken as a metaphor for what’s really going on in the real real world. Because what it feels like sometimes happens.

The power to influence reality

To give some context, despite the story stumbling headlong into surrealism towards the end of the first episode, it starts out pretty normal. Lain Iwakura is a high school girl who lives a fairly quiet and normal life in the suburbs with her parents and older sister, but she is also not as fond of technology as everyone in her class. That is until she learns that one of her classmates is committing suicide, and then that same classmate somehow sends a message through The Wired after her death. Curious (and who wouldn’t be?), Lain digs up her computer – a “Navi”, short for “Knowledge Navigator”–and decides to investigate this incident further, how a dead girl can communicate through something like The Wired, and claim she’s really there, and that she’s found God in it. Questions (and only the first few of many) come up, like is it really just a prank someone is playing? And even if it was, how could anyone verify whether that’s true or not? What does truth mean when someone can manipulate it so easily through a system like The Wired, a system that is invisible yet seemingly everywhere?

What follows are events that anchor Lain not only in the alternate reality of The Wired, but in conspiracies that seem ominous to surround it, the kind that surround anything that stirs doubts in people. In one of the later episodes of the show, there is a documentary-style sequence that covers the concepts that: laid the foundation for things like the internet and both, like the concept of global consciousness, and the ability to connect that consciousness through a technology network.

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Up to this point in the series, there have been incidents somehow related to The Wired, such as a shooting involving nanotechnology-related mind-altering drugs at a club literally called “Cyberia.” People connect with others through The Wired, forming communities in what appears to be a plane of existence separate from the ‘real world’. Groups like this in turn have their ‘real world’ effects through their interactions with each other through The Wired. Even Lain herself does things in The Wired that affect the real world, even developing some sort of split personality, her real personality and the one she presents on the internet – as most people do, more than most people probably think.

People exchange ideas, or even just say things, fact or not, through a system that essentially exists outside of reality, and then convert those ideas into physical actions, or just reach real people, affecting the real world as if reality and fiction overlap. Especially when it comes to recent years. Influencers have a strange power over their audience, semi-celebrity status, and meanwhile, full-on celebrities are a little more within reach via platforms like Twitter† All made possible via the internet. On rewatches of Lain then, coming back to that segment outlining the historical pre-eminence of the internet, in some ways it’s uncanny how much of an almost cautionary tale Lain could be in terms of how much power something like The Wired – the Internet – has an elusive power over the physical world. In any case, it’s definitely worth keeping in mind.

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