Phrase used to insult small towns, based on a misunderstanding of the context of its origin. People quote Gertrude Stein and assume that the American expatriate was comparing Oakland to Paris and suggesting the town lacked sophistication and substance. Actually, she was comparing the experience of visiting Oakland as an adult to the memory of living there as a child.

Stein lived in Oakland, California from the age of five (1879) until her father died in 1891. When Stein returned to California on her lecture tour to the United States in the 1930s, she wanted to visit her childhood home in Oakland. She could not find the house, and wrote this:

What was the use of me having come from Oakland, it was not natural for me to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.

Source: Everybody's Biography, by Gertrude Stein.

This phrase was used by William Gibson in Mona Lisa Overdrive to describe cyberspace. In his vision of the Matrix, space itself is not a spatial referent; cyberspace represents data and not place. Speaking of 'place' in the Matrix is to confuse its essential purpose.

The context of the phrase is in a character's recollection of a child's tutorial on cyberspace. In fact, however, Gibson's storyline for the Cyberspace Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero Interrupt, and Mona Lisa Overdrive) does present the notion of self-aware constructs 'living' in the Matrix. Unlike humans, for whom the Matrix is a data navigation tool and not an explicit virtual reality, these constructs display actual presence in the Matrix that is observable by humans who are accessing it. To them, then, there must be a 'there,' there - for they are occupying a space, as unreal as that space may be.

Typical users of the Matrix do not do this. They are disembodied viewpoints. Only code objects, created and in some cases controlled by the users, are normally displayed in the Matrix for other users to see - because those code objects, as machine data, have become part of the totality of data which the Matrix was created to display.

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