THE FUTURE is here and now. Hot for you, gagging for it, tongue out, legs apart. What? You're still living in the present? How passe. Why, only this week I received a fax saying 'Cyberseed, Britain's first cyber-festival', would take place tonight and tomorrow at King's Cross, north London.

On paper it looked ultra-futuristic: 'virtual reality systems, film FX, comix, robots, cyber-fashion . . . special environments offering new zones of experience, from deep outer to deep inner space . . . banks of monitors, projectors and a video wall . . . ambient, trance and cyberdelic bliss'.

Bikini-clad Robogirls. Metallic corridors. After my mind, intent on deep inner cyberdelic bliss with yours truly. I scanned the text with mounting excitement, until theme words leapt out at me: cyber-visionary William Gibson live interview (planned). And in that very instant I was overwhelmed by a sense of deja vu. My head began to spin.

When I came to, I was lying on the kitchen floor. Everything was the same but somehow different, as if someone else had done the washing up and put it away. I could not remember why I had been so excited. Then I realised what had happened.

The future had been and gone. You may have blinked and missed it. Too bad. It is all over now, so you will have to find something else to look forward to. But do not take my word for it. Ask William Gibson, the man who saw it coming in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer, the book that gave the world the term 'cyberspace' and inspired nice, white, middle-class boys to define themselves as 'cyberpunks'.

Here he is on the phone, during a pause from interviews in Dublin, talking about tonight's event: 'I haven't agreed to do it yet, and I'm pretty hard to get hold of. It sounds like something I've seen before.'

But William, I asked, is the future really past its sell-by date? Over the hill already?

'Well, I think the image of the pretty model girl, with the goggles and electronic oven mitts, wired into some virtual nightmare or ecstasy, is now one of the gross cliches of science fiction. I once wrote a story about a place where imaginary futures go when we give up on them. That image is ready to go there and join the flying car.'

But what about technology and its iconoclastic promise?

'We've all seen a lot of Sunday supplement stories about virtual reality, but very few of us have seen VR. I'm starting to believe that VR is just a good metaphor for what TV and the media have already done to us. And I strongly suspect that all these VR gizmos are going to end up looking like the phenakistoscope, one of those brilliantly wacky Victorian clockwork mechanisms that came into being just prior to the invention of film. We have museums full of that stuff.

'They're wonderfully quaint and touching artefacts, but we know it was cinema that finally did it, and when they cranked up the first projector, it was a very intense experience for people. We haven't had the VR equivalent of that yet.'

Are we at the end of the future as we know it? The future - a thing of the past? I called Guy Nisbett, VR designer. He and his partner Vivian Baker have just finished designing the Virtual Nightclub for Philips, which will be launched next year on the new interactive CDI format.

'Yes, you're witnessing the start of the cyberpunk backlash,' he told me. 'Gibson is smart enough to have started it himself, before he became a target. It was bound to happen eventually, but the process has been accelerated by Billy Idol, who has just released an LP called Cyberpunk. And, of course, it has nothing to do with the ideas in Neuromancer, which are now outdated, anyway.'

I switched on MTV and there was Billy Idol, his barrel-shaped torso gleaming with sweat, shouting the words 'Mony Mony', wearing that squirty sneer he always affects, and new peroxide-blond hair extensions. Billy was hot for himself, gagging for it, tongue out, legs apart. He was pretending to be the future of rock'n'roll but I don't think anybody had noticed.

'That old Blade Runner vision of the future is so tired,' said Guy. 'Gibson's book was a useful tool for modelling the world internally, because it showed that you needed topography plus information to make a useful mental map of any given environment. But the future, as a concept, is very hackneyed now.'

No, the future ain't what it used to be. I have just received another fax, informing me that Cyberseed had been cancelled; but it will take place in a month's time, if another sponsor can be found.

I was not too upset. That is the thing I like most about the future. No matter how certain it seems, no matter how likely to happen, it is always subject to cancellation.

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