EDIT: I know it should be "as in the book", not "as in the books", sorry about that
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD
I – INTRODUCTION
Let’s begin with the first of the New Gods: The Technical Boy
In the book, he is the embodiment of the Internet and the god of computers. However, an important thing should be recalled here: we are not talking about Internet and computers as we know them today. We are speaking about the 90s Internet and the 90s computers. We are talking of a time that happened before Twitter, Facebook or Gmail. A technology that came before the iPhones, the smartphones and the tablets. As Neil Gaiman said himself, the “technical boys of 1999” were living in their mother’s basement and still learning how they could order a pizza through the Internet. Hence why the Technical Boy, despite being the New God with the most presence and the most threat in the book, is also the most pathetic of these new deities.
He first appears in chapter 2, where he kidnaps Shadow in order to get information about Wednesday’s plan. He reappears in the Interlude 1, where he murders Bilquis with his limo. In chapter 14, he is one of the representatives of the New Gods that participate in Wednesday’s funerals at the center of America. His last appearance is in chapter 17 where he tries to convince the New Gods to abandon the war, and ends up killed, or rather “sacrificed”, as a result.
II – APPEARANCE
In terms of appearance, the Technical Boy is described as a fat young man “barely out of his teens” and not “old enough to drink” (which would make him around or under twenty years old). He is puffy-faced, with a spattering of acne glistening on one of his cheeks. He is dressed with a long black coat made of a silky material and tends to wear black sunglasses even inside buildings or in the dark – a look that is obviously a reference to The Matrix. Overall, an aspect quite fitting for a god “worshipped” by nerds and geeks. However, several things betray his “technological nature”. The fact that everybody feels that his speech is not natural but rather prepared in advance and rehearsed (we could compare it to a computer speaking). His over-use of a “technical vocabulary” (language=virus, religion=operating system, prayers=spams, kill=delete) (and it’s interesting here to note that his disdain of religion and prayers further proves one of the criticism the Old Gods have against the New, that the New Gods only take and receive from their worshippers, without giving anything in exchange). But the biggest give-away of his inhuman nature are his eyes. Shadow is the only one who sees them and he describes them two different times. The first time, they glint with the “green of an antique computer monitor”, and the second time they are still glinting, but now with a beautiful copper-color reminding him of the “eyes of a toad” (we will come back on that later). And when he dies, his “robotic” nature becomes even more obvious: his hand twitches spastically, there is a “sputtering sparking noise” behind his eyes, the air smells of “burning insolation wires”, and from his wound leaks something that “was not actually blood”.
The Technical Boy has a habit of smoking. He keeps handrolled cigarettes in a silver cigarette case inside his jacket, lights them with a matte black Zippo and their smoke fills the inside of his limo to the point where sometimes the Technical Boy is invisible and you can only see a big cloud of smoke with his eyes glinting inside. It is quite obvious that he doesn’t smoke tobacco: the smell of his cigarettes reminds people of burning electrical parts and wires, and of overheating circuit boards.
In the comic book/graphic novel adaptation, they changed his look slightly. They made him obese (while in the book he was simply overweight). His eyes now have both the “computer green” color and the “copper” one: his pupils are green and his irises are yellow. His eyelids are also reddened, looking like 1- he spent too much time in the dark watching computers, and/or 2- he abused a bit of not very licit substances (we’ll also come back to that later). Overall, by making him fatter and his acne more present in some drawings, he looks even more like a toad (we’ll also also come back later to that). Finally, they reinterpreted the “black coat made of a silky” material as literally a silk dressing gown (he wears a black-blue one in his limo, a purple one at the Center of America). He also wears socks and slippers, giving him the look of a lazy but wealthy teenager that just got out of his bedroom. (This outfit in fact reminds me a lot of Theodor Lagerfeld Junior from Dead Rising, the wealthy and lazy psychopath living secluded in his room with his computers).
As I said earlier, the link between Technical Boy and the frogs is quite interesting. His eyes are described as similar to those of a toad; his puffy and acne-riddled look also reminds us of a toad. Bilquis even says that the “puffs like a bullfrog”. But the most important link is with his cigarettes.
During his encounter with Shadow, he points out that the cigarettes he smokes are made of synthetic toad skin, and contain synthetic bufotenin. Now, here we have three levels of explanation. 1: of course, a New God will admire something synthetic and artificial and amaze itself at how humans can synthetize natural things like bufotenin. 2: bufotenin is a hallucinogenic substance. Since Technical Boy is filling the limo with his cigarette’s smoke, he clearly says to Shadow “I’m making you high, you’re maybe hallucinating all that, you can’t trust what you see and hear” (which fits with this constant of the New Gods in the book, that they don’t want people to think of them as supernatural beings or as gods, they prefer when people are put in ambiguous situation that could be explained in perfectly normal and mundane ways). 3- bufotenin is a chemical found in several types of venomous frogs that were actually used by shamans in Amazonian tribes to induce prophecies and divine visions. So, we have an old religious action/symbol revamped and “upgraded” by Technical Boy. You can interpret it as 1, the New Gods show that they can synthetize everything the Old Ones have, or 1, the Technical Boy being a hypocrite and reusing old methods when he claims that old forgotten things don’t deserve to exist. Pick you guess.
[Note: I was pointed out another reference to Technical Boy's "toad-like" nature. In the book, Technical Boy role towards Mister World is that... of a toady!]
III – THE BOY’S ENTOURAGE
The Technical Boy moves around in a limousine, one of the favorite vehicles of the New Gods. His is long, stretched and white, with tinted glass and leather seats. The inside seems to stretch for a very long distance (maybe a case of bigger on the inside?) and the ceiling is lit with “glinting fiber-optic lights” that keep cycling through a cycle of “dim colors”: from violet to blue, to green, to yellow, and back to violet.
Now, when Shadow meets the Technical Boy, he has a whole entourage of underlings. We don’t know who they are, or even what they are. They don’t speak, Shadow doesn’t see them, he can’t tell if they are old or young, male or female. All he knows is that they are here and they can hit people pretty hard. One of these underlings attacks him from behind and puts something wet on his mouth and nose, with harsh smells of chemical fumes, in order to knock him out and kidnap him. There are at least two people, one on each side of Shadow, when he wakes up in the limo, but he can’t see them because his straps prevent him from moving. And finally, there’s a driver that Technical Boy commands. Technical Boy only refers to them as “the children”, in a friendly, familiar way, just like you would call them “the guys here” or “the boys”.
However, when Bilquis is kidnapped, the Technical Boy is all alone in his limo, and she feels that there is no driver in the vehicle, that the car is driving itself through the streets (maybe it’s an automatic pilot obeying to the Technical Boy’s command, or maybe it’s the will of the Boy itself that drives the car around). And, when he gets at the center of America and Shadow comments on the Boy’s lack of underlings, he answers that “the children” can’t “operate out here” since they are in a “dead zone”. Which is evidence that they are not human to begin with, and are merely extensions, creations, literal “children” of the Technical Boy. Now, what they represent here is up to debate. Are they symbolizing how the Internet has to use a ton of software, programs and website without which it is nothing? Or are they representing all these anonymous users of the Internet that don’t hesitate to be harsh and “hit” people because of the strength and anonymity Internet gives them? I tend to think it’s the latter explanation. Partly because the Boy refers to them as “the children” which may be a reference to how most of the people using Internet at the time where children and teenagers; and partly because of the Boy’s personality itself.
IV – PERSONNALITY
As we said earlier, Technical Boy is the most threatening of the New Gods and the one with the most presence. He is the first one that contacts Shadow, and is one of the pivotal characters of the New Gods camp, being their representative for Wednesday’s funerals and organizing all the preparations for the final war.
When he kidnaps Shadow he threatens to kill him or to break all of the bones in his body if he ever lies to him or mocks him, and to prove his point he asks his children to hit Shadow for making a joke. He is arrogant, full of himself, claiming to be richer than rich and able to pay and buy everything. He also has a great disdain for the Old Gods, and Wednesday in particular. He thinks of them as old and forgotten beings the world needs to be cleansed of, while the New Gods are the future of humanity and powerful enough to reprogram reality itself. If he enlisted himself in the war against the Old Gods, it’s because he believes divinities won’t be able to evolve until the “underground” deities disappear, to let the New Gods shine and stand in the “spotlight” in peace. In fact, he follows a very interesting theory according to which belief is a limited resource, and that the New Gods are reaching “the end of what they can give us. The credibility gap”. And as a result, destroying the Old Gods will allow the New Gods to take even more place and presence in America, to move out from “the fringes of the slipstream to the higher ground of the mainstream”.
And here we have the first sign that under all of his bravado and bragging, the Technical Boy isn’t the all-powerful being he claims to be. With Shadow, it was all talks of reprogramming reality and being the future. With Bilquis, an Old Goddess, he rather says that the New Gods are put aside and hungry for worship, and that eliminating the Old Gods is their only way to access the spotlight, to be at the “front and center” of America. Clearly, he is afraid of what he will become and of losing his divine status, hence why he got so easily into the war.
The other big hint comes with the fact that, despite talking a lot about violence, he isn’t a violent deity in himself. He never hits Shadow himself, he just orders his children to hit him, and even there they just give him one hit in the plexus, enough to inflict pain and cut his breath, but not very damaging. In fact, while he begins his kidnapping by bullying and threatening Shadow, he ends up his interview in a much more cordial way, not pressing him when he claims to not know anything, dropping him only a few meters away from his motel, and even giving (badly formulated) condolences for the death of his wife. Even though Shadow thinks that it was the smoke that “mellowed him out”, it is also a hint that the Technical Boy is not made for violence. It becomes even more obvious after his murder of Bilquis: he ends up burdened with guilt and remorse (which may be one of the reasons he freaks out in the center of America), to the point that he rethinks his involvement in the war and, seeing how the other New Gods would rather have peace than war, declares himself the “voice of reason” and try to tell to Mr. World that they should all go home and let the Old Gods be forgotten and die in peace, like they are bound to do. In fact, Technical Boy seems to have a problem with the act of killing in general. He speaks of his murder of Bilquis as “dealing with this bitch”, he associates his threat of killing Shadow with the act of “deleting” him (a simple touch of a button, not something where you have to get your hands dirty) and he cowers at the idea of a bloodbath with the Old Gods. He doesn’t even want to think of the war with the Old Gods as a battle, rather describing it as a “paradigm shift, a shakedown”.
Because, in the end, he is just a childish, pampered, spoiled young god that is a reflection of his worshippers: people who use the anonymity and seemingly endless possibilities of the Internet to act like thugs and bullies and do things they wouldn’t normally do because “it’s not real life”. But when things get too real or too messy, they back up, and often reveal themselves to be nothing more than children.
Now, despite all of these weaknesses and pitiful traits, the Technical Boy isn’t a nice kid either. He is still a nasty and rude little punk. He is a bad-mouthed boy who seems to be only able to speak using “fuck” and keeps insulting people willingly or unwillingly. He has no respect for what is old and ancient. He never says thank you or clean behind him, leaving his garbage everywhere. At the center of America, he reveals himself to be whiny, and keeps complaining because he doesn’t have hot water, electricity or decent fast-food restaurants. His food is either too cold or too hot, and in fact, when he burns his face with a hot McDonald apple pie, he mentions throwing a lawsuit at the restaurant, which is a reference to the infamous Liebeck VS McDonald’s Restaurants (aka the McDonald’s coffee case, a serious case that became through media’s distortion the symbol of frivolous lawsuits). In the comic book, they make him even more impolite: he outright burps at Shadow’s face while drinking a Diet Coke.
Even though his complaints about not having any Internet connection are an obvious parody of connectivity-addicted teenagers, they actually have logical and sensed roots, and a revelation of his biggest weakness.
V – WEAKNESSES AND LACK OF RESPECT
Because, if he is all-powerful whenever there’s WiFi around, in a dead zone like the center of America, without any Internet connection and outside of any wireless range imaginable, he is left as a simple human being, all alone with his thoughts. His children can’t “operate”, he thinks of his own room as “creepy”, gets nervous, looks desperately for company, refuses to be alone, starts to forget things and to shiver for no reason, and even acts irrational and crazy, like when he speaks to himself and hit his head against the walls (even though part of it may be due to his guilt over Bilquis murder). Since he is the god of the Internet, where there’s none around, he is nothing. For him, “when you got to be wired, you’re already back at the stone age”, so not having any kind of connection or power at all is complete nil for him.
But even when there is Internet around, the Technical Boy is still not much. Because, while Internet at the time was a trendy, young, rapidly expanding concept with a lot of promises and hopes, it was still quite small and harmless, only accessed and understood by a few people. As a result, the Technical Boy reflects this smallness and this harmlessness of the Internet, and even represents the few specific functions for which it was used.
(For this demonstration, I’ll only use three of the most popular functions of Internet in its beginning)
1: Information. The Web was used to search and find information. As a result the Technical Boy has a tendency to randomly spouts trivia, info and pop culture references, even when they don’t fit the situation. He quotes the Wizard of Oz, he mentions the Omerta and Lao Tzu, he tells Shadow the exact number of bones in the body, and he twists the lyrics of a Madonna song during his meeting with Bilquis: “You’re an immaterial girl / In a material world” followed by “You’re an analogic girl/ In a digital world”. (A bit of trivia is that the Technical Boy sings with a voice that is “not made for singing”, a tuneless and nasal voice, probably a reference to how the first attempts at making an artificial voice sing were disastrous).
2: Food. Internet was mostly used to order food, especially fast-food. As a result, the Technical Boy shares with his fellow New Gods an obsession with fast-foods (remember, it was before the Super-Size Me movie), and when he is at the center of America, he explains that he never thought “anywhere could be fifty miles from a McDonald”. He is also the one who keeps complaining about the quality of the food, and on his four apparitions in the book, he is seen eating in two of them (which makes him the biggest eater of the New Gods, given the others, well… barely eat, if they eat at all).
3: Porn. Internet was at first mostly used for porn, and it also shows in the Technical Boy’s character. He traps Bilquis by finding her on the different websites where she sold her body (adultfriendfinder.com, LA-escorts.com, Classyhollywoodbabes.com…) and then he pretends to be one of her clients, asking her for “sweet loving” (a cheesy and cliché line) and then, in a cruder way, “how much to suck my cock?”. When Bilquis flees and he has to kill her, he even says to her, nearly in a resentful way “All you fucking madonnas”. Which is a very clever pun on the Madonna/whore archetype, that he was already preparing by singing a Madonna song to Bilquis, but also maybe a clue that the Technical Boy is frustrated that she didn’t complied to his demands. However, Bilquis notices and amuses herself that, when he wants to get closer to her, he moves “awkwardly”. Which shows here the double nature of the Internet (and as a result of Technical Boy). It is the biggest source of pornography and the more open-minded platform when it comes to sexuality, but yet, at the time, it was mostly used by virgins, celibates, lonely souls and unexperimented people. It may also be a reference as to how Internet offers a lot of sexuality, but it is always a fictional, virtual, unreal sexuality. Hence why Technical Boy doesn’t mind being a prostitute’s client, but then ends up uncomfortable when he has to act physically with her.
And on this last point I’ll precise another important detail about the Technical Boy character: his awkwardness around people. He inherited the asocial traits and social inaptitude of his “worshippers”. Media mentions that Technical Boy isn’t “good with people” and indeed, he seems like a deity more used to binary codes and technology than beings of flesh, blood and feelings. With his fellow New Gods, he acts in a shy, rude or awkward way. When he walks among their ranks before the final battle, he is described as having the “shuffling walk of one who, despite having no social skills, still become successful beyond his dreams”. And his attempts at interacting with his enemies fall flat because of just how unnatural he sounds. He tries to impress Shadow with a cigarette trick (he makes the smoke come out from his mouth directly into his nose), but the man immediately knows that he practiced a lot in front of the mirror before doing it in public; and when he speaks with Bilquis, she notes that his talk seems rehearsed and prepared in advance, like if he had this conversation in front of a mirror before having it with her.
As a result, no one really treats him with much deference or respect on either side of the war. To the point that most of the characters, and the narration itself, only calls him “the fat kid”. He is called “the fat kid” much more than “the technical boy” in the book, to the point that it could have been his name. He is only referred as “The Technical Boy” twice. By Media, who says “the technical boy”, and by himself, when he describes himself as “a technical boy” to Bilquis. It isn’t even a real name, it’s just the name of his function.
I’ll point out here that Technical Boy is perhaps, indeed, not “the” Technical Boy, but merely “a” Technical Boy. As I pointed out in my “four group” posts, there is a mention in the book of the “techies”, a whole group of New Gods of technology who are mainly centered around Austin and San Jose. I can only guess that Technical Boy is one of them, and their “head” or “representative”.
VI – TRIVIA
- Technical Boy’s laugh is only described twice, but both time it is quite annoying. Both time it’s described as a “giggle”. The first time it’s a high-pitched, girly noise (at the center of America). The second time it’s a low snuffling laugh at the back of his throat and nose (in front of Mr. World)
- The poem he quotes and forgets at Wednesday’s funerals is “The second coming” by Yeats, a major work of modernist poetry, that uses a lot of Christian imagery (mostly references to the apocalypse and the second coming) to describe a post World War I Europe. The lines in question talks about how a “center” is unable to hold and falls apart, resulting in a bloodbath, in anarchy and in war (a pretty obvious reference to what is directly happening at this moment of the book).
- Despite being the most prominent defender of the “new ways”, he is also the most used to the “old” ones. If the bufotenin example wasn’t enough, at the center of America, he is the one who speaks at the same time as Nancy to explain to Shadow the rules of a divine funeral.
As I was making researches, I saw a lot of people mention about the Technical Boy's fate in the book "Internet can't die", "if Technical Boy died, does it means Internet died", etc... And I just realized a strange coincidence.
The war of gods is supposed to take place in 1999, or a year or so around it, right? Well, in 2000 ther ewas the "dot-com crash". It was the explosion of the "dot-com bubble", a speculative bubble that led to excess speculation and extreme economical growth, due to the use and adoption in the Internet, between 1994 and 2000. And the bubble exploded in 2000, crashing several online shopping and communication compagnies that never got up again and that are now forgotten (Pets.com, Webvan, Boo.com, Wolrdcom). The explosion also hit hard other companies, that managed to get up but were still wounded, such as Cisco, eBay or Amazon.
So I can't help but wonder if Technical Boy's death in 1999 is what caused this explosion of the "dot-com bubble", also called "tech bubble".