“Old-school HTML pages, in this case ‘He’s Taking More Lithium,’ everything encrypted, nothin any of us knew how to read. Ice wanted robot meta tags on everything. NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW, no nothin. It’s supposed to be for keeping pages away from Web crawlers, stashed deep enough down to be safe. But anybody could’ve done that in-house, there was more nerd delinquents hanging around that place than a Quake server.” (Bleeding Edge, 218)
So this passage is near the end of Chapter 14, where Maxine is at the karaoke place trying to get more information from employees at hashslingrz. Here she is talking with Lester and he makes a reference as to what his job entailed. Pynchon is making a play on the acronym HTML in the beginning, with Lester stating that it stood for He’s Taking More Lithium. In web programming Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is the framework for all websites, which is what Lester said he did for Ice.
Initially this stood out to me. Why this acronym? It does match the letters but at first glance it doesn’t seem to make much sense. A little digging into the properties of lithium made more sense, especially in context with the rest of the passage. Lithium poisoning can cause psychosis in large doses. Pynchon frames this passage as how Ice is seemingly making odd or obtuse decisions. In this case, the fact that Lester was brought on to hide the web pages from crawlers even though there were many capable people not doing anything was prescribed by Lester as one of Ice’s crazy decisions. Thus the first sentence, which makes use of familiar technological terms, summarizes the conversation.
Psychosis also can lead to paranoia and the need to tag every page as NOINDEX and NOFOLLOW shows that. Those tags are what makes the pages part of the Deep Web, they are buried in the abyss. Part of this novel is talking about DeepArcher and the Deep Web that it navigates. While the Deep Web was small in the early 2000’s and even the late 90’s, now it’s enormous. While information is centralized in the internet, and people have access to areas that span the globe, there is still entire sections of the internet that are cut off from the structured cities and highways in DeepArcher. I think that Pynchon is stating that people like Ice believe that things in the Deep Web are safe. That what they put there is inaccessible from government agents or genius hackers. But the bleeding edge technology of this book, DeepArcher, is cutting through that illusion. The program can go to any Deep Web site, it can find what people like Ice try to bury and bring it to light.
To me, this novel is a lesson. A lesson that there are technologies that we can barely imagine. That those technologies can fundamentally change how we think of the current state of our world today. Before DeepArcher, the Deep Web might have been the safest place for one’s secrets. However, that bleeding edge technology might prove that even hiding in the dark might not be enough.