Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts on Cyberpunk

“A picture of Tokyo in the rain is as cyberpunk as paying for sex from a one-legged robot that achieved sentience by mail order…”

Deightine, Moderator /r/science

For me, it started in the late 80’s, I was a bit behind the times though. I was in high school and fell in love with the dystopia that it was. Everything around me was so bland, so boring, so fucking beige. It was all old denim and a second hand olive drab coat. It was a life stuck inside my own mind where all the colors were various shades of pastel verging on neon and noticing I was the square peg being forced to interact with round holes.

I found the movement through role-playing games, Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, GURPS. I found more through novelization and short stories, Count Zero, Hardwired, Angel Station. When I finally saw Akira, Bubblegum Crisis, and Dominion: Tank Police, I was blown away.

I dreamed in bits and bytes. I coded in Pascal and C. I saw the huge vastness of cyberspace in my mind and wanted to be one of the console cowboys who could jack into the net.

Despite the squalor and the loneliness, these anti-heroes were SOMEBODY. They had a sense of self that couldn’t be denied. They knew who they were and what they were supposed to be doing in their tiny spheres. They had the right connections in the right circles. They had the right skill to perform the job.

These guys were hot shit walking on razor wires.

They weren’t the nobody that I was. They didn’t have to try to figure out what was next (in my mind, at least). They didn’t have to deal with the fact that they were displaced constantly and didn’t have any true friends. They didn’t need friends. They only needed the connections. They only needed to play the game to get ahead. They made up their own rules.

I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be them.

I had to use the computers in school as I couldn’t afford one. Two thousand dollars in 1986 was a hell of a lot of money. I learned how to make the 5.25 inch floppy disks into double density disks with scissors. I learned how to use Bitcopy to make pirate versions of software.

My first computer had no hard drive. It held two 3.5 inch floppy drives and a 256 bps modem. I cruised BBS systems that could hold only a few users at a time. I found new things that I could barely describe then. Now, it was so much digital spackling paste on a loose frame. At the time, I thought I was envisioning Babylon.

I moved through hand-me-down technology and learned how to mount motherboards and memory. I learned that I preferred Windows to MAC. I wasn’t ready for the world of Linux, that was just too much for my tender mind back then. I saw how some of my friends seemed to hack Best Buy and walk out with thousands of dollars of computer equipment and software with attitude and an old receipt.

Yeah, we were nigh untouchable then. It was the beginning of the boom. Many of us were embroiled in darkened quarters trying to think up new hacks, pushing the limits of modem technology, and using $600.00 software to make desktop backgrounds.

This is what it meant to me then. For a moment, I thought I was a true cyberpunk. I ate drive-through Chinese food and spoke geeky with my friends. I absorbed the attitude and found my indignation for authority. After all, I was an entitled white male who graduated from high school and was basically thrown to the wolves of life. I didn’t see then that it was my poor choices that brought me there. Imagined power then does not hold a candle to the wisdom I have now.

What I saw as cyberpunk then was more of a social movement that relied upon a few core friends, exotic food, and technology. In this age, it is something different. It has evolved.

As an aging man, I can honestly say that my children have far more intuitive skill in relating and using today’s technology. They push it to a fantastic level that I couldn’t envision back when I was hanging out at the Circle K and reading comic books and magazines from the rack.

Terabytes were mythic and scoffed at. Now, I have two 2 TB hard drives sitting in my office awaiting a frame so I can use them as a backup device.

The cyberpunks of this age run in the dark web. They are pushing technology and evolving into beings much like Otaku. They never knew a time where wifi wasn’t there. They never knew a place where there wasn’t a place to plug in and charge a laptop or smart phone. To them, asking for the wifi password is commonplace.

Today’s cyberpunks help the Anonymous movement to bring us news and views that wouldn’t be available otherwise. They work as government agents or contractors to protect the gigantic systems that seem to turn the digital cogs that move the world.

We do not have the tech in our bodies as was envisioned by those who founded the Well. I’m uncertain that we ever will. Society, as a whole, is not ready for the polished chrome forms that were so hot back then.

I’m not certain the mainstream will ever accept that. It’s too posthuman, too freakish to be part of normal culture. The media, and those who control it, won’t allow it to become haute couture.

We do have the functional cyborgs though. Hip and joint replacements, ocular implants, aural implants, artificial organs, implanted devices that relay our vital signs to another computer device wirelessly are all being used in modern medicine. These are only off of the top of my head. I’m sure if I did a modicum of research, I would find more examples. VR tech is even going out to consumers at a somewhat reasonable price.

The Powers That Be paint pictures for us that are streamed into our homes. They coat everything in beige. Drugs, once illegal are now accepted in some places. The veneer is being stripped in small pieces. It is being flaked off as we scratch at this annoying itch.

Our reality is being changed with every purchase we make.

Many folks say that cyberpunk is dead. To a degree, they are not wrong. The ideals born of the green circuit boards and soldered connections from so long ago have become passé as we have all grown. We rebel in different ways now — sometimes it’s with purchasing, sometimes it’s with protesting, sometimes it’s abstaining.

What is cyberpunk?

Look around. It’s our connections to each other and the world. It is how we are now addicted to the high of social media, how we have become smart phone zombies, how we are all connected across the globe, how we have evolved to dating apps and websites versus personal columns. It’s how we can be anonymous faces online and easily become another persona, how we can tolerate the hatred spewed out of the ignorant, how we have become used to the foreign wars over resources, how we have come to expect the next shoe to drop at any time when it comes to global destruction, how we constantly seek escape from our reality to avoid our ‘real life’ in meatspace.

Welcome to the future.

It's 1400 Zulu, do you know where your meat body is?

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