I grew up in the 80s and 90s and saw cyberpunk stuff first at middle/end of the nineties. A lot of the cyberpunk imagery back then was taking current technologies and attempting to extrapolate them. The Internet was still new back then, so a lot of people thought it would evolve into some sort of virtual reality interface or use some direct feed into the brain, possibly something involving a large spike and wires, ala The Matrix. A lot of the other trappings, as envisioned by books like Neuromancer or RPGs like cyberpunk 2020, tended to involve bulky machinery, like a cyberdeck, or cassettes and whatnot, as those worlds were imagined in the 80s where computing was a much “bigger” affair.
Cyberpunk, for those who don’t know, is a science fiction setting, which typically merges near-future high-tech, along with dystopian societal themes. As such, what feels “cyberpunk” tends to change as time goes on, as our current technology catches up to the imaginations of the authors. Some trappings that looked possible 30 years ago such flying cars and monofibers, stubbornly fails to materialize, while others take their place which the authors didn’t imagine, such as widespread smartphones, instead of decks.
And it sometimes, you get some tech that actually matches cyberpunk imagination. For example the recent breakthrough in cyber/implant technology is still mind-blowing to me. We’re now at a level where we have people using mechanical extremities where scientists are effectively actually making neural connections between machinery and brain. We have the internet combined with mobiles phone in the form of affordable smartphone and tablets, widely reshaping how society behaves and organizes, much more than what we would expect even just twenty years ago.
As someone who’s seen many of my early cyberpunk imaginations come to life, I still couldn’t declare now is cyberpunk, because there is an important piece missing.
You see, cyberpunk is not just near-future tech + dystopia. Otherwise every generation would merely be the previous generation’s “cyberpunk”. Rather cyberpunk is how high-tech (and more specifically transhumanist tech) is implemented in a world to enhance its existing dystopian themes.
We have literal themes out of Black Mirror playing out in places like China, with their Orwellian surveillance and mandatory social credit system. We have actual crimes and even genocides (!!) being commited due to false news being spread via unchecked social media. However the thing that made me say “hold up now” and write this post, was reading this article about one of the most notorious “IRL streamers”: Ice Poseidon. This is like a caricature out of goddamn Transmetropolitan!
From my perspective, the tech that we have now, fits absolutely into my idea of what tech would look in the near-future of my childhood, and not only that, but this tech is widely being used to make the world a darker place. All the pieces fit!
Tell me which other examples of technology used in the service of dystopianism have you noticed yourselves.