You're feeling pretty chill, got a brand new credstick with gold striping and a set of Hitachi-Neon plugs, and you're headed to the street for a little action. On your way through the sprawl, you pass some Kennedys, a posergang made up of Marilyns, Bobbys, and of course Johns. They flash a little steel to show you where to keep your wandering optics. You're headed for the latest club, going to catch the new corporate hit, made a star overnight, and you wanna hear the music before it's out of style. Yeah, you definitely gotta get in there tonight.
My friend Rick is eagerly awaiting it. Bram, my roommate, is scared to death of it. It's the Cyberpunk world, and it is on its way.
Cyberpunk means different things to different people. It means nothing to some people. Pity those people, because they're going to be even more lost than the rest of us. Cyberpunk started out as a literary movement in the 1980s, a fresh new kind of near-future science-fiction by visionary writers like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. In the mid-80s, it became a role-playing game, where you imagined yourself in the role of a street punk in the year 2020. Now, it's a term used to describe modern-day hackers, musicians, and would-be revolutionaries.
Cyberpunk is two things: Atmosphere and Attitude. The atmosphere is easy to imagine. Take any large city, add another level of street violence, and give the criminals even more firepower than the cops. If you are in a city like L.A. or New York, atmosphere is even easier to imagine. Just step outside your front door.
Attitude is a combination of apathy and rage, a bastard mix that shouldn't happen but does. How well you do something doesn't matter as much as how good you looked doing it. The future is disposable; don't think about tomorrow, worry about today. After all, you could very well be dead tomorrow.
There are three hard and fast rules in Cyberpunk: Style over Substance, Attitude is Everything, and Always Take it to the Edge. The Edge is that place where suburban normals don't go. The Edge is illicit designer drugs, loud music, and rowdy all-night parties that the cops can't stop. Riding a burning car into a corporate building while screaming at the top of your lungs is living on the Edge. There is one more rule. Break the Rules.
The Cyberpunk world is nasty. The environment is trashed, corporate power is on the rise, government power is down, and criminals rule the streets. You getting the message? There are no explanations for the world, no quarter asked and none given. What does it matter to you, the reader? Everything, because the world is more than halfway there.
Gibson and Sterling were right about the future. Almost. They were about 25 years behind the times. Cyberpunk isn't gonna get here in 2020, it's gonna get here in 1995. Hell, half the country is living in it already, they just don't know what to call it.
The environment is on a big downslide. Everyone pays lip service to it, but for every public service ad you watch, Exxon or some other big corporation is dumping about twenty tons of garbage into the ocean. For every little bottle you toss into your day-glo plastic recycling bin, thirty more go to an overflowing landfill in mid-America. People may be more aware of the environment, but a lot of them still don't care. After all, they'll be dead by the time the negative effects set in. The future is disposable, and screw the next generation.
Crime in the cities? Maybe you've seen it, or at least heard about it. Without crime in the cities, we wouldn't have the six o clock news. When was the last time it was safe to take a late night stroll thrown downtown Los Angeles? Muggings and gang rapes are synonymous with the words Central Park. Gang violence has reached out from the major cities, like Denver, into the smaller communities like Fort Collins. In certain places, like the Boston "Combat Zone," police don't stop crimes. They just try to keep it contained to the "poor" areas, so the middle class corporate working folks don't have to see it.
Government power is done, corporate power is up. How many people didn't vote for the U.S. President because they felt it just didn't matter? Notice how Exxon escaped any real damage from that massive oil spill in Alaska? They got fined by the government, and it was a drop in their corporate bucket. The suits responsible are still enjoying their Filet Mignon nightly at restaurants too expensive for anyone who makes less than six figures.
People can tell you who General Motors, IBM, and Exxon are, but they'll be hard pressed to name the three branches of the U.S. Government. People may not have faith in big business, but it's more faith than they've got in the government at this point. After the JFK Assassination, Watergate, the Iran-Contra hearings, and Vietnam, nobody knows who to trust anymore. Ross Perot is building momentum for a Presidential victory. Perot would run the government like a business. The walls are breaking down between the Executive Office and the Chief Executive Officer.
The future is disposable. Disposable diapers, disposable contact lenses, disposable technology. Remember that tape deck you bought three years ago? Guess what? It's obsolete. It's been replaced by Digital Compact Cassettes, which are CD-quality audio tapes. How about your brand-new, still in the box, under 90-day warranty, Macintosh computer? In about three years, it is gonna need a CD-ROM player to be considered even moderately useful. Your friends with some other new multimedia system will probably still look down on you. Until their system becomes obsolete in another month.
In Cyberpunk, technology isn't the only thing that's disposable. The human body is disposable too. Metal is better than meat. Why have an arm that bleeds when you can have a Hitachi steel cyberarm, complete with chrome job and built-in digital watch? Why keep that graying hair when you can replace it with colorful neon fiber optics? Why type instructions to your computer when you could simply wire it right into your head?
Computers and cybernetics are the key technology involved in Cyberpunk. Then you can replace the human body with cleaner, more efficient machinery. Sure, it may be a little colder, but it's a cold world. Maybe right now you can't go to a local Body Shoppe and get a new hand. Maybe you can't even go to a hospital and do it. But you will.
Prosthetics grow more and more advanced every day. How long until some whiz-kid out of CalTech develops an arm or leg replacement that responds to commands from the nervous system? After all, it's just electricity. And once we cure the quadriplegics of the world, how about the military applications? A trooper with steel arms and legs doesn't feel pain and has a lot more strength.
Why stop there? Anything with military applications has obvious criminal applications. Maybe then the citizens will decide they need an upgrade to protect themselves. And then more of them will need it. And then it will become fashionable. And then you're there, smack in the middle of the Cyberpunk world.
Once we can connect replacement arms and legs on, why not use the same idea to connect the brain to all that other technology? Why not let soldiers "chip in" to their gun so it fires with the speed of thought? Why not add a hard drive to somebody's head so they can store information in computer memory? Much better than that flawed old human system of storage.
If we can create a computer simulation that feels real, like Virtual Reality, and we can talk over video telephones to people in Japan, how hard can it be to advance our technology even further? If the L.A. riots can happen, why can't street gangs avoid police control as easily as rioters who are unused to criminal activities? If the environment has been on a downslide since the Industrial Revolution, how is recycling a few cans and planting some new trees going to stop it now?
Cyberpunk is the way of the future. Learn to accept it. If you can't understand it, don't worry. You're right in the slop with the other 90% of the population. Maybe those 10% will bother to save the world, right? Wrong. They're going to be too busy watching their own asses to take care of yours. The best you can hope for is that humanity will survive its own stupidity, as it has for a long time; through no fault of its own.
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