This is a re-release & remastering of my post originally titled “Life in the cyberpunk futurepresent” and first published on the now defunct website, Grinding.be, August 11th, 2010.
I’m republishing it now a) because it’s probably the last post that should be dragged out of the Grinding.be archives and made to live once more, and b) to show just how long this slow apocalypse has been going on… because it’s so easy to forget.
Heavy weather? Corporations committing crimes against humanity? The death of techno-utopianism? It’s the underlining narrative of this decade (pick a time scale though, really), and it’s only gotten worse. So much worse.
It didn’t have to turn out this way, and it doesn’t have to keep going on like this either.
The only person that’s said it better than Sarah “no fate but what we make” Connor, is the revolutionary tank-born human, Sonmi-451 in Cloud Atlas:
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.
Let’s do that then, let’s birth a better future and stop ignoring the signs & portents already.
We’ll start this gently, with the Onion’s piece that both satirizes 80s cyberpunk and proves how mundane and banal the realization of such visions can be:
In the blink of an eye, this real-life Johnny Mnemonic keys in his encrypted, top-secret passcode and enters the fortified binary area from which all his personal communiqués are sent forth in a dizzying array of ones and zeroes.
Now you might say, ok sure… but is it really the cyberpunk future?! Well, what’s another distinctive feature of that dystopic setting? A hostile climate:
Deaths in Moscow have doubled to an average of 700 people a day as the Russian capital is engulfed by poisonous smog from wildfires and a sweltering heat wave, a top health official said Monday.
Moscow health chief Andrei Seltsovky blamed weeks of unprecedented heat and suffocating smog for the rise in mortality compared to the same time last year, Russian news agencies reported. He said city morgues were nearly overflowing, filled with 1,300 bodies, close to their capacity.
That’s from an article about Moscow’s lethal smog. 700 people a day are currently dying, not from war, famine or disease… but because they can’t breathe!
Between Europe’s recent flooding, and now Pakistan too – “the U.N. estimates that 13.8 million people have been affected” – forget about the world being uninsurable, it’s becoming flat out unliveable! In Germany they’re freaking out about radioactive boar meat, from a nuclear reactor meltdown that happened before half our readership was born!
Tech heads flying around in a helicopter full of mercs to undisclosed locations in Central Asia? That’s one of my friends on twitter. A globe-trotting, border jumping cyber-as-cyber-gets punk that codes the defense used by millions to thwart snooping governments and corporations from the carparks in middle America and helps out on a little thing called wikileaks, has his phones taken by the Feds and uses body doubles to dodge them later after presenting at hacker conventions? That’s @ioerror.
So what are we missing from that classic cyberpunk vision? Evil corps in league with the government? Well that’s easy, init… BP kills an ocean, gets slapped on the wrist (instead of hung from a lampost) and bitches about lost profits. Puh-lease.
But now, the one great hope… the company that promised it would never be evil… it’s going over to teh DarkSide?! Oh Google, why hast thou forsaken us? We wanted to believe! Next Twitter will be telling us who to follow and promoting trending topics and talking about inserting tweets for money. (Oh wait…)
Here’s something we’ve forgotten: cyberpunk was a warning!
These were cautionary tales from the early 80s through to the early 90s, based on how the world could go wrong.
We were meant to take heed, not just accept this default version of the future without checking the Terms & Conditions. We didn’t listen. We did nothing, and here we are.
As The Bronx sing, “This is our Shitty Future”:
There, vent your rage for a few minutes.
Now, what are we going to do about it?!
(all links via the interwebz, all words via rampant insomnia)