Cyberpunk: The Beginning

I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this you’re already familiar with what the term cyberpunk implies. I could write an entire essay on the genre before I even got close to getting my point across. This prose is far more about a common thread between all facets of the subgenre, and how it’s essential for our continued ability to express ourselves freely on the Internet, to learn from what these works were trying to say.

By the time almost all cyberpunk stories take place, there’s been enough of a time gap for the society to have learned the bare basics of manipulating technology. Another word for that is “hacking”, or finding an alternative route to solving a problem. It’s something that’s a bit of a mystery to many of the uninitiated, and grossly exaggerated in media depictions, with films like Hackers and Live Free Or Die Hard being two of the worst offenders, however none of them are particularly good.

This disconnect still exists in our society even to this day, despite the fact that almost everyone uses computers on a daily basis. According to this article, Smartphones make up 54% of the cellphone market, with tablet sales expecting to explode in the next few years. This data indicates that more and more people will be carrying a computer of some sorts with them at any given time. While laptops dominated the market in the last decade, and still manage to outset desktop sales, they do carry some complications that make them an unattractive option, especially when compared to the lightweight nature of an iPad or Amazon Kindle Fire.

Computers as we know it are changing, except our understanding of them still stands at a cool understanding for many people. Most users are more comfortable with the product just working, rather than asking the questions of why the product is working. When our computer dies inexplicably we go into panic, immediately contacting our most technologically savvy tech friend because we don’t want the Geek Squad guys at Best Buy to see what kind of porn we look at. Companies like Microsoft and Apple have latched onto this idea of “user friendliness” and targeting that demographic has paid off exponentially. Apple currently has more money than the United States government and Bill Gates of Microsoft clocking in a net worth of 59 billion dollars as of November 2011.

And why not, both companies made a huge push with hiding the technical processes of how the computer works behind a pretty looking GUI (Graphical User Interface) that means a person can transfer a file from one directory to another by just clicking and dragging, rather than doing it through a command line. Now I’m not some computer elitist, I just recently jumped on the Linux bandwagon so this really is the pot calling the kettle black, however for people in their early 20’s, the computer has more or less been a luxury in your life for the better half of it. Yet despite this, if you were to ask a person how to set up a printer over a wireless network, I can guarantee you that many would be at a loss.

There are many ways you can respond to something like this, something along the lines of “Well do you know how your fridge works” or “how to fix your boiler”, and you do have a point there. There will always be experts in a field to help the ignorant, however my fridge or boiler or some other appliance I have always used, is only regulated to performing one task. My fridge keeps me food from spoiling, my boiler keeps the heat flowing in my house, and my stove cooks my food. What does my computer do? It allows me the privilege to write this and publish it in such a way that I can reach a wider audience. I can use it as an entertainment center, playing my music, movies, TV shows, video games, radio and just about any other task that was once delegated to a single machine. It is the conduit for which I can learn, for which I can use to communicate, store data, and make a living. I can create, destroy, and manipulate with it. It is easily one of humankind’s greatest achievements next to Gutenberg’s printing press or the wheel, an indisputable testament to humanity’s greatness, and most of us don’t care how it works, just that it does work.

Again, I can’t begrudge people too much for their unwillingness to learn, for so many people it serves a very single-minded purpose and that it is perhaps a little unreasonable for everyone to share the same admiration that I, or many other tech enthusiasts share. Unreasonable to a degree considering just how much computers have permeated into every facet of our society. We are still barely out of the incubation stage when it comes to computers too, in 2002 the power of a 4th generation iPhone would have been considered nothing but something belonging to an episode of Star Trek. Even technology from 2006 pales in comparison to the laptop I am writing this on right now, so perhaps there literary fantasies of William Gibson or Neal Stephenson are but a decade or two away. If that’s true, perhaps the sad pathetic state of our world will interest people in the inner workings of the technology they use every day.

It could be that the recent actions of Anonymous be the catalyst to make people open their mind to the possibility of manipulating their technology to suit their own end. The idealized image of the computer hacker, prowling through confidential information implicating the various evils of their society is an attractive and romantic one to say the very least, and in the last few months Anonymous have only strengthened this image. The loose organization has done a lot to expose various companies or organizations that ask for one’s personal information for the privilege to use their services, and the disregard they have to the safety of it. In a recent attack on the Alabama State Government’s website in opposition of a Immigration Bill, the hackers found unprotected personal information of state citizens, including social security numbers, license plate numbers, and even personal addresses. After last year’s disastrous Playstation Network debacle, which saw the information of over 1 million users compromised, there has been a lot of scrutiny against these services requiring our information. While my sympathies go out to the people who have suffered because of identity theft, these actions just go to show us how little regard these services have anything other than our money.

In the wake of recent legislation like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA, there has been a huge awakening of awareness when it comes to the Internet, which is largely our last stronghold for free information without bias or some kind of monetary agenda While we were all elated by SOPA being shelved after January 18th “blackout” protest, something will inevitably get though and we will face Internet censorship seen in places like China, Egypt, and Syria. While for some this won’t change their browsing experience, so long as they can still play FarmVille, they could care less. But what of the others, the ones without their heads buried in the sand? What then? What will you be wishing when the police come through your door because you illegally downloaded a Michael Jackson song and face more jail time than the man that killed him? You’ll probably wish you learned how to use or proxy server, or something like Tor to help mask your activity. You’ll wish you downloaded it from a reliable source, but it will be too late. You’ll be in jail making friends with Big Earl, or worse, you’ll be a scared consumer, wasting your money on things you can access for free out of fear because you don’t want to know, and I honestly don’t know which is worse.

Learn how to protect your anonymity online with Tor – https://www.torproject.org/

LoathsomePete is just as the name sounds, a man who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it. You can follow him on Twitter @avengedpie, or on Tumblr

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About loathsomepete
Avid reader/ writer of all things intelligent and thought provoking. Same goes for my music, any genre will do me as long as it conveys intelligence.

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