Cyberpunk & Representation

Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, typically set in the future. It involves predictions of overwhelming tech culture, united with some form of radical change or breakdown in the social order.  The term Cyberpunk first appeared in William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, in 1984. Science fiction author Lawrence Person, describes a classic cyberpunk character as marginalized and reclusive. Living in the outskirts of a dystopic society, they encounter rapid technological alterations, including modification of the human body and an omnipresent datasphere of computerised information. In the late 1980’s, a cyberpunk was also the label given to malicious hackers who illegally access computer networks. 

In Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic (1981), characters are mutated to suggest dystopic visions related to the reconstruction of social identities. David Thomas uses the idiom “Technophilic Body” to depict functional and aesthetic transformations that reconstitute the organic and sensorial architecture of a human body. Visions of future systems have been explored through cyberculture since the 1960s in literature and on screen. Many aspects of pop culture harness the ideologies presented cyberpunk realms, generating significant representations of mainstream Internet culture. An early example would be The Jetsons, (1962) a family who live in a futuristic utopia. More recently, Matt Groening and David X Cohen have adapted and explored cyberpunk themes in the TV series (and later in the videogame game), Futurama (1999).

Set on earth in the year 3000, Futurama is a classic cyberpunk parody with present libertarian, consumer and anti-corporist elements. There is a minority of low socio-economic groups that are segregated from the rest of society, a vast majority of characters with body modifications, as well as the prominence of androids, Robot Rebellions, layered cities, cybercriminals, evil megacorps, and a cyberspace… with some episodes depicting societies that are completely controlled by computers.

The Public Sphere of Imagination

When I was younger, recess and lunch in the school playground was a crucial space, where discussions of canteen chicken nuggets, annoying teachers and the latest toys occurred. Communication is part of human nature. It is instinctual; we want to openly talk about our interests and concerns, and it’s a good feeling when we share common views with someone (Hewett, 2011, p3). As we progress through life, humans are drawn to a space where one can discuss collective social interests; this has come to be known as the modern day Public Sphere. In the 18th century, middle-class men encountered face-to-face social and political squabbles in local salons and coffee houses. Philosopher Jürgen Habermas described the Public Sphere as ‘a network for communicating information and points of view’ (1996). In the 21st Century, when we see the words “network” and “communication” we don’t tend to grab our newspapers and head down to the local café to have lengthy debates with our neighbours. The modern day Public Sphere(s) is tucked into our pockets, or sitting on your desk. Humans can now digitally access what seems like an infinite number of platforms, to receive, respond and circulate information.

Everyday we consume mediated images and expectations of life, through popular media discourses presented in entertainment programs. This epitomises the notion of a Cultural Public Sphere, where aesthetic and emotional modes of communication are articulated affectively (McGuigan, 2005, p435). While traditional journalistic institutions distract audiences from “serious” cultural concerns, viewers begin to respond and reflect on personal, public and political interests through social networking platforms. TV shows such as ABC’s Q&A become agents of critical intervention in the mainstream media, by providing public debate. The program allows viewers to hashtag and tweet in real-time, highlighting the value of independent criticism about widespread dissent and ideologies in the Public Sphere (McGuigan, 2005, p440).


asylum qanda

Q&AIrony800

420_howard1-420x0

#qanda tweets acting as commentary about issues being raised.

With anybody being able to participate in The Public Sphere, modern anxieties arise over the deterioration of balanced discourse about public affairs. Some critics argue that mass media has expanded the Public Sphere; while others state that it has transformed the nature of publicness all together (Munday & Chandler, 2011).

References:

Habermas, J 1996, Between facts and norms: Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy,MIT Press, Cambridge

Hewett, D 2011, The Nature of Human Communication, Sage Publications, pp.3-8

McGuigan, J 2005, ‘The Cultural Public Sphere’, Cultural Studies, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 427–443

Munday, R & Chandler, D 2011, ‘Public and Private Spheres’, Dictionary of Media and Communication, Oxford University Press

Visionaries and Notions of Cyberspace

Cyberspace: ‘A term introduced by the novelist William Gibson in 1984 to describe an abstract virtual space created in part by networks of interconnecting computers and in part by the human imagination.’ (Oxford Dictionary of Communication and Media, 2011)

The contemporary concern of cyberspace and virtual reality is something that William Gibson regards as a consensual hallucination. We have categorically labeled demographics, aiming to represent and stereotype behaviours associated with technology and the Internet. However, this assumption of generational difference regarding media consumption is somewhat inaccurate. Generation X and Generation Y are simply measured by the way they have adapted through mass transitions of technology and media forms. Generation Z (“The Google Generation”) may have only ever been surrounded by a digital environment, but this does not necessarily mean they are more or less dependent on technology or that their media consumption is higher.

The way I see it, all demographics are in the same boat, with a different view over the edge. Generation X has had the privilege to grow through decades of technological convergence, and whether they choose to keep up-to-date and participate, ultimately comes down to personal choice. Vannevar Bush examines past inventions in his article “As We May Think”,  reflecting that even back in 1945, scientific developments have benefitted humanity in ways never thought possible. The stereotype that Gen X is inadequate with relation to new technologies perhaps evolved from the majority being comfortable in their already non-technologically dependent lifestyles. They lived for so long without tech-savvy gadgets, and may not see the need or convenience. Gen Y have been familiarised with new technologies at an imperative time of mental growth, presumably connecting them more dependently to new forms of media, in particular social networking. The emergence of selfies is an example of Gen Y’s obsession with self-representation and the need for constant validation. Behaviours of Gen Y on networking platforms typically surround issues regarding attention-worthy online and offline identities.

GOOGLE_chappattImage source

This paves a way for Generation Z. The concern here is that without knowledge of life with no online profile, social identities are being completely constructed on social media platforms. Furthermore, educational concerns are at an all time high, as The Google Generation’s  general attitude toward online content is the infinite ability of having ‘facts at their fingertips’. The immense amount of information being scanned through immobilizes a creative and independent thought process. With Gen Z deeming search engines such as Google as an Internet brand,2014 being the fourth year in a row it has topped the most trusted Internet Brand List. Research libraries have no option but to adjust to the enormous transformation in the way that scholarly information is being sought and used electronically. Social media platforms have conditioned the young to expect dynamic and personalised content experiences, which research libraries are struggling to compete with. The shift from the library as a physical space to a virtual environment has immeasurable implications. With high demand for around-the-clock accessibility and immediate answers, librarians are anxious and threatened by having to match these services provided by Google. The materialization of social media is altering the nature and fabric of the World Wide Web. We have strayed from an Internet constructed by certain authorities to one where content is being generated by millions. This notion is of specific interest to librarians and publishers as it blurs the line between information producers and information consumers, by users having the ability to create and share their own content.

‘In a real sense, we are all Google generation now: the demographics of Internet and media consumption are rapidly eroding this presumed generational difference.’ (Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future: A Ciber Briefing Paper, 2008, p21)

Informed Audiences RE: Wikileaks

‘You can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results; that should be the standard in journalism.’ (Jualian Assange, 2010)

Journalists are expected to abide by a code of ethics in the distribution of content, particularly the notion of objectivity. Where absolute neutral transmission of objective reality can be defined as impossible, in a journalistic sense, objectivity is a method used to test interpretations for bias or inaccuracies. This stance is alike to the way scientists test their hypotheses about phenomena . Julian Assange, self-labeled “information acitivist”, believes that media convergence has blurred the traditional philosophies of accurate and factual reporting, stating that the truth should always be presented unvarnished and verifiable. Assange launches Wikileaks, a non-profit website in 2006, aiming to disseminate sensitive material  for the public to use as a tool to make intelligent and informed decisions. For audiences, it is just as important to be objective when receiving information. Traditional and digital forms of journalism have pros and cons with regard to ethical reporting. Both vary in the delivery of material yet the significance lies within you as the reader. Advantages of receiving information online are that you have the ability to re-read, follow through links and images, as well as crosscheck information at your own pace (click-click-click). This idea was one of the driving forces for Wikileaks, and when Assange released the collateral murder video, in its pure and unpolished state, it was confronting for many viewers. As a result it assisted to open the eyes of the public and their perception of war, while causing a moral panic among government and media agencies.

Nonetheless, consuming content today is a double-edged sword. For example, citizen journalism means that anyone can post freely online (yay) however the information you’re reading may not be accurate. An online author often doesn’t have any academic credentials and may not have used reliable sources (nay). This element of the digital economy is what poses ethical concerns of journalistic integrity. Audiences must understand the significance of factual and balanced news reporting while also being objective and critical.

pressImage Source

We are all constantly consuming information, sometimes subconsciously. It is worthwhile to note when you’re watching the news or reading the paper, to keep in mind that the Fourth Estate enforce rigorous editing and presentation practices. This process may skew the representation of whole stories, individuals and groups of people, ultimately influencing the attitudes of consumers.