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.

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The Network Society

The Internet has altered the way we work, socialise, create and share information. This transformation of social networking does not get the recognition it deserves. There’s been this massive transition in our lives, transitioning to a digital culture and economy.

In a 2011 report, Mckinsey Global Institute stated that in the past 5 years, the Internet accounted for 21 per cent of the GDP growth in mature economies. This technological revolution has assisted large enterprises and national economies, individual consumers and upstart entrepreneurs. Facebook and other social media sites have been some of the utmost beneficiaries from the powerful influence of the Internet – businesses can now interact with their consumers on a personal level. From a few thousand students accessing Facebook to over 1 billion global users today, Manyika and Roxburgh from the Mckinsey Global Institute stated that ‘If Internet were a sector, it would have a greater weight in GDP than agriculture or utilities’. The development and evolution of the Internet has been described as a ‘healthy Internet ecosystem’, boosting infrastructure, accessibility, and a competitive environment. This prompts innovators and entrepreneurs to flourish, nurturing human capital and in turn maximizing the ongoing affect of the Internet on prosperity and economic growth.

The vast opportunities we are provided with are being embraced and embedded into our lifestyle and culture, and it is truly amazing to be a part of it. We create, define and expand this online ecosystem at an astonishing rate. Communication is the foundation of our society, culture, humanity and identities.

‘Consisting of transactions, relationships and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live… We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth…We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity’ – John Perry Barlow

I loved one of this week’s readings, ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’. Above are my favourite excerpts, which outline the online world we are (or choose to be) a part of. I found it interesting when he says (repeatedly) about our physical bodies not living in cyberspace. I loved how he separated an individual’s physical characteristics with cyberspace, presented in this sense that you are entering a utopian world.

References:

Barlow, JP 1996, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Davos Switzerland, viewed 18/08/2013,
<https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html

Dyson, E, Gilder, G, Keyworth, G & Toffler, A 1994, Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age, The Progress & Freedom Foundation, viewed 18/08/2013,
<http://www.pff.org/issues-pubs/futureinsights/fi1.2magnacarta.html

Kelly, K 1999, New Rules for the New Economy, Kevin Kelly, viewed 18/08/2013,
< http://www.kk.org/newrules/newrules-intro.html

Manrika, J & Roxburgh, C 2011, The great transformer: The impact of the Internet on economic growth and prosperity, Mckinsey Global Institute, viewed 18/08/2013, <http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/the_great_transformer

Lost in cyberspace

Cyberspace:
1. The realm of electronic communication
2. Virtual reality

Image

The thing that leapt out at me most during one of our readings this week was this idea of being “pulled” into cyberspace. I find it interesting how we refer to cyberspace as a geographic place, much so that we use terminology such as “visiting” a website or “entering” a chat room. There are many positives about cyberspace, like the sense of community. But what happens when people fall deeply into this community and begin to confuse their online existence it with the real world. We often see YouTube clips of online gamers viciously verbally abusing other gamers through their headset and sometimes physically attacking their computer or gaming console when something doesn’t go their way. What I didn’t realize is that this is an actual addiction – there have been documentaries on Internet and gaming addiction being treated as a very serious illness. There are now self help websites and organisations where people can post about their addiction. I found that the majority of addicts were young boys, typically aged 10-15 years old, spending 10+ hours a day playing online. It is now understandable how they are pulled in to this virtual world – they are not doing much else. Much like any other addiction, when they aren’t online they are thinking about being online and therefore lose focus in real life activities such as school, sport, and familial commitments.

 

You’re being watched

In the short time that social media has been around, the one consistent thing I have observed is that a great deal of people forget they are being watched. In a High Talk blog post, George F Snell III states that the line between public and private is now less defined than ever. Snell raises some points, which to me seems as standard Internet etiquette (studying media and communication helps I guess), however I’ve noticed it isn’t so obvious to some. Snell’s 5 guidelines in his post were ‘be polite, transparent, discrete, trustworthy and admit your mistakes’. Once I read that I realised that the majority of my Facebook friends definitely forget that what they post is not private. For example somebody “privately” chatting on Facebook IM and the other person decides to screenshot and share their conversation. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the time this is entertaining, but what everyone forgets is that we are constantly under surveillance. In some cases, people actually lose their jobs because of something they have posted/been tagged in on Facebook. I often see and hear this happen, and am not surprised by it. I’ve always felt that social media platforms should not be treated as a private space.

Before Facebook and Twitter even existed, there were chat rooms. And the thing my parents said over and over and over (as they could not keep me from using them) was ‘Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t tell anyone your real name, where you’re from, don’t put your birth date in your email address…’ the list goes on. Made complete sense then, nobody wants a stalker. However, today we openly let people stalk us online. Facebook has asked me all this information about my life from my name, to my favourite food and TV show, to what song I’m currently listening to. Not to worry, even if you don’t fill in these details, everyone on Facebook can see where you are if your location service is enabled on your phone. Now this, I feel, is utterly absurd. With relation to media and youth, an article by Sonia Livingstone explores the way media fosters youth culture through both form and content. Livingstone states that young people use the media precisely to discover and transgress established norms of public and private space. However, they are often naive to the power of the media subtly positioning them according to consumerist pleasures and powerful interests. Through content, they directly address the concerns, interests and experiences of youth. Through their forms, they can provide personalised media goods that determine the space of young online identities. Subsequently, the media repositions young people in relation to public and private spheres, casting them as both citizens and consumers for the future.

A friend once told me “never put anything in writing” and I have applied this both online and offline. People creating controversy, losing friends and even becoming unemployed because of the untasteful way they act online. My message to these people would be if you don’t want anyone knowing, don’t talk about it, anywhere. There is no such thing as privacy in cyberspace. This also goes for businesses who create social media pages – it is crucial to treat every interaction as a public one. We need to remember that everybody is a reporter now. Snell explained this brilliantly (with regard to “private” interactions), ‘the disgruntled customer might have 5,000 followers on Twitter. The waitress serving you while you discuss your company’s top-secret new product could be an avid blogger’ etc. Social media platforms are tools, use them wisely and they can work to your advantage, but one wrong move and you’ll unwillingly create an everlasting poor reputation. But hey, no pressure.

References:

Livingstone, S 2005, ‘Mediating the public/private boundary at home: children’s use of the internet for privacy and participation’, London: LSE Research Online, viewed 11/08/2013, <http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/506/1/JMP_6(1).pdf

Snell, GF 2009, 5 Guidelines for Public vs. Private in Social Media, High Talk, weblog post, 23 March, viewed 11/08/2013, <http://hightalk.net/2009/03/23/5-guidelines-for-public-vs-private-in-social-media/