Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cyberpunk Academy





When I was young, I wanted to go to Space Camp.

Not that cheesy Kate Capshaw movie from the 80s.  I'm talking about the actual location.
Now that I am a bit more "seasoned" shall we say, I think I would prefer to go to Cyberpunk Academy.  That's where author Bruce Sterling (writer of numerous fundamental cyberpunk novels and the blog "Beyond the Beyond" on Wired) and writer/artist Jasmina Tesanovic went for Boing Boing and they were nice enough to write about the experience. 

"Cyberpunk Academy" was just the title of the piece and of the organization sponsoring the meet.  The event's real name is Republika and it was held on a rusty ship called the Seagull, docked in the former Yugoslavia.  Among those present:

"...cybergeeks, pirates, dj s and electronic artists. They arrived from all over the world: the Internet-famous, the net-celebrities: the law professors who were were also tattooed djs, the musicians were somehow cryptographers, the elected officials were Icelandic punk poets, the free-software coders who are game designers. They were all young people of searingly high intelligence who lacked any proper career."

My kind of party. Of primary discussion of course was the case of Edward Snowden.  The authors portrayed the gathering of hackers, futurists, and tech experts as being overall sympathetic towards Snowden.  The NSA and other intelligence organizations on the other hand, are not to be trusted.  The same can be said for "Google, and of all the major industries that use the Internet while wrecking its principles."

What I like most about Cyberpunk Academy is that it really is like watching aspects of cyberpunk fiction come to life.  The very locale itself, the post-industrial ship rotting on the Adriatic, evokes images from the works of William Gibson and even Sterling himself.  The most recent example of what I'm talking about can be found in Elysium.  I shall expound.

Once upon a time, computer technology was like magic.  There were only a few people who could hack code or even operate cyber tech.  These modern shamans were known as "nerds" or "geeks." These social outcasts (of which I proudly count myself among) were possessors of rarefied  knowledge.

Today, digital technology is ubiquitous.  Computer knowledge is seen as basic literacy, right alongside being able to read, write, and do basic arithmetic.  One need no longer be a "geek" to implement technology in a way that benefits their life.  We see this in the film Elysium with the rough and thuggish underground element with which Matt Damon's character must ally.  One could hardly call these men and women "geeks," but there they are using high technology proficiently, even amidst their slummish conditions.

This harkens back to a quote by William S. Burroughs that was in turn embraced by William Gibson: "The street finds its own use for things." With technology being omnipresent, the disenfranchised and those knocked to the fringes of society by the political system can use tech to make their own way in the world.  To me, that's the DIY "punk" ethos in "cyberpunk."

If interested in cyberpunk fiction or if you're merely bemused by it all, I recommend checking out the following books and of course my post, "What is cyberpunk? (Not a manifesto)":
Neuromancer by William "The Man" Gibson. This is the no-kidding start of it all in my opinion.  I read both this book and it's follow-up Count Zero in undergrad (thanks, Dorkland).  Gibson made science fiction hip again.
Ultimate Cyberpunk
Mirrorshades

Both of the above are anthologies which give good cross-sections of the genre.



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