Technology, Cyberpunk and the World Today

Are the main themes and warnings of technology in cyberpunk relevant today?

Yes, because there are multiple aspects of life today in which the way technology is portrayed in cyberpunk can be relevant. For example, addiction to technology is becoming a prominent issue with mainly youth and teens, but also some adults as well. Another way that the dangers of technology show themselves is with the personalisation of the internet. The power that the huge tech corporations like Google, Facebook and other large online sites have over the information that we get is frightening.

The addiction to technology is starting to become a noticeable issue in today’s society and cyberpunk shows where that could lead or has led. An example of this can be seen in Neuromancer when Case falls into depression after losing access to the cyberspace. “A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly… But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.” This shows the dangers of addiction to technology. In present day U.S around 66% of adults have Nomophobia (No Mobile Phone Phobia) [1]Nomophobia is a phobia of being away from a mobile phone and the symptoms can be as bad as anxiety, trembling, disorientation and tachycardia but always results in lower productivity. The phobia can lead to the greater consequences of phone addiction like insomnia, stress, inability to complete a task and many more. In the future this addiction might become as dangerous as Case’s addiction to cyberspace and lead to crippling depression when access to phones is prevented.

The musical comedian Bo Burnham captures some of the addictive nature of the internet in his recent song Welcome to the Internet.

“There’s no need to panic
This isn’t a test [*laughs*]
Just nod or shake your head and we’ll do the rest…

Could I interest you in everything
All of the time?
A little bit of everything
All of the time
Apathy’s a tragedy
And boredom is a crime
Anything and everything
All of the time”
[2]

The song does a great job of describing how easy it is to get sucked into scrolling mindlessly for hours. It does this through the “just nod or shake your head and we’ll do the rest” line. The second section that I reference shows how it wants to keep your attention constantly as well as how large the Internet’s influence has gotten.

In cyberpunk you can see the progression of some modern technologies. For example in the film the Minority Report anytime you walk into a shop or go anywhere, everything is personalised completely to you. The ads call out your name specifically and pop out at you. This can be seen at a lesser form on the internet today with ads being targeted depending on your search history. It can also be seen in the algorithms that Tik Tok, YouTube, Instagram and other social media sites to predict what will make you watch or look at. These algorithms can lead to people scrolling mindlessly for hours. I have experienced the addictive nature of the internet many times and when I was attempting to research and write this article, I got side-tracked for hours. It started with listening to the Bo Burnham song once which then turned into watching his entire comedy special, then all of his comedy specials and then finally watching his other YouTube songs. This is just one example of the many times this has happened to me and I’m sure that you would of experienced it at least once before.

Probably the largest or one of the largest themes of cyberpunk are the domination of Mega Corporations or Megacorps and we can see that this is also relevant on the internet. An example of the power the internet giants like Facebook or Google can have over us is the incident a few months ago when Facebook blocked access to Australian News accounts. In cyberpunk Megacorps are often described as vast unfeeling entities. In Neuromancer one description is “the multinationals that shaped the course of human history.” Zaibatsus(Megacorps) are made of “hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms, their DNA coded in silicon.” This doesn’t feel too dissimilar from the Google and Facebook of today.

The world of cyberpunk and the world of today are still different but there are some frightening similarities and trends. This poses a pessimistic view for the very near future and the warnings we can take from cyberpunk are still very relevant today — possibly even more so than when cyberpunk was first created.

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