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cyberpunk is dead

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notes on the development of the so-called social web and the role of cyberpunks inside this process

The weakness of cyberpunk was its virtuality, being a complex of imagery mostly used by writers in fiction, by bloggers in egomany and by journalists in, well, „journalism“. What was missing, is a cyberpunk realism, in the sense of an aesthetics that relates to and occupies something else than the realms of literature. From this viewpoint, real existing cyberpunk was the adaption of cyberpunk as a shiny static representation for what was left of the dynamic of electronic pioneers, the early computer hackers, and their process of dissolving their avant-guard status in time and into mass. Comparable to the punks that were the mass reproduction of the avantgarde activists before them. The name of this historic forerunner of punk referred to here, was the Situationist International, a 1950s and 60s avantgarde group (Read their texts and Greil Marcus‘ history book). Just like the situationists worked at the fissure between literature and street, the early real-existing cyberpunks worked at the fissure of literature and cyberspace. The cyberpunk literature served its purpose to provide aesthetic naratives some time ago, and in the ensuing process the real-existing groups that were trying to adapt these clichés turned into clichés for others to adapt to. A virtual movement.

What constitutes the weakness of the aesthetic force, results in the weakness as a material force: Cyberpunk made its way on the market of despiritualized ideas, as the shopping good for the masses. Ever tried to squat something in Secondlife, like offline punks would do? Technically impossible. In the process to solve this dilemma, cyberpunk had to give up integral parts to be able to work on social topics without a realism and therefore without a political strategy. Which led to a certain aligning with the social and economical facts in the process of trying to gain a social impact through the cyberpunk models. Wondering why Wikileaks doesn‘t have a wiki anymore? Because cypherpunk (with ph in this case, refering to those fractions of cyberpunk that focuse on encryption) was either mass movement or political tactics of an avant-guard. In deciding to focus on political manouvres, an open publishing model is not fitting anymore. Contrary to this, CHAN-culture (imageboards, fast communication channels) and the ANON-meme (crowd orientated cyber actions) try different ways in waging real mass-based cyberwars, they reach this point by being more punk again, punk as in: deviant subculture that parents are afraid of.

Still inside this historic #fail of cyberpunk, there were hacker groups and cyberpunk collectives not only representing the literary images of cyberpunk, but trying to do cyberpunk realism. In the sense of picking up the punk culture and porting it to the cyberspace. Working with images and text in the new media, taking it back to the roots of post-war pre-punk movements, creating free tools, cultural gifts and mixed artworks, like all the minds from Guy Debord (and many before), to John Lyndon, to Allen Ginsberg, to Wau Holland, had shown the way. But working with punk attitude in the 90s and the Zeros proofs to be a delicate business. Now we can see the last phase of cyberpunk, the virus has spread, it has dissolved into one of its more justified aims: the dissolution in non-elitist mass approaches. If you search today for crazy netpunks, doing the mix with images, ideas and slogans, fighting cyberwars against scientology and other creepy institutions, you don‘t come to the avantgarde collectives, you go the chans.

These collectives had been reaching out to you, flooding you with texts, movies, songs, images, a vast wave of media. Working all the time under fake identities to give away anticommodities of a little countercultureindustry. With that fulfilling the idealist idea of the free and useful citizens. Only through the nature of these efforts being collective and collaborative, this theater of autonomy could be kept running, serving as a good example to all little self-managed projects out there that with a little circle of friends you can reach everything you can imagine. Nothing else though. So when the participants got tired of the shooting in the dark acceleration these collective products had taken, all the releases, all the administration, all the fuzz, it went down the spiral of individualization: moving to a aggregation of solo blogs, then moving on to the short notes of twitter, a medium only to well fitting for the self-advertisement. After the autonomous text production of the last two decades, we face a shift to short notes and images. The DIY music scene remains a bit unaffected by this, since the hope to become a money earning musician is still a more powerful cultureindustrial meme than the one of a writer actually getting paid. The recent shifting from myspace to facebook shows although, that everyone-is-an-artist wasn‘t a powerful enough idea. It had to be self-representation, mini-blogging, star-cult, focus on images and other spectacular media instead of text: The hyperindividualist self-representation platform of facebook suited the masses best.

For large parts, this big network is filled with representations of static faces. Faces, that are amongst our most subliminal ways of communicating, become our fastest and most plain way of making a statement. Update profile picture, comment, like, like back, update again. The collectivization of communication (lat. communicare = do sth. together) failed, in fact this means the failure of mass art. Todays market of representations means that we exchange images that are valued by statements without consequence, statements whose only value is the one of attention, something we have learned from the advertising process, which has become the key process of culture. This cultural praxis fails to find a history of the human faces. The faces tried to break the boundaries of word and image, they were processes of conscious creation of speaking images for the feelings that words fail to describe. The times of boredom that everyone wanders now, through images that don‘t form related stories anymore, are a result of loosing our dream of creating non-static post-representative playful expressions. To associate the fragile idea of friendship still with the formalized and online media based networks of „friends“ is the dramatic deception that covers this loss. It was the fragile nature of friendship itself that was lost, that what made communication between friends comfortable. The need to be near to others and to be free on ones own at the same time, was dissolved into the mode of being present to each other only through distance. The tools of social media cover up the failure of the social itself. Giving up the idea of the possibility of social relations in which one can give each other the comfort of being together and granting all freedom the same time, is a failure whose results may be not so easy to cover. This is not a judgment about the idea of mass communication per se, but about the idea and modes of social media networks.

Coming back to the crews for once: the game of creating a strong collective representation that immediately represents itself was programmed to fail in a society that only uses representations to mark the value of exchangeability. The punk image of a cybergang that somehow evades the mainstream norms and holds up the, now conservative, ideas of elite and underground was the joke that had to choke itself. It was working with the idea of an everchanging collective project that would remain the same all the time in order to avoid to spoil the fans. This planned contradiction of the ultimate hype was not scandalous anymore when the whole web turned to the noncontradictive targeted creation of hypes. What these groups had caricatured since decades was only about to become the online model of creating static ideas that represent dynamic change. The cybergangs were constructed never to end, because as a project, a channel, they were not aiming for something and therefore couldn‘t fail. Other media collectives of today, opposed to this, want to start because they realize that pictured dynamics has to be the key feature of a successful industrial media product.

So from this learning process we gain the perspective of boringness. Being a progressive participant of cyberspace today is not about being elite and surfing the most underground hubs. It’s about surfing on the top of it all, on the big normal junkyard of human creation and picking up the inspirations together. It’s also about reading a book again, following an author’s thought through 400 pages instead of 140 letters. And also in the same sense: doing a website again, a static thing that waits for hundreds to come by, just like a book in the library, instead of giving daily updates to attract some other thousands that need their daily fix of info. Some books still are more actual than the daily news reports (when these were still existing, now the news must be updated all the time). And maybe the lost dreams in these books need an actualisation through a website, instead of just a quotation in the fast streams of actualities. It’s about refusing the entertainment, it’s about finding enlightment in thought processes themselves and not in what forms they have been given for representation. It’s about picking up something dead and giving it life instead of living the perpetual death of the bubble of statements.

The non-conformism of today is a real challenge: To deal with something beyond the instantaneous satisfaction of a pseudodynamic static image. The progressive illustrations, thoughts, projects and processes will need you to stumble over them, to search for them, to look closely or even stare at them (not like you stared at the TV since 50 years ago, at youtube since 5 years ago). It needs you to stop worrying about the central hub, website or plattform that you feel like home in. It needs you to stop worrying about any rss-feeds that you only used to feed your identity out of angst in this process of identification, representation and individualisation. Not to learn even more exiting ways of being alone – you can easily find those in the entertainment industry – but to pick up again the idea of communication. Surf around, take off from time to time and play with what and whom you might find.



some quotes:

"You’ve basically got the breakdown of nation states into global economies simultaneously with the atomization of individuals or their balkanization into disconnected sub-groups, because digital technology conflates space while decentralizing communication and attention. The result is a clear playing field for a mutating corporate oligarchy, which is what we have. I mean, people think it’s really liberating because the old industrial ruling class has been liquefied and it’s possible for young players to amass extraordinary instant dynasties. But it’s savage and inhuman." R. U. Sirius (alias Ken Goffman)

"constructed, synthetic world, and you only access it through device like stereoscopic glasses. So, you are not in virtual world but your are wearing this glasses. And then you are seeing this simulated realm." Johannes Birringer

"I find elevision very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book." Groucho Marx

"Open Culture? Really? We are just remixing our despair." monochrom.at

"Facebook is over! If you want it." Erosie

“Faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency or probability, delimit a field that neutralizes in advance any expressions or connections unamenable to the appropriate significations.” Deleuze/Guattari - A Thousand Plateaus (Year Zero: Faciality)

"There is no emoticon for what I'm feeling" Jeff Albertson/Comic Book Guy (The Simpsons)

"I am making an argument for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings." Donna Haraway

“For the thousands and thousands of years in fact that the human face has been speaking and breathing one somehow still has the impression that it has not yet started to say what it is and what it knows.” Antonin Artaud

i really enjoyed this article. you've summed it up well. culture is changing and it is based on the trendiness of ads and bites and the quick update. i used to scoff at the way older people said we were losing our values. i'd say we are losing YOUR values. but i can see the reality of what they meant

great, just great! thanx


We live into the net since 1978. Cyberpunk dead? hahahahahahahahhaha AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA

Cyberpunk was born as an underground subculture; had his great time in the '90 and in the '00 maybe, and now is becoming an underground subculture again.

there are survivors, there, and they're the cyberpunk you're talking about. Far from the death, anyway! :)

half of it is rubbish.

could have written a more pleasant article without pretending to declare the death of anything, still saving the good that's in it.

cyberpunk is not dead. get out of your western bubble and go visit Asia or some southern place out of the usual turist and foreigners circles, then let us know.

The post kind of misunderstands what a subculture is. And is not terribly well reasoned, if substantiating the title claim was the aim. Plus a little overwritten.

The fact that the Internet has 'High Streets' now, mainstream thoroughfares, and has developed, let's say, a virtual mall culture, does not mean that the punk ideology no longer has a home on the Net.

The persistence of IRC, forums and torrent communities is proof of that. Using the most basic Internet modes of communication to maintain community, while innovating and manipulating its most advanced technologies is where the cyberpunk, so-called, spirit continues to express itself. Social networking was something punkefied subcultures already did well. We never needed Friendster, Myspace or FB, to get the ball rolling.

Punks, cyber or otherwise, have always been in the minority.

We like it that way.

Kudos though on identifying why FB superceded Myspace. That was somewhat astute. Although, I maintain it was mostly about being able to play Scrabulous.

Thank you!

Big discussion on this article over at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2410686

i am not really sure what to say. good read though.

A bunch of big misspelled words, but not much of a point.

I don't think cyberpunk is dead. They still exist but keeping things underground.

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