As I am aiming to create a virtual storefront for imagined objects within Cyberpunk texts, it’s important to have a clear definition of the Cybercultural elements I will be looking to explore in depth.
Firstly and most importantly, I must define what a Cyberpunk text is.
While rather lengthy I feel Erich Schneider perfectly explains Cyberpunk:
“Cyberpunk literature, in general, deals with marginalized people in technologically-enhanced cultural ‘systems’. In cyberpunk stories’ settings, there is usually a ‘system’ which dominates the lives of most ‘ordinary’ people, be it an oppressive government, a group of large, paternalistic corporations, or a fundamentalist religion. These systems are enhanced by certain technologies (today advancing at a rate that is bewildering to most people), particularly ‘information technology’ (computers, the mass media), making the system better at keeping those within it inside it. Often this technological system extends into its human ‘components’ as well, via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned or genetically engineered organs, etc. Humans themselves become part of ‘the Machine’. This is the ‘cyber’ aspect of cyberpunk. However, in any cultural system, there are always those who live on its margins, on ‘the Edge’: criminals, outcasts, visionaries, or those who simply want freedom for its own sake. Cyberpunk literature focuses on these people, and often on how they turn the system’s technological tools to their own ends. This is the ‘punk’ aspect of cyberpunk.”
Cyberpunk is known as ‘Hard Science Fiction’, due to the strong reliance on science and technology. Cyberpunk breaks down the separation between the organic and the artificial, or, between the human and the machine. They often focus on how technology has resulted in a dystopian society.
Jon Turney discusses the influence of Science Fiction on the trajectory of technological development in his paper ‘Imagining technology’ (2013). This piece of work is fundamental to my research, at least in these early stages. Turney (2013 p. 8) states that Science Fiction “is an important arena for imagining the effects of technologies, existing and yet to come. Its imagined worlds are ones in which life is enabled or constrained by technologies in ways we have not yet seen in our world. Whether we do see them realised may then be influenced by the role technologies play in these alternate realities.” Therefore, Cyberpunk is a cultural response used for exploring technologies that have led to, or that are within, the previously mentioned dystopian society.
This brings me to the technological objects within these texts, specifically, the ones I will be analysing. What makes an object Cyberpunk technology?
Turney explains a key feature in Science Fiction texts. Most stories have a ‘novum’ – “a feature which defines a key difference between the reader’s everyday world and the world being portrayed” (Turney 2013 p. 7). The novum is usually technological, the most common tropes of science fiction texts are that of tools and machines , such as computers, virtual reality, robots and spaceships.
It is therefore important that my imagined objects or, ‘novum’s’, explore the implications of technology on the world.
Hence, Cyberpunk is a literary genre used to explore the relationship between organic humans and artificial technologies and the resulting effects on the world.
It is these technologies that I will be pulling out of their texts and exploring their historical, societal and contextual backgrounds.
Whilst not exactly Cyberpunk, or even Science Fiction, Design Fiction may still be of value to my project. Design Fiction is an interesting attempt to explore technological possibilities of the near future. Void of the drama and stories of Science Fiction literature, Design fiction is generally a conversational piece that conveys “the kinds of experiences that might surround the designed object” (Turney 2013 p. 41). Design Fiction is the result of our knowledge of how stories influence cultural mentalities towards new technologies. As Turney (2013 p. 43) puts it, “The story we are telling ourselves about the relation between imagination and technology is changing, and so the way we try and tell stories about technology is changing, too.” Design fiction could be seen as a new way for promoting technological advancements and discussion of possible futures.
Design Fiction projects
- Turney, J 2013, ‘Imagining technology’, Nesta Working Paper, No, 13/06, viewed 5 April 2016, <https://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/imagining_technology.pdf>