Seawolf Slug: Why is cyberpunk interesting?

Over spring break (the incredibly boring and dull spring break, as outlined in last issue’s column), George indulged himself in two of his favorite games and one of his favorite movies: “Deus Ex,” “System Shock 2” and “Blade Runner,” respectively.

It took me a while to figure out what these three works have in common, but it led me to discover what George’s favorite genre of science fiction was: cyberpunk.

To explain cyberpunk, it’s essentially a speculative branch of science fiction that centers on the transformative aspects of science and computers.

So, transhumanism, right? Technology that helps humanity overcome its problems? That’s not sci-fi, that’s everyday life. George wears glasses every day. He brushes his teeth and shampoos his luscious hair. That’s technological augmentation right there, to say nothing of the magnificent brain slug sitting right on his head.

Actually, George tells me it’s a bit more dystopic than that. Cyberpunk tends to focus on how technology breaks down or radically changes society. From what I’ve seen, it borrows a lot from film noir and detective fiction.

I thought for a bit about what all this means, until I watched as George reached the end of “Deus Ex” and “System Shock 2” — again, 40-hour games he’s played before versus 10-hour games he still needs to get to. The embodiment of a productive spring break sits before you.

Cyberpunk works always ask their audiences incredibly tough questions. The end of “System Shock 2” asks us if an A.I. is really worth the cost. “Deus Ex” makes us question all of our technical advancements, and whether or not we’d be better off in a new dark age where no electronics exist. And of course, “Blade Runner” asks whether androids can be considered real humans.

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There are also the social issues on display in cyberpunk. Often, these works contain some kind of mega-corporation distributing augmentations that put the rich at a distinct physical and intellectual advantage over the poor. That’s an issue we continue to face today, and if the trend of steadily advancing tech continues the way it has been, then it’ll throw everyone into disarray, including the rich.

All of these elements make cyberpunk a very present genre, embodying the issues of today into something that the people of tomorrow will hopefully understand. They serve as cautionary, but also hopeful tales about the very near future and how civilization will be able to handle a new technological age.

That got me thinking. From a very young age (and I know this because I’m a slug and we read this stuff), George was able to use a computer. At age three, he was able to grasp the concept of a mouse and keyboard. This (and a lot of educational programs) put him way ahead some of the other kids back in the day.

When he was six, he was instantly able to grab a Nintendo 64 controller and know how to use it within minutes. And that was an N64 controller, one of the most confusing game controllers in existence.

Compare this to his dad, who can barely type, and who couldn’t use a simpler game controller if his life depended on it, and we have a significant cultural and generational gap.

Some say that gap will disappear as older generations start to die off, but I’m not so sure. George still relies on a giant desktop tower for his computer needs, when everyone else has a tablet or phone. He knows the ins and outs of a computer, but he doesn’t really know the ins and outs of a smartphone.

Sooner or later, whether PC purists like it or not, desktops are going to die off. The same thing will happen to smartphones when they inevitably become out of date. It’ll be a never-ending cycle.

Maybe that’s what George finds so fascinating about cyberpunk: It gives us a glimpse into that world and allows us to learn from it before it overwhelms us.

Eh. Either way, I think the rest of the alien fleet is going to arrive before the next big technological leap, so don’t hold your breath.