The Matrix. Blade Runner. Terminator. These films have come to define our mainstream perception of cyberpunk. And when we think of the cyberpunk genre, we often imagine some far-off future, a cityscape of neon lights and flying vehicles, a world foreign from our own.
But is it?
I’m writing this from my favorite Starbucks, where I’m huddled in the corner, trying to stay warm. It’s drafty in here, everyone wearing coats and hats even while inside. A couple of older gentlemen sit across from me, discussing their plans for a new church program. I can hear them in between songs, but I’m concentrating, focusing, trying to put words to the thoughts in my head. I’m listening to The Matrix soundtrack on repeat, my headphones plugged into my touchscreen laptop computer. My iPhone sits face-up on my armchair so I can easily see new texts. The woman two seats away keys something into her laptop while holding a device to her ear. Beyond her, a man in a leather jacket appears to be talking to himself. Upon further inspection, I see he’s wearing a Bluetooth.
So much technology. Everywhere.
Merriam-Webster defines cyberpunk as “science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology.” As a genre it became popular in the early 1980s. Authors like William Gibson (Neuromancer) and Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was made into the film Blade Runner) tapped into societal fear about an unknown future, a future of machines and widespread enslavement to technology. Films like the Terminator series, Johnny Mnemonic, Robocop, 12 Monkeys, and The Matrix trilogy all fall in the cyberpunk genre.
Early cyberpunk described a future society dominated by technology.
“Being a teenager in the 90s was like living half your life in a digital mind-control experiment, as advertisers vied to control our spending patterns,” Walter writes. “Here…where screens occupy every corner of our world, I’m guessing being a teenager is like living 98% of your life in a digital mind control that is no longer experimental.”
Scary. And true. Observe any group of teens at the mall. Observe anybody anywhere, for that matter.
Face it, early cyberpunk described societal fears that have already become manifest. We’re living in that world right now.
Kinda makes me wonder…what’s coming next?