Cyberspace and cyberpunk

In 1984, a novel was published by the American author William Gibson. Its title was Neuromancer and Gibson was soon considered a promising representative of ‘New Journalism’. This trend was a carefree, conscious mixture of facts from the latest technological and biological achievements and dystrophic prophesies regarding social development. Here the world was recognized as a wornout, rotten, dirtied and overpopulated area, controlled by multinational enterprises and housing dubious underground techno-cultures. The text consisted of several newfangled ideas such as:

‘The sky above the port was the Colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.’


‘It was hot, uncommonly hot, beastly hot… the air was mortally still and the high cloudy sky had a leaden, glowering look, as if it wanted to rain but had forgotten the trick of it.’

Gibson’s world is populated by ordinary people, more or less resembling ourselves. However, they can choose their appearance by plastic surgery and bodily protheses. Everything can be bought for money, even length of life. A new dimension was born when Gibson introduced cyberspace, a mental room formed by all the interconnected computer systems of the earth. It is a non-place where information is transformed to an artificial computer landscape. Here the users can connect themselves and move freely in a virtual space covering the whole planet. By the introduction of cyberspace a third, alternative world, created from a synthesis of the real world and the dream world was born. Cyberspace elevates a technology which calls in question the very concept of reality. There, all attempts to establish concepts like representation, master, copy etc. become meaningless as the very world of imagination threats to engulf a reality which it aims to represent.

Cyberspace soon replaced outer space as a main area of interest. Its heroes became the future generation of data-hackers (called ‘cowboys’ by Gibson). These connect to the virtual world through an interface linked directly to the brain via a small contact behind the ear. The software loaded in the brain was described as wetware by Gibson.

The cyberspace is described as an icy abstract emptiness, integrated with a red glowing check pattern called the matrix. In the matrix, the databases of the world are visualized like huge building blocks. The visitors of the matrix travel through this space, looking for and surveying different kinds of visualized data. For them the virtual world is more real than the existing physical room surrounding them and endlessly more attractive.

Gibson seems to have hooked on to the technical development at exactly the right moment. Many computer applications seen as dreams only a few years ago, like VR, have now been realized, at any rate in the laboratories. The information flow was already organizing itself into that more coherent structure we now see today (multiple-lane information freeways, international databases, etc.). Cyberspace is unimaginable without the Internet.

During the following years something curious happened. Like a cultural virus, a trend called cyberpunk slipped out of the pages of Gibson’s novels (and others). A mixture of high-tech, subcultures, street attitudes, and digital communication left the realm of the science fiction ghetto and moved out into real life. From the beginning the term had an appropriate sound. Many cultural wizards began to call themselves cyberpunkers — from computer hackers to designers and techno- musicians. Some scientists missed the very point concerning Gibson’s criticism of the new technology and the social transformations caused by the computer. They considered Gibson as a prophet and product developer.

The attraction of cyberpunk seems to be the invalidation of the old Cartesian dualism. In cyberspace, the limits between reality and dream have been dissolved. Here, man and machine have merged into one unit, into both mind and body. The virtual world is regarded as the liberation of human senses. It is a return to the close communication of the old community. Formerly, people spoke to each other from window to window; today they connect to the computer network, the final result of which is the ‘virtual city’.

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *