JDN 2457258 EDT 17:59.

William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Android: Netrunner, Blade Runner, Deus Ex and Shadowrun. Cyberpunk is one of the most venerable subgenres of science fiction, both one of the oldest and one of the most popular.

Neil Harbisson cyborgist

But I'm not so sure it's science fiction anymore.

Multinational corporations that are more powerful than national governments? Check.
Digital technology integrated into every moment of our lives? Check.

Virtually nonexistent privacy, with the intimate details of our lives available to governments, corporations, and the public at large to see? Check.

Space elevators? Well, if you count space fountains, check.

Cybernetics? Well, there are cochlear implants, hip replacements, and prosthetic limbs. This activist self-identifies as a cyborg.

Monopolization? Our banking industry is controlled by 10 banks; our mass media is owned by 6 parent companies; most of our scientific publishing is owned by three for-profit companies. Basically, we've stopped enforcing antitrust regulations. I'd call that a check.

Intellectual property protection that advances the interests of corporations against those of consumers and society as a whole? Check.

Rampant inequality that makes a tiny handful of people fantastically rich and leaves millions of others languishing in poverty? Very big check.

More people have cell phones than toilets in their homes. What greater demonstration could you ask for that we live in a world of digital abundance but real impoverishment?

Even some of the subtler aspects of a cyberpunk world have come to pass, like brand names on everything: If you've watched a baseball game recently, you'll know that US Cellular Field and AT&T Park have Wallside Windows pitching changes, Comcast high-speed pitches, and the GM “high-strength steal” of the game. I'm not joking, those are real things. I was never very big on sports anyway, but I just can't watch anymore; they've given up the pretense of being a game that's paid for by advertising, and now are just openly a sequence of advertisements vaguely arranged in the shape of a game. Meanwhile, who actually pays to build the stadiums? State and local governments, of course.

I'm typing on an MSI laptop with a Microsoft mouse, wearing a Casio watch and New Balance shoes, with a Samsung phone in my pocket while a Samsung TV plays NBC News from a Comcast cable box, taking breaks on Facebook and periodically checking my GMail. (At least my clothes are brands you probably haven't heard of, like Urban Pipeline.)

They call this “free-market capitalism”, but that's not actually what it is. This is oligopoly corporatism, crypto-plutocracy. In a free-market capitalist economy, there might be brand-named stadiums but they'd at least be actually paid for by the companies that put brand names on them. There would be media companies, but there would be more than half a dozen that matter. In fact, if the market were really competitive, brand names wouldn't be on everything because nobody would care what brand something was, because they all make basically the same thing. (Your milk and tomatoes are sold by some company, but could you tell me what brand without checking? That's what competitive free-market capitalism looks like.)

But we were warned this was where capitalism was going. Warned by science fiction authors, specifically. William Gibson and Philip K. Dick tried to tell us: If we stay on this path, cyberpunk is what we'll get.

But we didn't listen. And now we live in the cyberpunk future.

[Oppressive intellectual property laws are a key part of cyberpunk existence, so I think it's a bit ironic that those very same policies made it hard for me to find a good image for this post, since everything I most wanted to used was copyrighted. I ended up using "Neil Harbisson cyborgist" by Dan Wilton/The Red Bulletin - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neil_Harbisson_cyborgist.jpg#/media/File:Neil_Harbisson_cyborgist.jpg]

Patrick Julius

Patrick Julius

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