However, there is almost no scientific knowledge on the effects of virtual reality in the long run, nor any oversight over content. An international group of
What separates a cyberpunk setting from a futuristic setting?
This might sound pedantic but it is specifically the punk that separates cyberpunk from other sci-fi subgenres.
In the 1960’s through the 1980’s science fiction was going through a transformation from the 1940’s and 1950’s utopian dreams of a science fiction future to a more gritty dystopian one. Writers like Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard, John Brunner, and Harlan Ellison explored a future that was influenced by the emerging hacker, punk and drug cultures of that period. Writers in this genre explore the implications of the ways technology changes society on the individual and tend to take a bottom up view of the world.
Cyberpunk is dirty, gritty, sexual and violent. Technology in Cyberpunk is an ends to a means and also possibly a necessity forced upon people more than a transformative force for betterment. The technology and corporate greed that fuels and enables it has become a beast that cannot be stopped. The divides between the haves and have nots is defined by the tech as much as money itself.
Upgrade or die. In cyberpunk we see a much more realistic science fiction in some ways as the old world is not replaced by the new technology it is merely layered over by it. We see the crumbling facades of the previous era all around Cyberpunk cities and these are often dwarfed by new megastructures and innovation. The technology may change but humanity is still the same. As we upgrade to the hot new thing apathy and laziness allow the older outdated relics to continue hanging on all around us. Those that hold onto those antiquated ideals and tech get left behind. Human augmentation with cybernetics is everywhere and paradoxically so is the opposition to it.
Cities may be a strange contrast of high and low tech as well as high and low life in a Cyberpunk setting. Some people will live in rich glittering techno-utopias while others live in slums tainted with e-waste and pollution. The commercial markets are deceptively bright glittering dystopias of neon that promise you the world but will gladly take you for everything you own. Other areas will be a non homogenous mix of the above.
In a cyberpunk setting technology has made the regulation of things like drugs, weapons and cybernetics almost impossible. When you can easily print a gun or complex drug on a 3-d printer who is able to regulate and enforce such restrictions? You might see open carry of advanced weaponry by normal people and “security forces” that are armed with advanced military gear to gain a one up on the common thugs. Drug use and addiction are rampant and humanity has found new ways to get hooked on virtual pleasures that defy explanation.
Corporations often feature heavily in Cyberpunk settings as giant monoliths that are bigger than most governments or have completely supplanted government entirely. The pursuit of profit no longer has any moral or ethical boundaries in these kinds of worlds. The only regulation is that which the rival companies impose on themselves and each other to prevent consumers from completely losing faith in the industries. This creates a kind of mediating corruption that allows the corruption to remain high but also within a certain tolerance limit. When one company becomes a bad actor that looks bad for everyone they are summarily dealt with by the others, through whatever means necessary.
In many ways Cyberpunk is today. Things once dreamed of in the early stories of the genre are a reality. The blending of media, personality cults and lies with fact, the easy access to information in our hands and the increasing financial disparities are all to real. Computer viruses and worms as well as hackers taking down entire local governments and is Cyberpunk as shit and it’s happening today. The same thing Everyday people becoming virtual celebrities living fictitious lives on instagram is very Cyberpunk. Even elements like the hacks of the Democratic party and the release of their information online, the Panama papers or Snowden and Wikileaks and Julian Assange is a Cyberpunk hacker story unwritten because it actually happened.
This is our world today. This is not some illustration of Cyberpunk.
We stand right on the razor’s edge of becoming those stories Gibson, Brunner, Ballard and Ellison warned us about and we show no sign of slowing down. As we run towards a bright shining, toxic, and violent future of technology and augmentation maybe we should do well to not lose ourselves in the process.