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<nettime> cyberpunk is dead
el on Tue, 29 Mar 2011 09:03:28 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> cyberpunk is dead

notes on the development of the so-called social web and the role of  
cyberpunks inside this process


The weakness of cyberpunk was its virtuality, being a complex of  
imagery mostly used by writers in fiction, by bloggers in egomany and  
by journalists in, well, ?journalism?. What was missing, is a  
cyberpunk realism, in the sense of an aesthetics that relates to and  
occupies something else than the realms of literature. From this  
viewpoint, real existing cyberpunk was the adaption of cyberpunk as a  
shiny static representation for what was left of the dynamic of  
electronic pioneers, the early computer hackers, and their process of  
dissolving their avant-guard status in time and into mass. Comparable  
to the punks that were the mass reproduction of the avantgarde  
activists before them. The name of this historic forerunner of punk  
referred to here, was the Situationist International, a 1950s and 60s  
avantgarde group (Read their texts and Greil Marcus? history book).  
Just like the situationists worked at the fissure between literature  
and street, the early real-existing cyberpunks worked at the fissure  
of literature and cyberspace. The cyberpunk literature served its  
purpose to provide aesthetic naratives some time ago, and in the  
ensuing process the real-existing groups that were trying to adapt  
these clichés turned into clichés for others to adapt to. A virtual  

What constitutes the weakness of the aesthetic force, results in the  
weakness as a material force: Cyberpunk made its way on the market of  
despiritualized ideas, as the shopping good for the masses. Ever tried  
to squat something in Secondlife, like offline punks would do?  
Technically impossible. In the process to solve this dilemma,  
cyberpunk had to give up integral parts to be able to work on social  
topics without a realism and therefore without a political strategy.  
Which led to a certain aligning with the social and economical facts  
in the process of trying to gain a social impact through the cyberpunk  
models. Wondering why Wikileaks doesn?t have a wiki anymore? Because  
cypherpunk (with ph in this case, refering to those fractions of  
cyberpunk that focuse on encryption) was either mass movement or  
political tactics of an avant-guard. In deciding to focus on political  
manouvres, an open publishing model is not fitting anymore. Contrary  
to this, CHAN-culture (imageboards, fast communication channels) and  
the ANON-meme (crowd orientated cyber actions) try different ways in  
waging real mass-based cyberwars, they reach this point by being more  
punk again, punk as in: deviant subculture that parents are afraid of.

Still inside this historic #fail of cyberpunk, there were hacker  
groups and cyberpunk collectives not only representing the literary  
images of cyberpunk, but trying to do cyberpunk realism. In the sense  
of picking up the punk culture and porting it to the cyberspace.  
Working with images and text in the new media, taking it back to the  
roots of post-war pre-punk movements, creating free tools, cultural  
gifts and mixed artworks, like all the minds from Guy Debord (and many  
before), to John Lyndon, to Allen Ginsberg, to Wau Holland, had shown  
the way. But working with punk attitude in the 90s and the Zeros  
proofs to be a delicate business. Now we can see the last phase of  
cyberpunk, the virus has spread, it has dissolved into one of its more  
justified aims: the dissolution in non-elitist mass approaches. If you  
search today for crazy netpunks, doing the mix with images, ideas and  
slogans, fighting cyberwars against scientology and other creepy  
institutions, you don?t come to the avantgarde collectives, you go the  

These collectives had been reaching out to you, flooding you with  
texts, movies, songs, images, a vast wave of media. Working all the  
time under fake identities to give away anticommodities of a little  
countercultureindustry. With that fulfilling the idealist idea of the  
free and useful citizens. Only through the nature of these efforts  
being collective and collaborative, this theater of autonomy could be  
kept running, serving as a good example to all little self-managed  
projects out there that with a little circle of friends you can reach  
everything you can imagine. Nothing else though. So when the  
participants got tired of the shooting in the dark acceleration these  
collective products had taken, all the releases, all the  
administration, all the fuzz, it went down the spiral of  
individualization: moving to a aggregation of solo blogs, then moving  
on to the short notes of twitter, a medium only to well fitting for  
the self-advertisement. After the autonomous text production of the  
last two decades, we face a shift to short notes and images. The DIY  
music scene remains a bit unaffected by this, since the hope to become  
a money earning musician is still a more powerful cultureindustrial  
meme than the one of a writer actually getting paid. The recent  
shifting from myspace to facebook shows although, that  
everyone-is-an-artist wasn?t a powerful enough idea. It had to be  
self-representation, mini-blogging, star-cult, focus on images and  
other spectacular media instead of text: The hyperindividualist  
self-representation platform of facebook suited the masses best.

For large parts, this big network is filled with representations of  
static faces. Faces, that are amongst our most subliminal ways of  
communicating, become our fastest and most plain way of making a  
statement. Update profile picture, comment, like, like back, update  
again. The collectivization of communication (lat. communicare = do  
sth. together) failed, in fact this means the failure of mass art.  
Todays market of representations means that we exchange images that  
are valued by statements without consequence, statements whose only  
value is the one of attention, something we have learned from the  
advertising process, which has become the key process of culture. This  
cultural praxis fails to find a history of the human faces. The faces  
tried to break the boundaries of word and image, they were processes  
of conscious creation of speaking images for the feelings that words  
fail to describe. The times of boredom that everyone wanders now,  
through images that don?t form related stories anymore, are a result  
of loosing our dream of creating non-static post-representative  
playful expressions. To associate the fragile idea of friendship still  
with the formalized and online media based networks of ?friends? is  
the dramatic deception that covers this loss. It was the fragile  
nature of friendship itself that was lost, that what made  
communication between friends comfortable. The need to be near to  
others and to be free on ones own at the same time, was dissolved into  
the mode of being present to each other only through distance. The  
tools of social media cover up the failure of the social itself.  
Giving up the idea of the possibility of social relations in which one  
can give each other the comfort of being together and granting all  
freedom the same time, is a failure whose results may be not so easy  
to cover. This is not a judgment about the idea of mass communication  
per se, but about the idea and modes of social media networks.

Coming back to the crews for once: the game of creating a strong  
collective representation that immediately represents itself was  
programmed to fail in a society that only uses representations to mark  
the value of exchangeability. The punk image of a cybergang that  
somehow evades the mainstream norms and holds up the, now  
conservative, ideas of elite and underground was the joke that had to  
choke itself. It was working with the idea of an everchanging  
collective project that would remain the same all the time in order to  
avoid to spoil the fans. This planned contradiction of the ultimate  
hype was not scandalous anymore when the whole web turned to the  
noncontradictive targeted creation of hypes. What these groups had  
caricatured since decades was only about to become the online model of  
creating static ideas that represent dynamic change. The cybergangs  
were constructed never to end, because as a project, a channel, it was  
not aiming for something and therefore it couldn?t fail. Other media  
collectives of today, opposed to this, want to start because they  
realize that pictured dynamics has to be the key feature of a  
successful industrial media product.

So from this learning process we gain the perspective of boringness.  
Being a progressive participant of cyberspace today is not about being  
elite and surfing the most underground hubs. It?s about surfing on the  
top of it all, on the big normal junkyard of human creation and  
picking up the inspirations together. It?s also about reading a book  
again, following an author?s thought through 400 pages instead of 140  
letters. And also in the same sense: doing a website again, a static  
thing that waits for hundreds to come by, just like a book in the  
library, instead of giving daily updates to attract some other  
thousands that need their daily fix of info. Some books still are more  
actual than the daily news reports (when these were still existing,  
now the news must be updated all the time). And maybe the lost dreams  
in these books need an actualisation through a website, instead of  
just a quotation in the fast streams of actualities. It?s about  
refusing the entertainment, it?s about finding enlightment in thought  
processes themselves and not in what forms they have been given for  
representation. It?s about picking up something dead and giving it  
life instead of living the perpetual death of the bubble of statements.

The non-conformism of today is a real challenge: To deal with  
something beyond the instantaneous satisfaction of a pseudodynamic  
static image. The progressive illustrations, thoughts, projects and  
processes will need you to stumble over them, to search for them, to  
look closely or even stare at them (not like you stared at the TV  
since 50 years ago, at youtube since 5 years ago). It needs you to  
stop worrying about the central hub, website or plattform that you  
feel like home in. It needs you to stop worrying about any rss-feeds  
that you only used to feed your identity out of angst in this process  
of identification, representation and individualisation. Not to learn  
even more exiting ways of being alone ? you can easily find those in  
the entertainment industry ? but to pick up again the idea of  
communication. Surf around, take off from time to time and play with  
what and whom you might find.

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