Analysis of a Subculture Group: Cyberpunk

By Robert Weir

CyberPunks, the wave of the future. Techno nerds just waiting to damage and pillage any computer system that is not secure enough. Is this the CyberPunk? Or is this the false appearance portrayed by the uninformed. This assignment attempts to portray an unbiased view of the CyberPunk.

Mention the word CyberPunk and immediately these words follow: Hackers and Internet. CyberPunks are more than this. CyberPunk has two facets to it. One, the CyberPunk literary genre, and two, the CyberPunk subculture. It is almost impossible to separate the two, so I will briefly introduce the literary movement, which gave rise to the Subculture (or Counter Culture) of the CyberPunk.

1. CyberPunk - The literary Genre

As early as 1948 words like "Cybernetics" (Coined by Norbert Wiener) and Punk were being used. The word Punk, at the time, was used to signify a criminal, hence people seeing CyberPunks today as criminals. Between 1948 and 1983, several Science Fiction novels and short stories, such as:

* The Naked Lunch published 1955
* Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep published 1968
* K.W. Jeter completes Dr. Adder (Spring) 1972
* Shockwave Rider published 1975
* City Come A-Walkin' published 1980
* The Artificial Kid published 1980

All of which were an element in the rise of popularity of the Science Fiction genre. In 1982 movies such as Blade Runner and Tron were released, making Science Fiction mainstream, and increasing the demand for that type of genre. This led to a short story "CyberPunk" by Bruce Bethke published in Nov. 1983, which is allegedly the first use of the word CyberPunk. Neuromancer, by William Gibson, published in 1984 is considered by many to be the birth of the CyberPunk Literary Genre. Gibson, who coined idea's such as "Cyberspace" also went on to write several other short stories and later (1995) had one of his stories "Johnny Mnemonic" turned into a film with reasonable success. After the publishing of Neuromancer many people started associating themselves with the CyberPunk subculture. They found identity in the fictional characters portrayed in Gibson's novel. In irony, Gibson, who is seen as the father of CyberPunk, does not even have e-mail or Internet Access. His sole use for a Computer is Word Processing.

2. CyberPunk - The Subculture

CyberPunks, can all be classified into three distinct categories. These being: (1) Hackers, Crackers and Phreakers; (2) CypherPunks; and (3) Ravers.

A. Hackers, Crackers and Phreakers

The Hacker, the computer genius who can penetrate systems at will. Without conscience they aim to destroy, steal and invade information for their own personal gain, Or so the media portrays the hacker. Where did he come from? What does he do? Why?

The origins of the Hacker seem to be dated back to the 1960's. The term hacker was first used by M.I.T students with the development of the ARPANET, The first Transcontinental, High speed computer network. This network, which was built by the US defence department, connected researchers, universities, and defence contractors together and was the playground for Artificial Intelligence(AI) departments at all Universities. With this network, hackers from all over the US, and later with the development of the Internet, all over the world, could come together and share idea's.

Hacker's do not see themselves as criminal. In fact they have a term for a Criminal Hacker, namely a Cracker. These are hackers who fully intend to make profit from their efforts, and can be anyone from the lonely college student, to the high powered Crime organisations. Ira S. Winkler in Who are the Hackers? put it like this: "These are information Warriors of the Future ... pose one of the greatest threats to world prosperity and security." Phreakers, on the other hand, are different to Hackers and Crackers. They are completely against the system and focus on National and International telephone systems. Some are disgruntled Hackers who thought that their telephone bill was too high, and some just do it for the fun of it. Phreaking is highly illegal, even more so than hacking.

A Portrait of a Hacker could be seen like this:

Hackers are usually between the ages of 13 to 30 and fit into the Youth classification bracket.

Scruffy and intense with a very abstract appeal.

No Hacker really fits into the Nerd stereotype. They dress for function, comfort and minimal maintenance. Clothes tend to be casual and female hackers tend to wear little or no makeup.

Literary Habits
Much Science Fiction(SF), as well as CyberPunk and specialised Hackers magazines and newsletters.

SF, music, chess, and Role playing games such as D&D and more recently, Magic: The Gathering. As Christians we are all fully aware of these types of games and the meanings that they hold.

Hackers will rarely participate in physical activities, but most who do will tend to do individual sports (Skiing, skating etc.) and they avoid team sports(Soccer, Rugby, etc.).

Most hackers are college graduates or have self taught themselves to similar levels. Students most likely to graduate into Hackerdom are Mathematics, Physics and Computer Studies students.

Thing's Hackers try to avoid
Hackers try to avoid all stupid people! By this I mean they try to avoid all people who are not on a similar level or plane.

Busy hackers tend to be the Fast Food type, who simply grab on the run. This increases their time to hack. They also tend to more traditional dishes from different cultures.

Hackers tend to be anti-authoritarian and have their own unique political view.

Gender and Ethnicity
Hacker's are mostly male, but female hackers are respected and are treated as equals. In Portrait of J. Random Hacker it is put like this, "When asked, hackers often ascribe their culture's gender- and colour-blindness to a positive effect of text-only network channels, and this is doubtless a powerful influence. Also, the ties many hackers have to AI research and SF literature may have helped them to develop an idea of personhood that is inclusive rather than exclusive."

I found it very interesting that Christianity is very rare among Hackers. They tend to lean towards Zen Buddhism and to a lesser degree to Taoism. Often more than one religion is found in a single Hacker! As described earlier in Other Interests, they play RPG's which they use to try fulfil their need of acceptance and power. Reaching a hacker for Christ would probably entail the Incarnation model of ministry. They tend to avoid those who are not on the same level. This would probably be easier said than done. Programming ideas would be quite simple. You could have a Hack the Planet evening! Or you could simply have programming! A subject that stimulates their thought keeps their attention. What could be more stimulating than Jesus Christ?

Hackers tend to avoid drugs, but do tend to use Caffeine in great volume (Coffee!).

Communication Style
Hackers are not the One on One communication types. They tend to lack interpersonal skills and can write the language better than speak it.

Geographical Distribution
Hackers are all over the world, but due to the technical nature of a hacker, there is a large concentration in First World Countries for example, USA, Japan, and large parts of Europe.

Sexual Habits
Sexual habits of hackers tend to more Counter Culture than subculture. They are far more open to the Gay and Lesbian lifestyles, practice open marriage, and tend to live in group house or communes..

Personality Characteristics
Hackers tend to be High Intelligence, individualistic and Anti - Conformist. They like any subject than can be intellectually stimulating. Hacker motivation seems to be a Challenge of what they can do, and how fast can they do it.

Weaknesses of a Hackers Personality
Hackers tend to be non-emotional and self absorbed. They lack interpersonal skills and have difficulty communicating how they feel.

Useless Fact
"Hackers are more likely to have cats than dogs (in fact, it is widely said that cats have the hacker nature). Many drive incredibly decrepit heaps and forget to wash them; richer ones drive spiffy Porsches and RX-7s and then forget to have them washed. Almost all hackers have terribly bad handwriting, and often fall into the habit of block-printing everything like junior draftsmen." As put by Portrait of J. Random Hackers.

It is important to remember that each person is individual and has their own value system. Not every hacker is the same. The above indications are mere guidelines and may stretch to the extreme in some cases. A persons individual personality dictates their style, and lifestyle.

Hackers, constitute the largest portion of the CyberPunk subculture.

B. CypherPunks

CypherPunks are people who are hell bent on privacy. Eric Hughes in A CypherPunks Manifesto says, "We the CypherPunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money." That sentence pretty much sums up a CypherPunk.

CypherPunks are programmers who write code (Program's) that can encrypt any number of things, from mail to Electronic money. CypherPunks hate laws that infringe on peoples privacy, especially laws pertaining to Encryption. These laws (they say) invade the right to privacy of information. Is this such a bad thing? Do they deserve the term CyberPunk (Cyber - Criminal)? I think Not!

C. Ravers

I found it interesting that there was a strong correlation between CyberPunks and Ravers. The main correlation is the fact that rave music is computer generated. To a large degree Rave has developed into its own Subculture and I don't think it can be seen as falling under the heading of CyberPunk. Rave has become for more mainstream than the CyberPunk due to large media exposure. Due to this fact, I will not discuss Rave in this assignment.

CyberPunk to a large degree has become more mainstream in recent years than in the past. With the rapid development of the Internet, information has become far more accessible, and has become an easier target for anyone wanting it.

CyberPunks in general, are viewed as a threat by the mainstream culture. This is largely due to a lack of knowledge, and an unwillingness to find out more.

This assignment has just scratched the surface of the CyberPunk subculture. With the rapid development of technology, CyberPunk could be seen as one of the most rapidly changing subcultures. New technology is available everyday, and with the Internet, technology is all over the world within a few hours. Who knows, this assignment may be old news before you even read it.


Hughes, Eric. A CypherPunks Manifesto

Kirtchev, Christian. A CyberPunk Manifesto, February 1997.

English, Todd. CyberPunk Definitional Paper

Shih, Daniel. The confusion over CyberPunk

Winkler, Ira. Who are the Hackers?

Raymond, Eric. A brief history of Hackerdom, November 1997.

Brians, Paul. Study Guide for William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984), May 1997

Unknown Author. "Hackers and Crackers"

Unknown Author. A Portrait of J Random Hacker

Unknown Author. CyberPunk

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The Cyberpunk Project