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
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:
Thing's Hackers try to avoid
Gender and Ethnicity
Weaknesses of a Hackers Personality
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.
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!
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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