The Mysterious World of Cyberpunk Society

If the Internet is truly a reflection of global society, you should not be surprised to discover that there are a lot of strange people and stories on the Internet. One of the most fascinating of these weird groups is the story of how a cyberpunk story prompted the US Secret Service to take censorship action. Immortalised in the poem, "I am the very model of a modern teenage Cyberpunk" cyberpunks claim to be the beatnik underside to our evolving digital culture.

A sort of computer underground society like that of rave/house culture, zine culture, designer psychedelic illumination, gothic darkness, etc.

How do you know you are in the province of the cyberpunk? By their attitude.

Cyberpunks claim to "put the dirt into virtual reality". To understand how cyberpunks see the world, it is essential to read William Gibson. Gibson's writing is comparable to that of the latter-day Beatnik and Rolling Stone author PJ O'Rourke. A good selection to browse can be found at

Gibson, credited with coining the word "cyberspace" and author of Neuromancer, is seen as cyberpunk's answer to Isaac Asimov. Gibson has a marvellous turn of phrase, as well as a biting wit which witness his description of Singapore as "Disneyland with the death penalty".

More conventional Netizens despise cyberpunks for their aggressive attitude, their streak of vandalism, and their obsession with the shadier side of human nature. Even more derided is the cyberpunks terrible spelling.

Cyberpunks claim to be hackers. Unlike the law-abiding computer enthusiasts belonging to elite technical universities and corporations, however, cyberpunks love to hack into programs to cause damage.

According to other hackers, cyberpunks have a "slash and burn" attitude to hacking. Rather than using finesse, the cyberpunk beats his (there are very few female cyberpunks) way into a system, grabs what he wants and runs off.

Serious techies claim that caught in a discussion with more technically- able people, cyberpunks can hold their own for only a short while.

This tendency to inflict damage led straight to one of the Net's most enduring myths. In the late 1980s, there were lots of cyberpunks around.

Game manufacturers catered to a growing market by producing games with names such as Cyperpunk and Shadowrun. Both were an immense success, leading manufacturers to flood the market with similar games.

Later, as the new age philosophy became more popular than the cyberpunk morbid and cynical view of society, fantasy figures like elves, trolls, wizards, and dragons were more prominent.

A book GURPS Cyberpunk was written. It was to reflect the world of the cyberpunk in terms of a gaming book. The book was elaborately packaged, had an ISBN number, was copyrighted and was ready to go on the market where the publisher's hoped it would be a huge hit.

To the publisher's surprise, the Secret Service visited their offices, waved their search warrants and disappeared with every copy, disk and computer which had stored the book. Subsequent visits from the publisher and their lawyers only yielded the information that the book was perceived as "a manual for computer crime".

The Secret Service did not mention that they had expected to find a document describing how to hack into the emergency 911 service and were concerned that cyberpunks would disrupt national emergency services causing many deaths.

Official procedure when lives are in danger is to seal warrants, therefore it took the publisher several months to discover the real reason for the raid.

In the meantime, the Internet was buzzing with gossip and conspiracy theories. The situation was generally referred to as the Hack Crackdown.

Popular imagination was fuelled by images of a paranoid Secret Service waiting to pounce on anyone with a computer and a tendency to snoop.

According to the publisher, their science fiction book had been confiscated as law enforcement authorities considered it too dangerous to be in print. Less paranoid Netizens realised there had been some misunderstanding and waited for an explanation.

As Bruce Sterling, another cyberpunk science fiction writer, commented at the time, "Science fiction people are used to being misinterpreted. Science fiction is a colourful, disreputable, slipshod occupation, full of unlikely oddballs, which, of course, is why we like it. Weirdness can be an occupational hazard in our field. People who wear Halloween costumes are sometimes mistaken for monsters".

Unfortunately, the truth took years to come out. By this time the publishers had been financially and operationally crippled, half the staff had to be fired and other publishers feared to have their computers and equipment seized under sealed warrants.

The fact that no answers were forthcoming for so long was worrying, prompting several books and articles investigating the case.

As a result, new laws have been formulated and new procedures developed. However, the world of computer crime is continually evolving - on both sides. Cyberpunks just laugh and continue their usual ways. If you want to watch cyberpunks online, look at the newsgroups alt.cyberpunk, alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo, alt.cyberpunk.movement and

Brought to you
The Cyberpunk Project