Reddit’s “r/cyberpunk” Embodies Old School Cyberpunk Interaction and Ideas
There was no 20th-century Facebook, no 20th-century Twitter. The original 1980s cyberpunk aesthetic formed against the backdrop of two types of online communities: local bulletin board systems (BBS) which mostly died off by the mid-1990s, and Usenet which began to die off not long afterwards.
If you want to look for a community that reminds you of a BBS, then good luck. I’m not sure they exist anymore. But if you want a community that reminds you of Usenet with all the good and bad that goes along with that, you’re looking for Reddit. You won’t be far off the mark. It’s a text-driven, interest-driven, anonymous, vaguely dystopian and anarcho-libertarian in its outlook. It somehow both coddles and menaces you at the same time.
Reddit is the dark cyberpunk future of social media. No corner of Reddit is more cyberpunky than the r/cyberpunk subreddit itself. Here are five threads that illustrate why.
“[M]y life is pretty much controlled by a shady mega-corp,” /u/nuclearboy0101 writes, “and my manager is a computer program that decides my routes.”
“It’s terrible, but I can’t stop loving it.”
That’s only part of the message. Seriously, click the link above. However, it generated hundreds of replies. And that’s the thing that makes Reddit so blessedly Usenet-y and subsequently cyberpunk-y. They’re usually actual replies, not just comments.
/u/HillParkBakery writes: “Dude Uber needs to hire you as an ambassador because you make the job sound dope. I usually hate the city but your life sounds fun!”
/u/Doppel-B_Hodenhalter asks: “Sure we love Cyberpunk, but do we truly love it?” Then goes on for a few paragraphs about why there are “[n]o happy Street Samurais over 40,” how our embrace of the aesthetic might be all about making our fear of the future our own. It’ll piss you off, but in a productive way.
/u/LeftRat goes: “My ex-girlfriend’s apartment used to be positioned just ‘right’ so that a gigantic, lit-up advertisement board shone straight into her bedroom window. / Desperately trying to make ends meet, everyone suffering from mental illness, a rathole to live in and that sight greets you every night? Pure cyberpunk.”
As I said, hundreds of replies. You’ll find ones you like better.
Mainstream hard sci-fi looks to the future and asks the question: “Will they be able to do it?” Cyberpunk looks to the future and asks: ”And to whom?” As William Gibson said back in the 1990s on NPR: “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.”
A photo was posted by /u/ObsoleteOtter of her electroretinogram admiring the cyberpunk aesthetic of it all. It turned into a thread about how the near future of medicine might affect our lives. The ways in which cybernetics and other prosthetics can casually give people with disabilities access to lost or absent facilities is one of the decidedly non-dystopian aspects of the cyberpunk cosmos. Though, how many of us will have access to these advances remains an unanswerable question that didn’t stop many of the commenters from trying to answer it.
The reproductive justice framework deals in part with the relationship between actual and potential life. Religiously-driven ideologies have put the two on equal footing. That can sometimes challenge bodily autonomy. The near future stands to obliterate a lot of this distinction, but not always in a comforting way.
/u/peanut277 posted an encouraging news report about the use of artificial wombs and artificial placentae to help lamb preemies develop. This raises the question about what might happen when this sort of technology is available for human beings.
In the future if a human being prematurely gives birth to a lamb, we’ll be prepared.
Gentlemen and ladies, we started this institute with one simple goal, saving premature lambs. Today we have achieved this goal. Thank you everyone for all of your hard work. Now let’s shut down the lab.
Idk but I’ll take an adult size please, I need a tune up.
There were also a lot of little personal anecdotes.
I had the opportunity to meet him on a beach in the Caribbean. He was actually a friend of the owner of the house we stayed in. He walked into our (the guest level) looking for his friend by accident and I had to tell him how to get to where he should go. He was a very nice man, super down to earth.
He used to come to my bar in LA a few times a year, he even shot something there once. Very sweet and humble man.
In June 2020, Cyberpunk 2020 author/founding father Mike Pondsmith’s words resonated in a Black Lives Matter statement issued by R. Talsorian Games. The thread under the fold showed both the best and the worst of Reddit, devolving at times into a rambling critique of “identity politics.” But at the same time, it presented us with gems that further amplified the point Pondsmith and RTG made.
Cyberpunk is only cool when you’re not the one getting beat to death by the Judge Dredd looking cybercop in the back alley of Residential Block Number 52
People idolise these sort of dystopian futures because in their mind they’ll always be part of the dominant class in said society. They’ll be the street samurai, the zombie slayer or the road warrior when in reality they’ll either die during the transition or be just another starving peon forced to struggle to survive.
At best Cyberpunk is a parody of reality, at worst it’s a mirror of reality.
The best fantasy and science fiction has always amplified the present, and that includes amplifying its horrors. Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk RPG and the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 game based upon it lets you walk through life as a hero who confronts these amplified horrors. But there are some folks in the thread who don’t see these horrors as horrors.
Reddit, like the cyberpunk genre itself, can be more of a warning than an aspiration too.
Tom Head (formerly known as FidoNet 1:3632/37) is author of more than three dozen books. World History 101 was published by Adams Media/Simon & Schuster in 2017; Conversations with Carl Sagan will be published next year by the University Press of Mississippi. You can find out more at www.tomhead.net.