Rural Cyberpunk

I’ve been struck by the dominance of the ‘city’ in the readings in week one and two.

Johnston (2009) alludes to the metaphor of ‘Internet as a physical place’ and quotes Wellman and Gulia (1999) who positively view the impact of the internet as ‘… as if most North Americans lived in the heart of densely–populated, heterogeneous, physically–safe, big cities rather than in peripheral, low–density, homogeneous suburbs.’ Hand (2009) also describes apparent ‘promises’ of the digital urban landscape as a blend of new technologies and the Greek Polis. However, he also outlines the perceived threats of segmentation, surveillance and de-democratisation. Bell (2001) tells the story of the cyberpunk genre, in which the virtual world is described variously as ‘data stacked like a neon city’ (Gibson 1988 quoted in Bell 2001); a ‘digitised parallel world…in which no one can get the bird’s eye view of the plan, but everyone effectively has to operate at street level in a world which is rapidly being re-structured and re-configured’ (Burrows 1997 quoted in Bell 2001); and which Bell himself describes as a ‘datascape…populated by console cowboys’ uploaded consciousnesses, avatars, artificial intelligences, personality constructs – unthinkable complexity at ‘street’ level. with gangs forming around ‘technophilic’ identities’. (Bell 2001) In addition, Massive Attack’s video for Splitting the Atom travelled around a futuristic city reminiscent of many sci-fi movies such as Matrix.

This focus on the ‘city’ may suggest there is disconnect between the digital/virtual world and the countryside. It would probably be too blunt to immediately invert the various descriptors, metaphor and stories above to suggest that the rural world is undemocratic, data poor, parochial and static. However, it could be argued the urban representations fracture the privilege of the organic-ness of rural life – the meat – or to put it in other words, the human.


4 Responses to “Rural Cyberpunk”

  1. Jen Ross January 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    what a great observation, Steph. The place of the urban in digital culture is certainly central (though there are always the post-apocalyptic wastelands as a counterpoint). Most people live in cities now, and that proportion is set to increase. And it’s where infrastructures exist to be able to develop and grow technological innovation. So I guess it makes sense.

    I seem to remember there was quite a bit in Stephenson’s novel “snow crash” about getting from one place to another in the metaverse – but that distance was something to be passed through, not visited or lived in. On the other hand, our developing metaverses (like second life) seem not to be very urban – more suburban, maybe. I wonder what that’s about…?

    *love* your image in this post. I’m off to tweet it!

  2. Phil Devine January 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Rural Cyberpunk! I’m still trying to get my head around what Digital culture is – The word Rural creates a whole new space…

  3. Giraf87 January 29, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    To me there seems a similarity with the emergence of graffiti, a very urban-driven cultural manifestation, with the odd rural appearance. I meant to post something on this, but got distracted by the wealth of topics that are appearing on our blogs. Thanks for steering me into this again.

  4. Steph Carr February 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    Thanks Jen – the metaverse is a new concept for me and I get your point about the its non-urban feel. From my limited exploration of Second Life this quiet, relaxed environment has felt, on the one hand a bit of a sanctuary and on the other a bit creepy. A kind of weird limbo that’s not quite settled.

    Sorry Phil! And when you get your head round digital culture, can you please let me know what it is?

    Gina – I found an interesting article on how graffiti artists are using technology to make their art more permanent and to thwart the efforts of ‘the buff’

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