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Cyberia Old and New

by Michael Szul on tags: cyberpunk, cyberia, apotheosis, douglas rushkoff, cyberspace, podcast, podcasting

Codepunk uses the tagline "life in the new cyberia." And although he didn't invent the term, Douglas Rushkoff used the word "cyberia" as the title of the book that really cemented him in early cyberculture. Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace.

Note: In the podcast episode for this post, I mistakenly referred to the book's subtitle as "Life in the Trenches of Cyberspace."

I picked up a new copy of Cyberia recently. For one, I wanted to see how well the book held up in our modern era, but at the same time, I've become a bit nostalgic for the early years of the Internet and Internet culture in particular.

Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace by Douglas Rushkoff

Every generation—once they reach around 40 years of age—starts to think about how things were when they grew up, and we all come to the same conclusion about how our childhood was better. The music was better when we were younger. The culture was better… The technology—although not the best—seemed more authentic—more visceral. This is, of course, nostalgia, and I know that even as I buy up old 80's and 90's books on cyberspace. Some of these books aren't even good, but they feel right.

And yes, I even have a copy of the Mondo 2000 "be a cyberpunk" riff. Mondo 2000, of course, being the cyberculture magazine du jour that predated the commercialization of cyberspace—something, instead, that Wired Magazine did. Mondo 2000 (from the brain of R.U. Sirius) was a West coast indulgence in rave culture, computers, new drugs, and postmodern philosophical exploration—all with plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes. Despite its short shelf life, it featured people like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Robert Anton Wilson, and of course Douglas Ruskoff himself.

I do think—with a bit of bias, of course—that nostalgia for early computer culture isn't just nostalgia due to aging out. Computers, technology, the Internet—all of these things were fundamentally different in the earlier years, and as they began to emerge from military and academic usage, many early pioneers saw the transformational value of computation—the authenticity that allowed for maximum exploration, collaboration, and creativity.

I gave a presentation for the Cyberpunk Culture Conference about Max Headroom, and it encompassed the early 80's, MTV, and how the era of Reaganomics reduced the value of authentic culture for the purposes of financial extraction. In fact, I recently took this presentation, expanded it a bit, and put it down on paper—fleshing out the thesis.

Once again, we come back to this idea of authenticity. But is it authenticity or is it just nostalgia?

Douglas Rushkoff began his long journey towards Team Human shortly after college in the San Francisco rave scene where the early mixture of computers, raves, and open culture led to encounters and friendships with the likes of Timothy Leary, Genesis P-Orridge, and Mondo publishing R.U. Sirius, among many others who were prominent in that early scene. Rushkoff even played keyboard in one of P-Orridge's Psychic TV iterations. Cyberia being his first book, Rushkoff began exploring the intersection between emergent culture and media studies, producing books like Media Virus and Coercion that propelled him into the main stream as a media theorist and won him the Marshall McLuhan Award.

From his web site:

Rushkoff's work explores how different technological environments change our relationship to narrative, money, power, and one another. He coined such concepts as “viral media,” “screenagers,” and “social currency,” and has been a leading voice for applying digital media toward social and economic justice.

I was always a big fan of Rushkoff in his early years, and when I ran a counterculture web site called Key23, I had the opportunity to interview him. In fact, I once participated in one of Rushkoff's university classes where he signed my original (now lost) copy of Cyberia. After reviewing Get Back in the Box on Key23, Rushkoff sent me an early PDF copy of Life, Inc., which, honestly, as much as he might view the Team Human (more...)