Victorian post-Cyberpunk

I think the popular perception that we’re a lot like the Victorians is in large part correct. One way is that we’re all constantly in a state of ongoing t­echnoshock, without really being aware of it—it’s just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We’re still riding that wave of craziness. We’ve gotten so used to emergent technologies that we get anxious if we haven’t had one in a while.

William Gibson, interviewed by the Paris Review

It’s interesting to look back and see the development of technology, and see how reaction mirrors to modern day attitudes – we see a lot of hand wringing about social skills (kids these days don’t have any!) and writing skills. What we often fail to notice is that a lot of these criticisms were also laid at the feet of television, radio, recorded music, books and other technologies. This is a constant refrain from those critical of media in general, and usually amounts to nothing. The criticisms of violence on television dating back to the 50’s? Well it turns out that exposure to violent imagery can make one more aggressive, but humans are complex creatures and to draw cause and effect type conclusions are not useful and usually are misleading. So does that mean that 50 years of “violent” programming the sum total is a resounding “meh”? Who is to say that increased aggressive behaviour is a direct response to the widening social gap and promise of  “you’ll be lucky to be as well off as your parents” that the current and subsequent generations will live under? The will to survive is a primal one after all.

So it’s interesting to note when people predict whether a new technology will make another one obsolete (radio, television, land line telephones) it rarely happens – the same occurs with social issues. There will be some decline in social graces, but for the most part, people will behave, co-operate when it benefits them (and sometimes when it doesn’t) and things won’t change that much. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing isn’t it?




As we move to  a pervasive, constantly connected state – and isn’t mobile just another word for everywhere – what does this mean for us as a whole? We’re already struggling for a work-life balance – and stresses are showing at the margins already. People are overwhelmed, unable to keep up and give up. These people are the new impoverished. Impoverished in the sense that they can’t control, manage and then articulate themselves in an information-rich environment. Will this mean a backlash? What will people do?

One thing might be that people create areas of their lives that are unavailable to networks – in essence a “safe room” or along the lines of a sensory deprivation tank. I can see this being something that futuristic home builders might already be working on; a bedroom where no wireless or cellphone network can access. Where else would you want this? Anywhere your privacy might be important. We’ve seen what happens when two people in a relationship at distance will do to show their love (lust), and then later embarrass the other in a revenge plot. Emotions can get in the way. I see the Japanese inventing private hotels, much like the love hotels they have now to service young couples who have no privacy at home.

As we see the Internet of things evolve, we’ll need these sorts of strategies to allow maybe our fridge, stove and phone to talk, but not our fridge and furnace. And this opens hackers to having a real effect on human lives – if we trust devices to tell us we’re out of milk – does that mean a hacker could get us to buy two dozen bags of milk because they spoof a message from the fridge? Brings a whole new meaning to “your fridge is running… you better go catch it”.

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