Crappy Futures: Or Musings on Dystopian Cyperpunk without the “cool stuff”.

Get ready for some disjointed rambling, but I feel I must write this at a late hour. I notice a theme in several of my articles, or rather two themes: 1. At the beginning its like I am confessing myself to the potential reader. I am committing an act of written “ice breaking” where I attempt to ease the possible silliness or superfluity of what I write by admitting (but only in a half-concealed fashion, since a writer’s ego demands that total strangers take their work with the utmost scholarly seriousness!) that even to Me, this stuff sounds stupid or ridiculous, or the screed of someone with far too much naval-gazing hours clocked in. or….whatever. 2. People’s lives are becoming increasingly abstracted by technology, simulacra, entertainment, alternative identities etc. and this is a bad thing. There, now I have given everyone my hand as it were, I have shown everyone my cards, and now I can get on to this milling away in the content farm.

When I was a young lad, let’s say, around the early 2000s, those glorious halcyon days I remember fondly. Perhaps my mind romanticises my past, or perhaps it was the last dying light of an age with at least a tiny smidgen of sincerity, before everyone hopped on, “tuned in, turned on, dropped out” into the internet, and LOST THEIR MINDS. Or to me, at least, it seems everyone is losing their minds in more ways than one. I, like all millennials, suffer from soul-crippling nostalgia, a nostalgia complex for a more recent history, ironically enough. Oh, I pity younger generation Z, the innocence (only realized in hindsight), the gaudy fashion, the original impulses, the technicolor delight of the 90s, that patina of mallrat edginess that coated youth culture in the early 2000s, a childhood torn between the past and being on the cusp of the internet age in full swing. Oh my, I might be exaggerating, I might be caught in a sentiment, a longing for a past I barely remember. But anyways, I have gotten off track, as I tend to do.

I was a young lad, and this must have been 2002 or 2003. I was at my grandparent’s house for a barbecue. I used to stay inside for a bit before dinner and watch television. Of course, my grandparents were limited in their TV selection, and seeing how this was before everyone had smartphones, I watch public television, TVO to be exact (Television Ontario). I remember always watching this science-orientated show, one which I forget the name but had those poorly rendered late-90s graphics. This episode was, as I recall, about the new exploration of the internet and its impact on, you guessed it, the identity of the average person. I remember these official types being interviewed about the wonders and possible detriments of the internet, and having online personas, dangers everyone on of us in various fringo internet subculture spheres know all too well. I remember one thing stuck out most of all to me in a vivid manner, a thing I will always remember; the program talked about how in the very near future, people will mediate their lives through internet personas, and that websites or programs will become more sophisticated. For those of you very keen people out there, you are probably guessing which internet entity they were talking about as a new and wondrous frontier of exploration. That’s right, they were referring to Second Life.

It almost seems like a joke, a childish joke now-a-days to think of SL as anything more than some cringe-worthy hotbed of older shut ins and creepy NEETs who infest the internet, live vicariously through pixelated personas, and even spend a lot of money cultivating their life in SL. Besides being troll-bait, SL users at one point in time did garner a lot of mainstream attention, corporate interest, and speculation from STEM and humanities university departments alike (a good article can be found here: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/z43mwj/why-is-second-life-still-a-thing-gaming-virtual-reality ). SL seems to be jotting along, albeit with less than stellar numbers. It seems like a relic of the mid 2000s now, but SL simply refuses to die because the original purpose of its creation refuses to die: the desire to live life as a dream, to go where you could not imagine, be a sexy beautiful being, freed of the physical limitations of your body and physiognomy, to be an important person and simulate your ideal of what a perfect life is, etc. I was captivated by this idea when I watched that program, albeit never actually playing SL besides watching trolls aggravate or be “griefers” (as the SL community calls them) to the obviously older, lower-class and internally empty user base.

Its fun and games now, it’s a “ye-old” spirit of making fun of perceived freaks and social outcasts. Now of course, this is not to say all SL users are human monstrosities, but we get this cultural stereotype of the internet-dweller, the MMO-RPG addicts and redditers, the people who find purposes in simulation, the “children of the matrix” if you get that subtle reference. Virtuality has not only permeated all of existence, but has become existence itself, at least for those moments which make up more and more of the everyday for a startlingly high demographic of people. If there is no job, identity, belief, life-purpose, or whatever makes people grounded in the way of things, then they increasingly distract themselves with the “create your own reality” mindset, a distraction that now becomes their everything. I use “their” as a distancing word-choice, but, I should be saying WE. Yes, WE have the same complex in the modern world, that of detachment and escapism. It could be the odd freak you see yelling at the top of their lungs when some troll insults their SL avatar, it could be the stereotypical gamer basement aficionado, or even the “normies” who find being a part of, and conforming their belief systems and world views to, the social zeitgeist is really a more permitted form of escapism. The Tumblrista who watches Netflix all day, the college hipster social butterfly who finds “cool parties” to attend, you name it, we all collectively participate in the dance of the simulated and virtual. We craft our perfect Facebook and Instagram identities, “curate” our existence as all the tabloid and click-bait blog magazines say (as every era has its buzzwords and pop-psychology lingo). Yet we all participate in the collective hypocrisy of shaming the few, and ignoring the many acts of virtual escapism.

But, of course, this does not sound right, it does not sound right in the slightest. It is true, the person who is consumed in life by a video game is obviously lower on the social ladder and higher on the cringe ladder then the average party animal, and both are destructive in their own ways. One is a hollowing out, an inner decay, the other forms of “normie” escapism tend to be debaucherously vague, and egotistically outward-projecting. Never the less, we now have the ability and the lack of all inhibitions to pursue our flights into the unreal. In a way, this very act of writing is a form of escapism, but I would say a higher form of it. But anyways, back to the main theme: this program hailed that SL was the exiting-way of the future –  it was for a time – and now parts of the original desires, wants and expressions found on SL has manifested into different mediums, like social media, video games and the like. Now that we may be on the cusp of large Silicon Valley corporate monoliths perfecting mass and widely marketable virtual reality technology, this program made so long ago, this stunningly new set of ideas and analysis that hit my then-young mind was right in more ways than one, even about how SL would be the template for people accepting more and more technological intrusions into their self-made identities.

As the Frankfurt school Marxists at various times theorized that there is no where to hide from capital, from materialistic consumerism and enlightenment rationality, so too is there no escape from the reality of their being no “private special place” as a professor I grew fond of explained to me once. There is no “deep seat” where we can hide from these forces, and despite me not being a Marxist, I tend to agree (well apart from the soul, but that is another matter). So too, we cannot escape the desire towards the virtual, the reality of easily accessible and shameless methods of simulation. We can only lie to ourselves, but the drug of “being anything you want to be” including an animal or a giant monstrosity in SL or on some fringe forum, is far too great of a high for most. We eat fake food, we have fake lives, we listen to fake music, even complaining about said fakery is a poser act, a pastiche for genuine cultural critique, a crime Your-all-too-honest and humble author is guilty of as well.  I suppose nostalgia itself is another elaborate form of fakery as well. Hell, I can’t even listen to music from lounge acts such as Morcheeba, Lamb, Sneaker Pimps, you name it! Even most grunge bands bring me down. They all remind me all too sullenly, all too bittersweet, of those lush, dying throes of authenticity in the 90s (well of course this is a controversial statement). The sentiments evoked by music can really define an era. Perhaps in the Trip Hop and lounge music of the last decade before everything was rocked with uncertainty, there was a subtle foreshadowing of what, at the time, was yet to come. The brooding angst, the quiet depressive apathy, the expression of a feeling that left a pure emptiness, the ability to be bored and discontent in peacetime, the sort of motifs and swaying tonal melodies that captured this unique time of boiled over decadence turned sour. All of it, all of it foreshadowed the hyper-sensation of melancholy, listless apathy and aggressive rootlessness that would come to characterize our present reality. It is of course no surprise that our music at the very top of the mainstream has become more sterile, simple (and not in a good minimalist way), high fructose corn syrup-like more than ever! It suits us. The subtlety depression, melancholic beauty of 90s lounge and electronica even has transformed in our current zeitgeist. Vaporwave does the job of throwing these and other era-defining genres back at us in a hyper-saturated form. vaporwave accelerates past music, brings it to its ultimate conclusions, re-lives the fantasies of cyberpunk living, but in a sadder and more nostalgic form. like all things now, it is musical corn syrup candy for the tech-burdened, identity-confused soul.

So why am I saying all of this? Is this poetry you ask? Prose? Perhaps, perhaps it’s the screeching of a millennial who wishes He was not one. Why such a title even? Well dear reader, let me confess these strings of oddly flowing nonsense are leading to a point, several points. There, I broke the 4th wall, perhaps our cultural masters will be happy with this piece, because it violates conventional norms. Perhaps this is me trying to amuse myself in making a mockery of Postmodern literature by mimicking it. Anyways, I am sorry for these diversions; the point of this and the title is that we are left with nothing but “crappy Cyberpunk” as I so often hear in certain spheres on twitter. Crappy Cyberpunk in a Crappy control-society future. We won’t get to be these cool hackers, these weird looking, fun loving, soul-searching, deep-loving contrarians in motley crews of tech-savvy misfits and rebels with DYI technology and enhancements, micro-resisting the “man” on a local level. No, none of this. This is a nerd fantasy. Instead we probably will be one mass, without any defining characteristics besides the superficial and sensationalistic ones we give to ourselves in some central VR-Pod matrix. The government and corporations will sure act like the ones you see in Cyberpunk lit, but we certainly won’t be in any position to stick it to them. We won’t get to live in cool high-rise urban decay, but horrific high-rise urban decay. We will be more detached and alone than ever in reality, but we will think we have the companionship and comradery of digital communities, the ones tech-futurists thought would be a utopia. Let me tell you, this is no utopia. We are more detached than ever, and sure, perhaps we can find meaningful connections with others (everything is a balance after all). But let’s face the sad music, most people ended up finding an outlet for all their crazy, neurotic and perverse inner daemons.  In the alternative political spheres, I have come across quite a few sociopaths, borderlines, and people who lack any genuine empathy or capacity for self-insight. The political figures in the mainstream are probably even more depraved than your average E-Celebrity on Twitter, but these Bugmen and Bugwomen can afford to hide their craziness and cruelty from the public.

Our communication will be more controlled, that is for sure, and our ability to get any reach will be severely limited. People will dwell further into their hide-away communities of whatever fantasy or faux-identity they choose to live in. their waking lives will be even more bitter and detached. Every suburban kid dreams of being an urbanite, another number, part of the vast sea of empty faces, of “making it” whatever that means to people. Now we might as well all live in the sky-coffins depicted in Jodorowsky’s masterpiece The Holy Mountain. Work ungodly hours as wage slaves, eat at our tech-company plants or PR firms or wherever, be good little programmed automata, parrot the preferred social conventional political talking points, go to your shoebox sky-coffin late and sink into the future VR bliss/abyss till you pass out. Back in the 90s, you have visionaries like Terence McKenna musing about the psychedelic experience that would be the widely available internet. As technological speed and ability increases, He thought of it as a mind expander, a mind enhancer, hence having entheogenic and psychedelic connotations. Well, I am sad to say, it pains me to mention this, perhaps I am too cynical, but good old Terence, I believe, was wrong on this one; the internet in a lot of ways has expanded minds, but not at that level. If anything, the internet has done more to deaden minds, shutter our persona developed and feed our ego complexes more than anything else, for it operates on so many unique and integral levels. I will reframe from being a total luddite primitivist, I love the internet, in fact most of my time is spent on the internet! However, this does not negate the genuine problems with such a revolutionary technology. I can of course go into this at depth, it would require a whole thesis to explore the philosophic effects of the internet on the soul of mankind. I could evoke a Heideggerian analysis of the internet, or bring up Postman, Ellul, Blonchot and Freud in explaining Second Life. But alas, this is not the place, and it might sound like pretentiousness and pseudo-intellectualism. However, if we (like Francis Ford Coppola said in making Apocalypse now) do not take the risk of being pseudointellectuals and sounding pretentious, we might not be able to do anything creative whatsoever. So, let me leave you instead with a profound piece of lyrical poetic musing from the amazing, deliciously-brutal, and contemplative 90s sludge/stoner metal band Acid Bath, from their song Diab Soule:

“Summer feels like death
Godless we run
In my eyes there dreams an ocean
Hell beneath my tongue
I understand
And don’t care
Well the skyscrapers look like gravestones
From out here”.

(artwork done by Me. entitled “Dream of a Second Life”. https://www.facebook.com/giantartproductions/photos/a.1259517184086426.1073741837.1254797357891742/1550448308326644/?type=3&theater ).

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