What Can We Learn from Cyberpunk Literature?

I think all of us here now realize that the reason that our current society looks so much like our favorite cyberpunk dystopias is because the techbros bringing about these dystopian elements don’t understand the difference between cautionary tales and optimistic playbooks. And based on how things are progressing right now, it’s only going to get worse, choombas.

But the question I want to explore here is what lessons can we, the actual proto-cyberpunks from the stories, learn from that literature about how to be cyberpunks? What do these stories teach us about how to make the most of this dystopia that is barreling down upon us? What concepts should we “high tech, low lifers” be championing and taking to heart in order to wake the rest of the world up?

How do we become “dystopia preppers”, if you will?

I mean, as much as I’d love to be a katana wielding street sam or chromed up edgerunner, the first one will get me sent to a deep, dark hole somewhere and the second one just isn’t possible yet. So what lessons can we learn on how to survive this dystopia that we find ourselves in?

Would love to hear some thoughts and discussion about this!


So I’ll start.

One thing that keeps rolling over and over in my mind is from The Matrix: “Free your mind, Neo. You’ve got to let it all go.” This is when Morpheus is trying to get Neo to realize that he has more power over his world than he thinks, mainly because he can see “behind the curtain” (nevermind all that “The One” mumbo jumbo).

This goes along with another line from the same part of the movie that goes, “some rules can be bent; others can be broken”. What this tells me is that knowing the truth of how things work - whether it’s technology, systems, or constructs - is the first step in establishing the framework for knowing when to bend rules and when to break them. But first and foremost, we need to free our minds from the bindings of the system. View those people, technologies, and constructs objectively for who and what they are, not what the system rules define what they should be.

In order to game the system, one needs to first know how the game is played.

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In this messed up future we’re living in, being a “Cyberpunk” ain’t easy, man. You gotta know how the system works, been through some shit, ya know? A bit of skepticism goes a long way in this dystopian mess we’re in.

You gotta be clued in on how the machine operates, know its weak spots, and figure out how to game the system to your advantage. Only when you understand the inner workings can you avoid being just another cog in the machine, keepin’ it chuggin’ along while still thinkin’ you’re free.

It’s tempting to just go with the flow, play by the rules, and get by in this messed up world. But real freedom means breakin’ out of the mold, questionin’ authority, and makin’ your own way.

Iit’s on us to keep the machine runnin’, but not let it run us. We’re the ones stirrin’ up trouble, callin’ out the BS, and fightin’ for our right to be our own damn selves in a world that wants to control us.

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Privacy is key. Use the tech that’s out there but don’t let that tech spy on you. Make sure you know what settings to turn off. If you know a corpo is building files on you then either toss some fake info at it or just plain don’t use it. Make sure you know how to encrypt. They can’t use your info if they can’t read it, chooms. Also, and maybe a little controversial, but don’t tie yourselves down to one identity. Always have a few backups in your back pocket. Make sure you can ditch one and switch to another if the heat turns up. Speaking of backups, make sure your data is stored somewhere that’s not the cloud. You don’t want to delete an email and lose a bunch of files you had attached to it.

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Lately I’ve enjoyed the runner paradigms from Android:Netrunner.

Each of these represents a hacker archetype, an approach to attacking power.

Anarchs are modeled after the Anarchists of the early 20th Century (if you haven’t read about the anarchists of the previous century, I’d encourage you to do so.) They represent on fast, radical action, labor, unions, creative destruction.

Criminals are just that, and their focus during play is on money, and generally access to resources. They apply resource pressure on corporations to undermine their nefarious agendas.

Shapers are the artists among hackers. Their constructs are complex and esoteric. They attack the corporations as an expression of technical prowess.

All of these have been described better elsewhere, but I love the archetypes when I’m thinking about how I adapt to the world around me. Runners are engaged, whatever their approach, taking on corp power to try to affect change.

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These are pretty interesting, and I hadn’t seen these before. They’re pretty general but overall they seem to be an interesting way to create some broad categories of enacted resistance.

Lately, my whole ethos has been withdrawal - withdrawal from the corpo world, slowly converting over to non-corpo tools, removing my data from corpo spaces, and supporting those who are building the tools which I use to accomplish these things. Plus, spending time learning how the system(s) work (or don’t work, as the case may be) and trying to educate or raise awareness of what’s really going on so that other cyberpunks can work around those issues.

I don’t really know which one of these archetypes that falls under, although I guess it would be closer to maybe “Academic Anarch”? I’m not an activist, I’m just…not contributing to corpo bottom lines whenever possible.

I started doing backups, and then realized that my big-ass backup drive is NTFS formatted and Timeshift needs ext4 in order to work. So now I gotta figure out where to temporarily put the existing data on the drive so I can convert it, because there’s more data on that drive than I have space for on other drives. But I’ll figure it out.

I agree with you on privacy being a key mindset. I think where I tend to struggle is that there are a lot of people that I need/want to communicate with that aren’t privacy focused and are still in the Big Tech grips. Privacy only works if it’s a two-way street, and getting people to use secure communications, even smart people, is very difficult. They are locked into what I was locked into not too long ago, which is the idea that convenience trumps privacy because they don’t know enough about what the corpos are doing to be concerned.

And because some of those people don’t care about privacy over convenience, I need to use some of those services which will lead to data leakage.

I am interested to learn more about what you’re talking about when you say “don’t tie yourselves down to one identity”. Do you mean online or do you mean everywhere?

I like how actionable this thread is, especially What Can We Learn from Cyberpunk Literature? - #6 by SynAck

Building a parallel system seems to be the way both in fiction and in practice.

The mainstream platforms want to enforce their “real names” policy to post on social media. We built ActivityPub, host totentanz.club and so forth. We use whatever names we choose and change them when we feel like it.

They want us to give them our phone number. We say no.

They want to be able to peek at all our files in their cloud, we say “nah, I’ll stick with my Nextcloud instance”.

I’ve broken free of dependence on Google and the rest of them. I sell hardware under different nyms for bitcoin. The amount of data I collect on customers is just “where should I send your gear?”.

Once more people accept BTC and I can avoid having to go back and forth between crypto and fiat, I’ll be livin’ the dream.

It’s hard to say if I picked these things up from the literature. Not conciously. Perhaps not directly, but ideas seem have their way of moving around in subtle ways.

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People being tied down to big corpo is always half the problem with moving off big corpo. That’s why I said use false information. For example, need to talk to family members on Facebook? Use an isolated email that has no identifying information. Don’t give it your real name. Don’t give it your real birthday. Don’t give it access to anything. Use Firefox and the plugin Facebook Container to sandbox it. Definitely don’t download the app. Only use it on desktop. There are way to mitigate the damage so you can still use it.

As for identities, I really mean both online and IRL. First and foremost is online. You want to be able to separate yourself from yourself. You don’t want to post everything in one location under one name. Multiple usernames for different things. That way if you mention your location in passing on one account, a malicious actor who’s watching your other account doesn’t see it. Notice you messed up on one account? Burn that MFer to the ground and start over somewhere else under a new name. People can’t make a complete file on you if you are only posting a very specific topic on one account. As for IRL, that depends more on what you’re doing IRL. It’s definitely harder, but not impossible, to have a backup identity IRL. For example, I never give my real name to restaurants when they say we’ll call you when it’s ready. Don’t pay with credit, always cash. So your real identity isn’t tied to what you buy. Don’t use rewards cards which are building files on you based on your purchases. Obviously, there will be times when you do have to do some of the above, but limiting how much it happens is the point.

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