The cyberpunk subculture was established with the widespread use of the internet and growth of personal computers in the 1990s. Without these two technological advancements, it would fail to exist in our contemporary society.
Stemming from cyberpunk are two key tropes: posthumanism and cyborgs. Both of these tropes are conceptually explored in the podcast below, and a question of ethics prevails: Who will be responsible if something goes wrong?
By noting foundational literary texts within the sci-fi genre and by addressing concerns of both ‘transhumanists‘ and ‘bioconservatives‘, one can begin to fathom the immense impact technology has had upon human life and the functioning of society.
Please find the transcript below.
Since the inception of the personal computer and the formation of cyberspace, the cyberpunk genre has become increasingly popular among users of technology and the internet. The founding fathers of the cyberpunk subculture, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson have each contributed immensely to the establishment of this utopian movement. Without the cyberpunk paradigm there would be a lack of exploration into ideas associated with this new technological frontier. In particular, the core cyberpunk tropes of posthumanism and cyborgs would cease to exist.
Posthuman thought acknowledges that the technologies created and utilised by humans shape individual thought and behaviour. As a result, technology constructs and reconstructs the human world. Explored in Steven Best’s ‘Technoculture, Posthumanism and the End of “Reality”’ is the notion that as technology advances, it extends human capacity. Consequently, as our social existence is shaped by science, biotechnology and the mass media there is a significant implosion between these elements.
The concept of cyborgs derives from the cyberpunk subculture also. As Steven Best describes, these ‘cyborgs’ exist when there are fusions between the natural body and technology. The technology will become invisible or internalised, devaluing the natural body as it is no longer useful. Many believe that the establishment of cyborgs ought to be embraced as a way to better oneself and society and new possibilities have the potential to extend human capacity.
Despite this, there is significant debate surrounding such complex posthuman ideals and technobodied possibilities. Where does one draw the line between human and inhumane? How do you define what is natural and what is enhanced?
‘Transhumanists’ believe human enhancement technologies should not only be promoted, but should be made widely available to all members of society. Contrasting this view is that of ‘bioconservatives’ who argue that such technological developments would be ‘dehumanising’, and would thus alter that indefinable something that makes us identify as ‘human’.
Many pieces of science-fiction literature have scrutinised the ideas central to posthumanism and the tropes fundamental to cyberpunk as a genre. In particular, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein can be interpreted as a warning surrounding posthuman development. Shelley examines ethical responsibility and inhumane technoscience, an argument key to that of bioconservative points of view. Similarly, the dystopian depiction of technoscience portrayed in Gattaca further implores the question: who is responsible if something goes wrong?
Whilst technology is becoming more and more integrated with humanity it is also fraught with complex issues. Posthumanism and cyborg developments must address concerns of ethics, ought to be open to the reevaluation of social norms and moreover needs to acknowledge social and ethical responsibility.
- Best, S., 2012, ‘Technoculture, Posthumanism, and the End of “Reality”’, May 29, viewed 19 May 2015, <https://drstevebest.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/technoculture-posthumanism-and-the-end-of- reality/>
- Bostrom, N., 2005, ‘In Defence of Human Dignity’, Bioethics, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 202-214.
- Mitew, T., 2014, ‘Understanding the Network Society Paradigm’, Lecture /YouTube Video, DIGC202, University of Wollongong, 11 August 2014, viewed August 12th 2015, via <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY2YR1hkGzA&list=PLiPp71qLKusXOU1bKxHVappCbRNN3-J-j&index=6>
- Peters, M., 2003, ‘Exit Meat: Digital Bodies in a Virtual World’, New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality, ed. Everett, A. & Caldwell, J.T., New York: Routledge, pp. 47-59.
- Image Source on SoundCloud