November 6, 2010

I’m having a thoughtful Saturday.

My first housemate out of college didn’t get the Internet.  Not as in she didn’t have it.  She didn’t get it. When I asked her to let me know before she used the phone, if I was on the computer, because I might be using the modem, I had to explain it all to her — using the phone lines, being online, communicating with other computers.  “But I don’t understand how you can talk to Los Angeles for free,” she kept saying, when I got to the part about e-mail.  It was 1995, she didn’t use computers at all, and she can be forgiven, I suppose.  But she really didn’t get the Internet.

The Internet used to be the purview of the elite.

Back when the Internet was mostly networked university and government computers, BBSs, and skreechy slow modems, cyberpunk literature showed netrunning — decking, jacking in, moving your consciousness into the computer network in order to manipulate it — as an elite activity.  You had to have the skill, training, know-how, equipment.  These were the cowboys, the deckers, the net warriors.  The heroes (or Hiro).  Tron was one of the first, if not the first, fictional depictions of netrunning.  The next big one was Neuromancer. Characters with metal jacks in their skulls was a mainstay.

What really happened:  It turns out that anyone who can use a telephone can be a netrunner.  This is what the World Wide Web has done to cyberpunk.

I’m wondering what Tron Legacy is going to do with the issue.  Is it going to go old school, working on the old assumption that only the elite have the power to travel the net?  Or is it going to acknowledge that everyone can get online?  Is there a difference between various “users” — everyone can get “on” the Web but only the old-school decker elite can manipulate it?



7 Responses to “netrunning”

  1. jackie Says:

    the elite will be the “hackers” – those who can not only travel where ever they choose, but can create the internet’s pathways. And get past the “Ice” or firewalls that limit access. Joe user is not really in control on the internet – she can only do and go where she is allowed.

  2. Jakk Says:

    I just like to point out that i consider Steampunk a response to Cyberpunk, and way of looking BACK in time and making the past the future.

    As for the elite? They already exist. People with advanced know-how on how the web can be used and manipulated. The better connected(Corperations,Military-Government) will already have their people trained and equiped to stay on top. No such thing foolproof security, and the best way to keep things secret is to fight fire with fire: Counter-Hackers, working to keep things secure.

  3. LupLun Says:

    Genres never die, they just evolve. If you want my opinion, the future of cyberpunk isn’t in manipulating networks- it’s in manipulating the people linked in to the networks.

    For example, say you’ve got a big corporation in the pre-digital world. Say a rival corporation wants to introduce a spy/saboteur into the mix. Where’s the best place to put him? In the mailroom. A corporation requires a lot of people and departments to work together, and that requires communication. A person who’s in the position to control the lines of communication can control the corporation itself clandestinely. If there’s a problem you want to make bigger, make sure the person who’s supposed to fix the problem never gets word of it. If you want to sow dissent, find an instance of Alan and Charlie going behind Bob’s back and make sure Bob “accidentally” finds out about it. If someone is on your tail, throw him off by making sure he gets misleading information.

    The internet is the largest and most powerful communications system in history. The hero or villain hacker of the future will be a trickster, using control of the flow of information to make people and institutions dance like puppets on a string.

  4. David Bowles Says:

    Your guess on the new Tron movie is probably better than mine. You are the writer, after all 🙂

  5. Annamal Says:

    I remember 1993 and going into my mum’s library to surf the internet because it had *pictures* there(web-pages were a bit of a foreign concept at 13 and raised on BBSs and newsnet).

    I think the new elite might be the ones able to nudge the vast amounts of data available into new pattens, sort of like social hacking on a grand scale.

  6. Kristian Says:

    The odd thing about Tron / Snow Crash / Neuromancer is the belief that these powerful governments and corporations will have superior technology / anti-hacker ICE / crippling or deadly countermeasures. Given the monthly or weekly announcements of data theft / worms attacking the power grid / etc, I am a little puzzled how we can keep putting large, bureaucracy paralyzed organizations as the sinister bad guys. Impersonal, sure. But I see mostly myopic cluelessness, not efficient focused evil as the biggest problem we face in the tech world. Oh, and EMPs. Those suck.

  7. […] yet another great link: Here is Carrie Vaughn on how the reality of the internet affected and probably killed off Cyberpunk. Related content: Reflections on Urban […]

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