Cyberpunk is viewed as a futuristic dystopia that humanity should strive to avoid. Usually set in a vague 20XX, the genre was conceived as a far future warning in the 1960s and 70s. Unfortunately, we're very much in that time period now, and the genre is less warning and more prediction.
Despite that, we're lacking in fancy electrical eyes, the ability to login to the metaverse, despite what some companies may want you to think. Generally, humanity lacks most of the things that people view as the benefits of an otherwise dystopian future. However, a lot of the negatives are already here. At this point, it's hard not to view reality as just the watered-down, brown-shifted version of cyberpunk. And that sucks.
What is Cyberpunk?
Cyberpunk is a dystopia revolving around high tech, low life. The genre sees conflicts between hackers, megacorporations, and artificial intelligence. Capitalism has gone on so long that everything is commercialised — everything is a commodity. Additionally, everything is covered in neon, and there are a bunch of gangs, for some reason.
However, of the key points is that capitalism has led to these colossal corporations that own everyone and everything, including those in power. It's a world where the sex trade has become normalised, drugs are everywhere, and everyone's covered in robot bits. Sometimes, these enhancements help them go beyond their limitations; sometimes they help them realise their true selves. On the other hand, it's usually because the corporation that owns them told them to.
Not all of that is inherently dystopic. The sex trade is viewed as bad in cyberpunk because it's an extension of the idea that everything's a commodity. You can also blame the 60s' sexual stigmas. Me, you, and the person you think is hot, are all owned by someone else, and thus it's bad. In reality, assuming the sex work is consensual and owned by the person doing it, it's actually a fairly positive thing.
The same is also true of cybernetically enhancing people. I had laser eye surgery a few years ago and my vision's much happier because of it. There's no doubt that the creation of robotic limbs is helping people live happier lives. The same is true of those using glasses, covered in tattoos, or any other kind of body modification. Humanity always goes beyond what it is by augmenting it with enhancements.
What's the state of things?
As it stands, we're deep into the information age now. Information is literally everywhere, the entirety of human knowledge is contained within each of our pockets. The Global Village is reality, advances aren't made in physical space, only the digital one. Our ability to explore outside of the digital realm is dwindling massively, unless you're a billionaire buggering off to space.
It means that we're focusing on other discoveries, and we're on the cusp of a theoretical digital world we can walk around in. I say cusp, the tech required for digitisation of our actual minds is a fairly long way away. That's now what Zuckerberg wants you to think though, is it?
This leads to where we are now. While artificial intelligence and cyberspace as it was envisioned sixty years ago aren't where they are in that fiction, they exist in some form now. AI as it's sold at the moment, is mostly just machine learning, and they're not the same. Cyberspace is something that exists on our phones, we don't walk around it, but we're constantly attached to it. Doomscrolling is hidden behind glass, not always in our view.
Is this cyberpunk?
Those are mostly comparisons I believe are accurate. However, the main thing that puts us smack bang in our very own cyberpunk dystopia is current capitalism. We're at a point now, especially in the last year, where those at the top, the billionaires, have increased their wealth so monumentally that it's hard to wrap your head around. Wealth inequality is larger now than it was during the guillotine-friendly French revolution.
The issue is that people in power are more than happy to be lobbied in favour of not taxing billionaires. It's not just tax; companies crush unions, buy entire cities' houses, and make sure the minimum wage never rises too high. They're in control of things because those in power also tend to be those who know the big CEOs.
The line between business and government is becoming increasingly blurred. While Amazon might not outright own us, if they're in control of how much everyone gets paid while making enough money to literally send themselves to space for fun, it's clear that they're not paying people fairly.
It's impossible to overstate the impact capitalism has had on us and the control that money grants. Corruption is rife in many governments because the rich are in control of things. When the rich also own the media — Murdoch — they're also more than capable of creating scapegoats.
It might not be as flashy as the megacorporations for cyberpunk as a whole, but there's no denying the stranglehold that big business has on us. The world is quite literally burning up because companies refuse to stop making money in favour of saving the planet. The bottom line is more important than any of us, and that's why we're in a cyberpunk dystopia. However, we don't have any of the cool stuff that could make it more bearable. That sucks, doesn't it?