amw (amw) wrote,

sting, cyberpunk and standing on the edge of the night

An expat friend here on LJ recently made a post about feeling a bit alien in Japan, and it reminded me of that Sting song.

Sting - Englishman In New York

Sting is the favorite singer of my step mother. One of the sweetest birthday gift stories that i remember is that when she turned 50 (i think?) my dad and her sisters got together to secretly contact Sting and get a signed birthday message from him. It was a longshot, but he came through, and it meant the world to my step mom.

Sting is also a famous wrestler from the 90s whose fans were notorious shitheads on usenet, spamming every newsgroup with their nonsense. If you don't know what usenet or newsgroups are, be happy. Also, they were basically just Reddit, but massively decentralized and mostly free of moderation.

The internet has become far too centralized these days. It's become the opposite of what it was intended to be, which was a robust network that could survive, even if key nodes were disrupted. Actually, it still is a robust network underneath, but if you wiped out the handful of companies who own most of the platforms running on that network, it would greatly hobble the experience that we understand to be the internet in 2020.

So, i'm glad the US government is finally taking both Google and Facebook to court for monopolistic behaviors. Perhaps one day the internet will feel more like "the people's internet" again, for that brief period in the 90s between the time when it was an academic stronghold and the current era of it being a platform for massive data collection firms posing as media or gadget companies.

Anyway, back to that song by Sting. (Yes, i'm aware of the irony of linking to it on YouTube after this digression.)

It came out in the late 80s, which was a period in my life when i was a child, and the world was still very new and exciting to me. Not only that, it was the motherfucking 80s, a decade that practically glistened with neon-drenched dreams of what the future could hold. Was it going to be nuclear war? Was it going to be ecological collapse? Was it going to be the triumph of transnational corporations? Was it going to be all of the above?

The time felt like we were on the edge of something. And then, when the Berlin Wall came down, and the USSR collapsed, it felt like that was the thing. That was what we were on the edge of - the future was here!

My best memories of those times are of being in strange new cities. Hong Kong in the 1980s, for a kid from Europe, it was incredible, like nothing i could possibly imagine. They were already 20 minutes into the future! But even Edinburgh, London, Auckland, Sydney, San Francisco, i traveled with my family, looked at the twinkling lights through a rain-speckled windshield, and the whole fucking world seemed like cyberpunk was here.

"EDGE OF THE NIGHT" Adam Goldstone & D.C.LaRue

Cyberpunk never really happened. A much-anticipated computer game called Cyberpunk 2077 has been released this week, based on a pen and paper role-playing game from the 80s. It's from the time when people thought the dingiest, sleaziest, most crime-ridden corners of NYC were going to spread across the world, as globalists obliviously built jumbotron-encrusted Tokyo-styled towers and el trains above the muck. Nations and races and genders would all disappear in a puff of transhumanism, and those conflicts would be replaced by the ultimate conflict of those who wear the technocratic jackboot of capitalism, and the neo-peasants whose necks the boot would crush.

But that didn't happen. The idea is still aesthetically powerful, which is why people still make computer games about it. But it also feels retro-futuristic today, like those raygun gothic Fallout games.

The future didn't happen. A different future happened, where multinational corporations still pretty much ended up wielding massive political power. But crime went down. Life got better. People turned out to be happier than expected. Transhumanism didn't happen. People seem more attached to their differences than sci-fi writers imagined, or - perhaps more cynically - shadowy figures were more successful at exploiting identity politics than anyone suspected. Well, George Carlin had it figured out.

George sums up class structure and the purpose media of divisiveness

Anyway, i still have that skip in my heart when i'm in a city i don't know. Hanging out in the country, yeah i like the peace and quiet of the vast open spaces. But there is no thrill like coming into a new city for the first time, whether by rail, air or road. Especially at night, when everything looks sparkling and mysterious, when it seems like danger could lurk around every corner...

In reality modern cities are incredibly safe places. I know i'm much less at risk walking alone at night in a space festooned with security cameras and patrolled by police who are tasked with protecting the most valuable blocks of real estate in the world. But that's the rational part of my brain working.

The part of me that still dreams, the 7-year old child inside me... In the city it feels like anything could happen. It feels like the future is right there, just around the next corner. That sense of not knowing, of constant discovery, of powerlessness. The sense of being just a leaf on the wind, of being an alien, a legal alien... That's the best feeling in the world for me.

I miss traveling so much.
Tags: freedom, looking back, sci-fi

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